A Woodland Chalet on Vancouver Island

An Ontario family in health crisis finds remedy in a Vancouver Island barn
By Iris Benaroia
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July 10, 2024

Julien Marit and Mike Travis have spent years dealing with their daughters’ chronic health struggles: 17-year-old Glacier and 15-year-old Kibale have asthma, eczema and anaphylactic allergies. A trace of dairy in a cookie, for example, has sent Glacier into respiratory distress. They’ve made countless trips to the children’s ward (Marit calls it “hospitalpalooza”), and doctors have gone so far as to suggest chemotherapy to suppress the kids’ immune systems. On average, the girls have missed around 70 days of school per year. (The youngest, 13-year-old Salem, has been spared the medical conditions.)

Desperate for relief, the family flew everywhere from Miami to Arizona to see if a change in climate helped. (It didn’t.) They even considered visiting the Dead Sea for its restorative properties. “We did everything short of voodoo,” says Marit. The magic bullet, however, was closer to home: a trip to Vancouver Island in 2017. Within 10 days of being out west, the girls were rash-free and relying less on emergency medications. Marit suspects it’s the cool humidity.

Upon returning home to Milton, Ontario, the family launched back into their usual hospitalpalooza. The girls’ rashes and asthma kicked back in within hours of leaving the plane, and Kibale ended up in the hospital in November. That was the breaking point. In January of 2018, the couple began the process of shuttering their construction business of nearly two decades and selling their house and possessions. In August, they took more than 20 days to drive across Canada in their Sprinter van, and returned to Vancouver Island. 

The family stayed in an Airbnb for 14 months while they searched for a home. A weathered barn finally caught their eye; the surrounding firs, fern-filled forest and wildlife reminded Marit of her youth in Rossland, a small town in the Kootenays. “I’ve longed for my kids to experience a quintessential B.C. childhood,” she says. They bought the barn.

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The family gutted the home’s interior but left the bones of the barn intact

The 2,000-square-foot house used to be a utility barn, complete with heavy bifold doors off the main floor that the previous owner hauled open so he could drive his tractor inside. “There was a grease pit in the middle of what is now my living room,” says Marit. “It smelled like oil.” But the family was up for the challenging reno.

Using software, Marit and Travis created more than 40 layouts for their home. The final result is a playful space with hidden doors and book nooks that also embraces the outdoors from every vantage point—think massive windows and woodsy elements. They did most of the grunt work themselves over six months. “The chalet,” as they fondly call their home, now has four bedrooms and a loft that doubles as an office and guest space. Ceilings top out at 13.5 feet in the front hall and kitchen.

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The barn’s interior is a mash-up of mid-century-modern and industrial aesthetics, with lots of vintage scores. In the mix are Marit’s own pottery creations, including a witch sculpture and sawdust-fired vases; keepsakes from family trips such as spears, a drum and giraffe statues from Uganda and Tanzania; and Travis’s guitar collection lining one wall (he’s in a band). A genuine ski-lift chair is mounted to the ceiling and painted bright orange. It’s part of an outdoor-themed nook, which includes a birch log and sliding doors emblazoned with an alpine scene that Marit painted.

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The family shoehorned a ski-lift into their van. It barely fit, but they got it to the island, where they hung it from the ceiling using a special mount.

Above the dining table, where the family and their Weimaraner, Pneuma, have enjoyed many meals watching elk and deer, Marit and Travis built floating cubbies for books, plants and mementoes. The shelves also double as a climbing wall, with a triangular loft as the summit. 

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For the kids, Marit and Travis built floating cubbies that double as a climbing surface, and a hidden door in the slatted-wood wall

The family says leaving Ontario was the best decision they ever made. They are six minutes from the ocean and often visit the surrounding rivers and lakes. “It’s such an amazing place to raise a family, especially after years of super-intense survival mode,” says Marit. Glacier and Kibale have never felt better, and Salem wants to study medicine after seeing doctors and nurses save her sisters’ lives.

Moving west has also come with a surprising side hustle. “We inherited a garlic farm from the previous owner,” says Marit. With it came buyers in Port Alberni, B.C., and Canmore, Alberta. Since then, Marit and Travis have worked together with farm-to-fork boutique grocers and invited locals to stop in and pick bulbs from their yard.

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