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Digital Subscriptions > Cottage Life > May 2017 > The Go-To Guy

The Go-To Guy

DON’T CALL HIM A CONTRACTOR. ALBERT CROWDER IS A COTTAGE-BUILDING MAGICIAN WHO DOESN’T MIND REVEALING HIS SECRETS

CHAPTER 1 / BROOKE HALLOWELL / THE MODEST

THE SETTING St. Joseph Island, Ont., near Sault Ste. Marie on Lake Huron’s North Channel; year-round population: maybe 1,200—but hundreds more in summer. The protagonist: builder Albert Crowder, 64, the fourth generation of Crowders on the island. Lean, slow-spoken, opinionated. Drives an aging pickup and lives on half an acre in a princess-pink house built by his great-grandfather. Also tends to 200 acres of sugar bush and makes a few hundred litres of maple syrup (in a good year), the old-fashioned way. Hates fads, scorns “plastic camps,” and can’t bear old buildings falling into ruin. The plot: He’s never advertised. Doesn’t have a website. Has no interest in cutting corners. In fact, unbidden, he gives his projects added touches that cost him. He doesn’t do the making-money thing very well. His admission. “I can’t help myself. I’m just out to build nice cottages.” Ones that fit seamlessly with their much-older neighbours. Modest, not monster. Additions that are “foolers” (they don’t look added on). His clients— each one sent to him by someone else he worked for—varyingly call him a genius, an artist, a perfectionist. One said she wanted to adopt him.

Love in the time of cottages. A story in four chapters, told from the ground up.

CHAPTER 1 Welcome to Albert’s world, wherein building materials don’t all come from the building-supply store. The late ‘90s. Jane Lou Smith had been summering on St. Joseph’s Llewellyn Beach since childhood. But nearby cottagers (including her long-time friends) weren’t impressed when they heard that their neighbour, by then in her early 70s, was going to build a cottage on a narrow, previously empty slice of waterfront next to the family place. They would have been even less pleased if they’d seen the magazine clipping she showed Albert. “Mahogany with white trim,” he recalls. “Dead ugly.” No way could Albert do ugly—it’s just not in his DNA—especially for someone he’d known since he was a kid.

Her sister at the cottage he built for their mother, Jane Lou Smith. Albert installed the interior’s vertical pine panels (opposite) in different widths. “Otherwise, your eye goes to the joints—and you see bars, like being in jail.”
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About Cottage Life

Time to fire up the grill! Cottage Life presents The Ultimate Cottage BBQ Guide, featuring answers to all your burning questions and recipes and pro tips from 7 of Canada’s top grill masters (including one burger that’s pure insanity). This issue is chock full of everything you need to get ready for the season: you’ll find a deep dive into the growth of vacation rentals—and how cottage country is responding; building and renovation secrets from one of cottage country’s most loved go-to guys; and 9 boating mistakes to stop making this summer (dead batteries and bad gas, we’re looking at you). PLUS, a propane tank storage project, tips and products for the workshop, and a peek into a 150-year-old barn that gets a new life as a bunkie.
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