Housewarming, the Sackville Way: Set Yourself on Fire

I mean nothing literal or malevolent by the title, mind you, but a Sackville housewarming party is not your typical lukewarm gathering punctuated by stale small talk and crusty jello-mold puddings. The line comes from the beginning of a song by Stars, called “Your Ex-Lover is Dead”:

In short, Sackville weekends are nothing like Viennese nightlife, but damn, my friends here know how to party. Theresa and Scott just moved into a wonderful old house in Dorchester, and the knowledge that it is near a maximum-security penitentiary – like all of the houses in Dorchester, but apparently the houses on “Guard Row,” as it is called, sell for dirt cheap! – gave the night that dangerous edge. My fear of encountering a rogue prisoner on the dark marshes was amplified by stories of these types of escapes having been disturbingly achievable in the past, but luckily no convicts crashed the party.

Watercolour by John Amos, "Dorchester Marsh"

The housewarming followed a fluid progression of events throughout the night, of course, but I’m going to break down the perfect Maritime party into its constituent elements:

Kitchen Party

It is a well-known fact that all indoor gatherings in the Maritimes occur in the kitchen, despite anyone’s efforts to branch the party out into a larger sitting room where there is ample seating. Maybe it dates back to a time when the only source of heat was in the kitchen, thus forcing people into closer proximity in the more intimate space, maybe it’s just because all of the food is usually in there. Whatever the reason, Maritimers maintain a deep psychological bond with the kitchen, and this is where people make their first drinks of the evening, comment favourably on the homemade dips, and guzzle shortbread cookies.

Key ingredients:

1. A kitchen.


The extra beds in the house and finished barn, as well as ample yard space for tents and even a trailer, meant that the need for designated drivers was cut down drastically. Since the house is about a 20-minute drive from Sackville, this was an excellent opportunity for everyone to have a drink or two if he or she was so inclined. House parties in town, of course, are all close enough to walk home from, precluding the need for making such sleeping arrangements in advance, but it was rather necessary for this particular party.

Key ingredients:

1. A surplus of mattresses, tents, hammocks, and couches — anything for a warm body to curl up on. (And they were all used in this case!)


The fire is a common feature of Maritime parties well into the fall, and they have been known to occur in the dead of winter as well. We’re just hardcore like that. In this case, there is a lovely fire pit situated about 15 meters from the house, on the grassy marsh by the Bay of Fundy. The moon, almost full, shone clean and white on the entire scene. The fire provided the contrasting orange warmth, and the lights of the penitentiary were visible (but did not seem particularly ominous) from across the calm water.

Key ingredients:

1. Instruments. (We had a guitar, a fiddle, and a drum, as well as some lovely harmonizing.)
2. Alcohol. (Ours was a big bottle of tequila, quite warming in its own right.)
3. People willing to stoke the fire. (They were numerous and enthusiastic, as usual.)

Dance Party

In my opinion, any party worth its salt will have a significant amount of dancing. Why else would people congregate on a Saturday night? We did indeed eventually dance the night away to some excellent DJing, gradually losing our fellow dancers as they melted into the darkness to seek out places to sleep. Finally, a few hours before dawn, everyone was boogied out and ready for bed. The best aspects of dancing in the comfort of one’s own home (or the homes of others): there is no closing time, the drinks are free, and you get to pick the music.

Key ingredients:

1. A large, open space with no breakables vulnerable to flailing arms and the over-enthusiastic twirling of dance partners. (The living room was perfect for this.)
2. An iPod or other music source and someone(s) willing to DJ. (This also worked out well!)
3. A group of people willing to dance with few or no inhibitions. (Never in short supply, if your friends are awesome.)

Hangover Brunch

The next morning, the hosts were kind enough to provide ingredients to make brunch the next morning, and a collective of people helped to make delicious latkes and sweet baked beans, strong coffee, and crispy bacon. Reliving the night’s devolution into sloppy dancing and analyzing the guests’ various antics and injuries is a great aspect of the morning after a party, and only happens if enough people have spent the night or returned for the brunch. It was lovely to sit in the sunlit yellow kitchen and drink coffee with friends while my body wondered what made me decide that sleeping on a short couch was a plausible idea.

Key ingredients:

1. Ingredients. (Literally. Can’t be makin’ bacon if you don’t have any to begin with.)
2. Nice people willing to grind coffee beans and flip latkes. (Thank you!)

We went home soon after brunch was finished, to enjoy a leisurely Sunday afternoon (or to reluctantly get started on those course readings, for those among us in university). The vast marshes are equally as beautiful in the daylight – including the not-unpleasant, and even nostalgic, smell of manure wafting by on the breeze. I count it a successful housewarming, thanks especially to Theresa and Scott for their hospitality. Such a party ushers the house itself into a well-established tradition of Maritime-style celebration that extends deep into the night and often continues the next morning, although something tells me that in its own long history, this house has seen similar gatherings before.


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