A Victorian inn on the Bay of Fundy figures prominently in the book I’m about to release in April, called The Widow & The Will. My fictional inn is partially based on an actual Georgian-era manor house in Dorchester, NB, that we used to own, called The Smith Manor. In its earliest iteration, the 8,000 square foot building (undoubtedly bigger, with plenty of outbuildings, originally) was called Woodlawn.
My husband and I had formed a charitable group back in the nineties with several friends called Burning Bush Ministries (think Old Testament stories, folks, not porn). We formed a band, wrote contemporary gospel and skits, and performed them in churches, on the street and in tougher places, like prisons. Through a series of circumstances, our group purchased the historic home of Sir Albert James Smith (watch our animation about this nineteenth-century NB politician best known for being an anti-confederate) in Dorchester, NB, in 1994, and we set about renovating the building so that we could use it for charitable purposes in the community and beyond. These days, the home has become an event venue called Lady Smith Manor, owned by a couple from British Columbia who have been carefully—and beautifully—restoring it for the last four years.
It wasn’t so beautiful when we bought the place in 1994 for $5,000 from the provincial government. There was much work to be done, and we had hardly any money or know-how to accomplish the task. The dank rooms and cracked plaster lit some of our imaginations–but gave others the hives.
What I remember most about the manor was all the doors. A myriad of hallways lined with doors, room after room after room. On the second floor, there was a beautiful master bedroom with an adjoining room overlooking the Memramcook Valley, but across the hall was another creaky door, leading up to the room I loved the most – the attic.
Sadly, the attic was never renovated during our time there, and I’m sorry that I didn’t take a picture of what it looked like. But the door—It held Alice-in-Wonderland-type fascination for me during the day, and more than a little apprehension at night. The door opened on a narrow, dusty, musty staircase, leading up to a long hallway, a huge room with gabled windows full of broken glass, and a roof that leaked.
And bats…plenty of bats.
When I wrote The Widow & The Will, I built on this memory of the attic door at the Smith Manor and combined it with other buildings I’ve seen. I’m sure an architect reading my story would likely say “that’s an impossible building. No one builds an attic like that…” but you won’t tell on me, will you?
And if you ever get a chance to attend an event at Lady Smith Manor in Dorchester, try to take a peek at the second floor attic door. Open it and see if it still creaks. Sniff the dusty air inside. And shut it quickly.