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Dogs, Log Cabins and a Toronto artist

By a pond in a six-acre forest, a rambling retreat is where Beth Halstead unplugs and re-energizes. By ALEX NEWMAN Living

Sat., Feb. 18, 2017

Artist Beth Halstead strolls with her dogs, from left, her two Australian shepherds Bear and Lobo, and border collie Tinker. (DARLENE DUNCAN)

Beth Halstead took the first flight home when she got her real estate agent’s call to come see a cottage “Right now!”

The Toronto artist had been enjoying some downtime at her New Brunswick retreat. But she’d been looking for a place closer to her Toronto home. “My agent said it was perfect for me, just what I’d been looking for and it would be gone by the weekend.”

The main structure, a rambling Pan-Abode log affair with multiple add-ons, was “a little weird,” Halstead says. And filled with 40 years’ worth of the previous owners’ accumulations. But it had the privacy of more than six acres of birch and pine forest, a stream and a one-acre pond that prompted Halstead to ask who else lived “on the lake.”

Today, 13 years later, the four-season cottage and its property — Shady Pines — are her oasis, giving Halstead the necessary “quiet time to unplug and refuel in order to have something to give again.

The rambling Pan-Abode-style log cottage lies nestled in six acres of woods on a picture-postcard winter day.

“I drive up there exhausted and can’t wait to arrive to take a nap. But when I get there, boom! I get all this energy, and it’s ‘OK, now I’m going to mow the lawn,’ and before I know it, it’s 10 p.m.”

Halstead splits her time between a hectic schedule in Toronto — doing custom plaster finishes and hand-painted murals for an impressive client list — and the cottage. Every Friday, she decamps from “civilization,” leaving behind all technology (cellphone, Internet, TV), takes the 75-minute drive north of Orangeville and stays happily cocooned until Sunday night when she returns to the city. Mostly, it’s just her and her three dogs Bear, Lobo and Tinker, except on the weekends when her partner Trish Yeates joins her, or when friends come to hang out.

The oasis effect comes partly from the property, nestled into nature. A bigger part of it, though, is getting away from technology, says Halstead. “Although I love technology as much as the next person, this obsession with life in our screens is not normal. Relationships and real life are outside of that, so for myself and for personal peace, I choose to go Friday to Sunday with no cable, no texting — and that’s a huge part of my well-being.”

The master bedroom that Beth Halstead refinished, with barnboard on the walls. The boards were salvaged from the barn of one of her friends in the area, north of Orangeville.

While the rambling five-bedroom cottage has a dedicated yoga studio — with two expansive walls of windows overlooking the woods — Halstead takes her meditation wherever she is, whether that’s doing yoga or “moving big piles of wood from one place to another.

“We live in a society where we go to the gym, and that’s because we live in cities. But for me, working out is often just working. There are always things to be done, and here at the cottage there’s always a way to do it and be in nature at the same time. I make all my meals in the morning — preparing great meals is a way to be loving to myself — and I will go out and work 12 hours with breaks only for nourishment.”

Halstead is always busy with new projects, like cladding the dining room walls in bark-covered branches found on the forest floor, and building the “Tiny”: a 250-square-foot bunkhouse with its own little kitchen and bathroom.

When she first got the cottage, it took two weeks to haul away stuff left behind in five truckloads of macramé planters, doilies, side tables and mismatched dishes. Then Halstead methodically created her retreat, fixing floors, ceilings, walls and furnishing each room with its own distinct look.

Since log houses don’t do well with major gutting, Halstead stayed within the footprint and instead replaced the furnace, roof, kitchen and bathrooms.

As well, many of her materials are salvaged. The vanity in one bathroom is the result of combining a vanity found at the side of the road, and the vanity from a friend’s Yorkville condo. The grasscloth wallpaper in the master bedroom were gleaned from a shopping trip to Goodwill and an encounter with a homeless man. The rough-hewn boards covering bedroom walls came from a local friend’s barn.

“As an artist-creator, I need materials and I see potential from what’s been discarded,” Halstead says. “Besides, the stuff from the store is never as interesting. The difference between clutter and collecting is I never keep something thinking to make money from it. Arranging it is a matter of intuition.”

Defining her cottage oasis by its immersion in nature, Halstead says, “I’m a better, calmer more grounded person when I’ve been here for a few days. I wouldn’t be healthy, emotionally and spiritually, if I didn’t have this because the land is very healing.

“It seems, in our culture, we work at being distracted and entertained. But if we slow down and watch, we have natural entertainment going on all around us, how the weather and quality of light change every day — it’s a show of nature.”

The cottage in summer, with its dock extending into the huge, deep pond.



  • 4,395: Bark-covered branches lining the dining room.

  • 14: Days to clear the previous owners’ clutter.

  • 5: Truckloads of clutter hauled to the dump.

  • 4: Activities done in the yoga room: dancing, yoga, weights, New Year’s Eve get-together.

  • 50 or 60: Years of age of Sweet Potato, the snapping turtle in Halstead’s pond.

  • 5:30: Time each summer afternoon a kingfisher circles the pond to hunt.

  • 100+: Number of prosecco corks saved, so far, to create a Loch Ness monster for the pond.


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