Old homes are definitely where the art is for Tony Gallant.
This amateur photographer from Brockton in West Prince has his heart set on capturing the essence of abandoned houses, outbuildings and other structures on Prince Edward Island and in doing so is documenting some of the Island’s built heritage before it disappears into the red soil on which it was constructed.
He has also developed quite a following for his Abandoned Properties of P.E.I. Facebook page where he has posted his ongoing series of images.
“For some reason, I just always really, really appreciated older things with character. I don’t know why. It’s just in me. I love coming upon these places that I don’t know are there,” says Gallant, who was bitten by the shutterbug passion after becoming a part-time reporter/photographer for the Journal Pioneer newspaper in Summerside about three years ago.
“I don’t go too far without my camera. If it piques my interest, then I get a shot of it.”
Over the years, Gallant had taken notice of the abandoned properties in his travels.
In January of this year he decided to shoot a series of images of some of these properties.
“My initial intention was to do one property each week. I photograph it, find out what I could about it and put one up each Friday on my Facebook page,” he says.
“I thought I was going to do the entire Island in one year. That’s what I put on my opening page (on Facebook). I wanted to get from North Cape to Souris in a year. I haven’t left West Prince yet.”
From the beginning, Gallant posted his pictures on his Abandoned Properties of P.E.I. Facebook page, which was supposed to be open to the public.
“I did want people to see it. I was so interested in it I wanted other people to have a look and see what I was doing,” he says.
Unbeknownst to Gallant, his privacy settings restricted viewings to just a few people.
About seven months into his project he realized this, made a change in his page and things took off like wildfire.
In fact, he had more than 100,000 hits in just a few weeks.
“So I was pretty excited when I saw the interest. I had no clue (there would be that reaction),” he says.
“I was hoping there was some because when you’re interested in something you like to share it with people who are interested (as well).”
Most of the houses and structures Gallant has been photographing are from the same century-old era, but there are a few somewhat newer ones that have been abandoned in the past few decades.
“In some of these places it looks like they just walked out the door and left everything behind,” he says.
“In some, where the windows aren’t broken yet the curtains are still hanging. A couple of places I photographed there’s an old kitchen wood range sitting there with a teakettle on the stove. ‘Where did you go? Why didn’t you pack it and take it? How fast did you have to leave?’”
Gallant speculates that some properties might be vacant because the last occupant died and there was no one to continue on, or it could possibly be economic circumstance that forced the owners to vacate for more promising locales.
“I think a lot of the situation was ‘Look, there’s not enough work to live here,’” he says.
“I would assume most of these old places didn’t have a mortgage so I don’t think they were leaving behind debt in a lot of cases. I think it (may have been a case of) ‘Well, we can’t make a living here, we may as well move on. We’ll take what we need and let’s go.’ “
His own century-old family homestead in Howlan was occupied by two of his siblings after their father died in 1992 but has been vacant for the last 15 years or so.
“You can see the wallpaper is peeled halfway down. There’s a sag where there was never a sag before. There’s a smell about some place that’s abandoned. It’s an aroma that you’ll get in any place that’s not blown wide open and still has some closure in it,” Gallant says.
“I think every place is the same that’s like that. They all have this same aroma.”
When Gallant looks at his homestead he sees the story of his childhood.
“I still see everything that was. I can go and sit in my little bedroom up there and it’s just like my mom and dad are downstairs and my brother’s out farming the field. It’s wonderful to be able to do that,” he says.
“That property itself and the memories of it means as much to me. At the bottom of the hill there’s a stream and every morning in the summer as kids we’d get out of bed, get a bite to eat and run down through the thistles — (thigh high) it wouldn’t matter, we had a path — and we’d jump in the little stream. (And) every winter it was a perfect hill for snow sliding. It had everything for a kid: a farm, a hill, a stream . . . .”
Gallant has strict self-imposed rules for his photo project: he will not enter an abandoned structure, nor will he cross into an area that is marked with No Trespassing signage.
In addition, he is always cautious about what information he posts about the properties on his Facebook page.
“Most places I go to there’s no sign saying, ‘No trespassing’ so I will go right up to the building and I will shoot through the window and through the holes to take pictures (but I don’t enter),” he says.
“Because I don’t want anybody going into my homestead unless they have permission; so tit for tat. I can usually get a shot I need from outside.”
Some properties have stories that take on a life of their own: one is alleged to have been a commune; another is thought to have a tragedy associated with it. Overall, there’s nothing like an abandoned house to inspire tales of haunts and spirits.
“(And) they just somehow fit in,” Gallant says.
“They’re not an eyesore for most parts. They might be for some people but I think they’re not.”