September 14, 1938
Community Housing in N. S.
By Nellie L. McClung
On the road from Sydney to Glace Bay there is a mining town called Reserve, where the miners of a certain coal mine live. The Company houses, dark brown and green, are dull little dwellings on rutted streets. There are no trees or flowers and the outlook is sombre.
But in this little hive of human beings, we saw one of the most interesting experiments in co-operation, at least the one which appealed most to me.
First let me describe the houses in which the miners live. They are small, ugly and dark. There are no basements and no conveniences. The floors are laid o the ground, and the earth works up through the cracks in the boards, making a continual dust in dry weather, and dampness in the rains. There is a narrow room in front, a bedroom and a kitchen, and two rooms upstairs, and the rent paid is ten dollars a month.
As this little town is in Father Tompkins parish, the people have been studying in groups. The Library at the Glebe House is at their disposal and its well thumbed volumes can be seen in these little houses. According to Father Tompkins dynamic philosophy, ideas "have hands and feet." So no wonder something happened.
The Reserve miners and their wives have notions in their heads. The books and discussions have set them dreaming of better houses, with a place to grow flowers and vegetables, a place for their children to play on green grass, instead of the hard and dusty street.
Then, as if in answer to their prayers and Father Tompkins and his people believe in prayer there came to Reserve Mines a visitor from New York, a Miss Mary Arnold, who came to see the co-operative work which is going on in this part of Nova Scotia. She had been for eighteen years connected with co-operative enterprises in New York and had built an apartment house, where the tenants became the owners in time; so she knew about plans and building costs and amortization.
She went to the study clubs. Soon the clubs met in her house and the real business began. The Province of Nova Scotia has a Housing act which provides for a loan to prospective builders, of seventy-five per cent of the cost of the house. Miss Arnold and her friends, the miners, began to draw plans on this basis and make models of houses in cardboard. The study course lasted twenty-six weeks, and the people in Reserve learned something of building costs and the philosophy back of co-operation as a method of community building.
There was much measuring and figuring of costs and plans were evolved, each family choosing the plan which seemed best to meet their needs.
The land o which these magic homes would stand was the next subject for investigation, and at this place Father Tompkins came in with a suggestion. He had bought a tract of land about a mile from the edge of the mining town, thinking it might serve as a cemetery. He offered it to the group of ten families who had decided to build. There was something symbolic in this change of plan to the imaginative and romantic parish priest. It had in it the essence of his religion. The ground which was first intended for a refuge for the dead would be the dwelling place of the living.
We had the pleasure of seeing the first house, which is now complete, and the others are being built. The men are doing their own carpentry work, and the Government accepts this as part payment of the five hundred dollars which each man would have to pay. One hundred dollars will be all that is required for the down payment. The charter has been applied for and received, and the Arnold Housing Corporation is on its way.
Each family has an acre of ground, and the houses are grouped around a crescent. The Government will supply a supervisor for the landscaping work and the members will do the actual labor.
The completed house is of shingles, and contains six rooms. There are hardwood floors down stairs, and a fireplace in the living room. There is a full sized basement with plenty of light. There is a sink in the kitchen and it is not I a dark corner. Its height is determined by the woman who will be using it. There is electric light and running water.
The acre of land makes it possible for the family to raise their own potatoes, and other vegetables. And when the houses are ready for occupation the Government will send an instructor to show the owners how to make their own furniture.
Now the reader will be wondering what this beautiful and fully modern house is going to cost the miner and his family. How can he afford these luxuries? In addition to his one hundred dollars, the initial payment, he agrees to pay nine dollars and eighty cents a month, and this covers insurance, taxes and his debt to the house is clear.
Under Miss Arnolds direction, two other groups are studying in a neighboring town. Miss Arnold has in her mind the dream of remaking all of these villages, when their unlovely
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Community Housing in N. S.
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little dwellings will be replaced by real homes. So there is born in eastern Nova Scotia a new day for the men and women who work on the farms, in the mines, or those who take their harvest from the sea. It is the application of ethical Christianity to the problems of life.
NELLIE L. McCLUNG.