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After conducting some internet research based on a hazy recollection from the 1980s, I was reminded that sometimes memories and their factual counterparts can be completely different entities.
First, my memory: I’m in the backseat of a moving car on the Island Highway, focused on the wall of pine trees blurring past my eyes. I know that if I look hard enough and at the right moment in time, I will be able to glimpse something amazing: a small translucent building made entirely of green and black glass bottles.
And now, the facts: A man named George Plumb bought an empty acre of land in Duncan, BC in 1962. He had a vision: to create bottle replicas of a castle and the Taj Mahal. He began with a donation of 3,000 dairy bottles, later adding pop, whiskey and wine bottles, and completed a 5-bedroom bottle house in 1963.
After that, Plumb added animals, a giant bottle, and a Leaning Tower of Pisa, using about 200,000 bottles in total: a much grander and more extravagant outcome than the humble cabin-sized building from my memory.
[image of the Duncan, BC Glass Castle from flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/photocat62/2313921358]
[image of the Duncan, BC Glass Castle from flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/photocat62/2313921210]
Plumb passed away in 1976, but his family looked after his bottle creations until the 1990s, when they were sold and turned into a tourist attraction. Unfortunately, it wasn’t maintained, and several years later everything was cleared away in order to make room for the highway expansion.
I learned of two additional Canadian bottle houses while researching Plumb’s. Inspired by a postcard of the Glass Castle in Duncan sent to him by his daughter in 1979, Édouard T. Arsenault created his own series of bottle houses on Prince Edward Island. The first one, using 25,000 bottles, opened to the public in 1980 and is celebrating its 30th anniversary this summer.
[image of the PEI Bottle House from flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/keith_watson/3024153283/]
The third structure is located near Boswell, BC, and is made entirely of embalming fluid bottles by a former funeral director, who created his dream after retiring from the funeral business.
[image of the Boswell Bottle Castle from flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/wirkafamily/3105825926/]
Digging even deeper, I discovered a North American bottle house subculture (mostly located in the States) – including several sites devoted to the history of bottle houses and listings of current b.h. locations, including the first known bottle house in Nevada. This is a good site if you’d like to learn more: http://www.agilitynut.com/h/otherbh.html.
I think these bottle houses are amazing labours of love, and would make a great pit stop on future cross-Canada road trips. But when I compare my original memory of hunting for blurred green and black glass between pine trees with the photo of Plumb’s creation, there are clearly two distinct versions of the same structure. I choose my memory.
Do you have any bottle house memories? I’d love to hear from you.