A lot has changed in the 17 years since Larry and Vicky Graitson have been the caretakers of the Gwynne Vaughan heritage house, but their love for the 124-year-old home has not.
“We love this place. She’s a nice, beautiful old home,” Larry said.
It was home to Adelaide Gwynne Vaughan (1907 to 1993) for almost her entire life.
The couple of 47 years settled into the home located at Gwynne Vaughan Park in 2003 after their Lewis Avenue home went up in flames.
When they took on the role of caretakers, there wasn’t really an official job description for them other than unlocking the gate to the park in the morning and locking it back up again in the evening (the park is actually run by volunteers who tend to the gardens). And a year after they moved in, the Gwynne Vaughan Society started taking bookings for groups such as weddings, to which the Graitsons agreed to liaise.
They have keys to nearly every single neighbour’s house, but over the past several weeks the Graitsons have been handing back those keys and at the end of this month, they will be handing over their own set of keys to the Gwynne Vaughan heritage house.
As of June 1, Larry and Vicky are moving and will no longer be the caretakers of the picturesque Chilliwack site.
When they moved in to the home Vicky said it was going to be their “last great adventure,” and what an adventure it has been.
For the most part, being the eyes overseeing the park has been pleasant. They smile and wave as folks stroll around the grounds, chat with people who walk their dogs along the pathways and let people pick apples from the trees to the west of the house, even though they’re not supposed to – the fruit would simply go to waste and they figure someone should enjoy it.
The two have stories of all the wild animals that have been part of their lives. There was the trio of flightless baby crows that fell out of a tree the Graitsons would bring inside their home at nighttime and place it back outside on the ground for the birds’ mother to feed during the day until the young birds could fly on their own. There’s the family of deer who feast throughout the park, starting at the vegetable gardens by munching on lettuce, moving along to the rose bushes and finishing off with dessert at the apple trees.
And then there’s Squeaker the orphaned squirrel who adopted them when she was just a baby. Every time Larry would head outside the house and call her name, within seconds Squeaker would jump from her tree to his shoulder and scurry all around his chest looking for the nuts he hid in his pocket.
But along with the good times came the bad.
They’ve had to kick noisy people out of the park at all hours of the night. Homeless people sleeping there was a problem, as were the people who would drink and do drugs.
The Graitsons have had people shout and swear at them, while others threatened them.
Others walking through Gwynne Vaughan Park would either not see or ignore the “private property” signs surrounding the house. They’d peek in the windows thinking that the beautiful heritage home itself was public space – it’s not.
Over time, their private old home was not so private anymore.
And it was not nearly as quiet as it once was either.
When they first moved in Larry called Gwynne Vaughan Park “Chilliwack’s best kept secret,” but he not longer calls it that.
There’s been population growth in the area. The Graitsons have seen single homes torn down and townhouses built in their place, and with it has come an increase in traffic and private events at the once quiet park.
“We’ve enjoyed living here, it’s been a beautiful place. Everything has its faults, nothing’s perfect by any means,” Larry said.
But now the Graitsons are ready to retire and move (again) to a nice, peaceful place.
On Monday, the couple will be locking the door to “Gwynnie’s” house for the last time, taking one last stroll through the gardens and heading off to Princeton.
“All good things come to an end,” Vicky said.