A hotbed of green initiatives, Perth, Ontario, attracts eco-conscious homeowners with PerthWorks, a sustainable urbanism pilot project. The catch? The houses are built in collaboration with Algonquin College students.
By Jules Torti
My partner and I sold our 150-year-old stone house in Galt, Ontario, in August 2016. We sold it on Facebook, actually, but that’s another story. Since then, we’ve zigzagged back and forth from Prince Edward County to Northumberland to Point Pelee to Long Point, looking (rather desperately) for our next forwarding address.
By October, slightly disenchanted with The County and the greedy market, we pushed north. And south. To Wolfe Island. Amherst Island. Pelee Island? Even the Frontenac. My mother suggested we visit Perth. “Just go for a weekend,” she said. “The Tay River winds through town, and all the buildings are stone. They even have a microbrewery for you, and a cute bakery.”
We loved Perth, but our ideal was a waterfront property with gauzy sunsets and a loon soundtrack. We opted to look at a contemporary build near the Perth fairgrounds, despite knowing in advance that it wouldn’t tick off three majors: sunsets, a mesmerizing lake and those necessary loons.
A juxtaposition indeed. Imagine our surprise when we slowed down in front of 55 Arthur Street to discover half a dozen Jetsons-like houses, all designed with similar wood-and-steel mash-ups and irresistible architectural “wow factor.” We had stumbled upon what many locals already knew about: a new sustainable urbanism pilot project called PerthWorks.
The Algonquin SmartHomes were built to be easy on both the environment and the bank account. The first three builds changed the desolate fairgrounds landscape in 2009. In the following three years, the GreenArc and the Algonquin-Tritton-Olympic House joined the mix. Built in partnership with the Lanark Design/Build Group, the Olympic House raised funds for local judo hero and Olympian Nick Tritton.
Perth’s future-thinking director of planning, Eric Cosens identified the need to demonstrate that green solutions could work. A surplus public works yard (a 2.5-acre brownfield site) just four blocks from Perth’s quaint downtown needed to be addressed. Recent residential development in the area wasn’t consistent with the established character of the town. And there were sewage and servicing capacity issues to contend with.
Algonquin also offers a two-semester graduate certificate in green architecture. According to the program’s description, it’s a crash course in “sustainable building design strategies and technologies” offered at the Ottawa campus.
After physically looking at 68 houses since August 2016, we’re nearly ready to sacrifice those poetic sunsets and a lakeside dock. Who knows? Maybe we’ll meet at a PerthWorks neighbourhood barbecue one day and compare net zeros and xeriscaping. Arthur 55 sold for $310,000 last summer, keeping the PerthWorks promise of being easy on both the environment and the bank account.
One thing is certain: Algonquin College has put merit into the forever-famous Field of Dreams quote, “If you build it, they will come.”
Photography by Jules Torti