Brick work

[UPDATE MARCH 2016: since this post was written, Leanne and I have entered into a contract dispute with Ridgewater Homes. For more details, click here.]

There is a missing piece to the house-lift story.

Chimneys are an integral part of the heritage look of older homes. However, in any house, they are a source of heat loss. We were prepared to remove our chimney and replace it later, but the fireplace would have been destroyed if we did that and the fireplace is precious.

We decided to remove as much of the chimney as we reasonably could without damaging the fireplace. That meant lifting the chimney and the fireplace with it. We will then be able to insulate the wall behind the chimney and reconstruct it with the original bricks to look the same as it did in 1923.

How did we lift the chimney so that it didn’t fall apart? Nickel Bros. needed to run two steel beams into the chimney to hold it up so we needed two holes of just the right size. Daryl of Ridgewater Homes, our contractor, has done house lifts before, but each time the chimneys have all been removed. “This will be a first for me.” he said.
I was glad to have the expertise of our neighbour Ron-who-knows-about-bricks-and-also-looks-like-Santa.

Ron began his career fixing the holes in chimneys left by house lifters. He told me that a house lifting company, not being masons, would typically bash the holes with a sledge hammer, damaging surrounding bricks in the process and making it difficult to repair. He offered to remove just the right bricks.

Ron is a true artist craftsman in the old-fashioned sense. Don’t mess around with substandard materials. Do it right the first time. Don’t waste perfectly good bricks.

“The first thing they’re going to want to do,” he told me, “is take out their can of spray paint and mark where they want the beams to go. You can’t let them do that. They will get paint all over your bricks. We want to save those bricks.”
Sure enough, a few days before the lift, Nickel Bros. was here and I explained that Ron needed to know where they wanted the holes. It was my fault that the spray paint came out. I said that we needed the spots marked and I forgot what Ron had said. My bad.

Ron laughed in frustration when I showed him. “Don’t these guys own a pencil??” he exclaimed.

They used to empty the ashes from the metal door in the center
They used to empty the ashes from the metal door in the center

Ah well, I guess we’ll have to turn the painted side of those bricks to the inside when we reconstruct the chimney.

Ron set to work. He worked fast. First with a chisel and mason’s hammer…
Then with a circular saw.

He had to create holes big enough to let the beams through, but also leave enough bricks to support the chimney before the lift.
The saw created a lot of dust in the twilight.

The finished result was a work of art. “Unless there’s an earthquake before the lift” said Ron, “It should be fine.”

After the lift, the job remained of dismantling the chimney that was left on the ground. Here I managed to engage the services of my son who is seven. He enjoyed the work.


In the ashes that remained we found evidence of the last time ashes were pushed down the hole at the back of the fireplace, apparently in 1954. I suppose a wood-burning insert of some kind was used from then on.

Pages from a 1954 edition of a local magazine had been cut into strips, presumably as tinder. Were they pushed down the hole with the ashes by mistake or as a means of disposing of them? We’ll never know.

Meanwhile, my son continued his work of chipping the lime mortar from the bricks so that we can re-use them. He refused to help me transport them to their pile and stack them, but I’ll take what I can get.

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James Rowley

James lives in Maple Ridge, BC, Canada with his amazing partner, Leanne Koehn, and their two amazing kids in their beautiful house. He studied Science and English Literature at the University of British Columbia where he met Leanne. He also studied acting for a while at Studio 58 in Vancouver. He works as a teacher of English and curriculum writer for new Canadians.

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