Cinderella House Reno in Morrisburg

From rags to riches, that is the Cinderella story for homes that come under the hand of  Gerry Zeran owner of Zeran Builders & Wood Specialties Ltd. from Long Sault.

And that is the story that is currently being written for the home of the late Fred and Yvonne Veley at 44 Laurier Drive in Morrisburg.

Zeran has been in the building industry since 1977. “I built new houses for years and did renovations,” he says explaining that his current work involves the concept “Cinderella House Renovation” for which he takes the ugly and makes it into something beautiful. He selects only Seaway houses, meaning houses that were moved in the 1950’s for the Seaway expansion and dropped onto new foundations.

Zeran says that working on these older homes or any older home for that matter is “kind of a niche. A lot of guys don’t like doing it. It’s dirty work. New construction work is a lot cleaner so a lot of builders like that.”

When Zeran looks at a house, along with the cost, he is looking at its potential, the structure of the building, and whether it is solid and worth putting money into.”

The Veley house fit his criteria and in addition, “it had a fairly new roof, new furnace, new water tank and it was across from the golf course here.”

And with all that going for it, 44 Laurier Drive became the sixth Cinderella House Renovation for Zeran and his crew.

One added bonus, for the Morrisburg project, is that Zeran has a lot of old time friends in the community that he made during his days of playing Junior B Hockey with the Lions under coach John Rice. In fact, Billy Veley, son of the late Fred and Yvonne Veley, was a teammate.

“Billy’s been here and has gone through the house. He can’t believe what we are doing. His sister, Joanne, though has decided to come and see it when it is completely done.”

A defenceman with the Lions in early 1970’s, Zeran says he has halted his work a number of times to chat with some of his former teammates.

The project began on April 1, and the completion date is the end of July when an open house will be held.

The two-storey home was completely gutted, even the upstairs flooring was removed in order to level it. Along the way, says Zeran, there were some great finds.

They included a druggist bottle with the name of Morrisburg druggist Levi F. Selleck on it, other assorted bottles and “The Voice” a monthly magazine dated 1882. A wooden sap tap and a wooden tool (unsure of its use) were also uncovered.

All of the walls were exposed and opened in early April, and it was discovered that there were a total of six doors, two were in use and the others had been covered over.

Zeran says he receives support from the neighbours in the areas of his “Cinderellas.” His first was in Cornwall in 1991. His favorite is the home in Ingleside that was relocated from Dickinson’s Landing.  “I get a lot of support when the neighbours see that all of a sudden a house is being fixed up. It’s good for their property values,” he adds with a chuckle.

On Laurier Drive, everyone has been supportive, and in particular is backyard neighbour George “Junior” Beaupre. “George has been excellent. He’s helped us out with the home’s history and the families who have lived in it. This has been a really good community to work in.”

In addition to the actual construct, Zeran likes to put together the history of the house he is working on and has a friend who does the research. In this case, research wasn’t necessary. In fact, as Zeran was  providing a tour of the house, Mr. Beaupre dropped over for his almost daily inspection.

According to Junior, the house’s original location was across from the former egg grading station in Morrisburg and belonged to the Hanson family. He locates it approximately on the corner of park land north of the Lions’ Docksyde Restaurant. “I think it was purchased from the Hanson family by Clare Van Allen who sold it to Hydro at the time of the Seaway.”

Hydro moved it to its current Laurier Drive location and rented it to a Cayer family.  It was later purchased by the Veley family, who called it home for at least the last 50 years.

Zeran dates it to about 1880, but explains it is hard to date some of the Seaway houses as they are sitting on foundations put in by Hydro. He says the basement and their construction in old homes is often a helpful tool in dating a home.

Once the project commenced, the interior “was gutted right down to the studding” and the exterior layers were peeled away. “There were four exterior layers,” says Zeran. “So it had about 10 inch exterior walls with everything added to it.”

All projects on these older homes involve a lot of red tape as they don’t meet today’s building codes.

“This has been a really good community to work in,” says Zeran. “Dan Tessier, the building inspector, has been very helpful. We’ve worked on a lot of homes in other municipalities, and this is by far the best to have worked in. Nicole Sullivan, your economic officer, has also been very friendly and extremely helpful. If we could find a few more houses, we could definitely stay here. And there are certainly a lot of Seaway houses in Morrisburg.”

“Trying to marry the old with the new is not an easy job,” said Dan Tessier who was at the site for an inspection. “These guys are doing a great job. The walls will all be insulated and even the attic space is enhanced with new insulation.  It’s certainly a challenge to bring an old house up to new building codes. You have to remember these old houses were built when there were no building codes. Aesthetically, I would have to say that everyone on this street should be happy with what they are doing here.

Tessier says that his work in this type of project requires some “common sense” to make it all work.

Once Zeran had the house opened up, all joists were examined and reinforced where necessary. Once all was ready, the framing was done  and the Cinderella home began to take shape. Gone are the three bedrooms upstairs which required walking through each to get to the other and to the washroom. 

The upstairs now has a master to the front overlooking the golf course, a central bathroom with a new dormer window, a walk-in common closet and two small bedrooms to the back of the house each with their own closet. 

The main floor has an open type layout with the living room in the front and the dining and kitchen to the back. Patio doors open to a spacious back deck and bring light into the kitchen area. The front of the home has been enhanced with wrap-around porch with a newly shingled roof. All changes should be very appealing to today’s home buyers.

In the basement, furnace and laundry rooms have been framed in.  All beams have been reinforced and block repair has been completed on the south wall. The sewer has been camera’ed “to make sure everything under the floor is 100 percent.”

When the project is completed the basement walls will be dry walled, but the ceiling will be left open to enable new owners access for today’s technology needs.

Although the change at 44 Laurier will certainly be dramatic, Zeran says he does not out-price the neighbourhood. Cinderella House number 6 will have a new lease on life and will continue to fit into its space on Laurier Drive.

A preliminary open house for Cinderella #6 was held Sunday, June 29, just after the dry walling had been completed. A second  Open House will be held when the project has been completed at the end of July.

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