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This Old House - Do-it-Yourself

Artist Leaves Live-in Legacy

Written by Posted On Tuesday, 27 July 1999 00:00

Acclaimed Canadian artist Doris McCarthy, a Group of Seven contemporary, no longer owns the cliff-top home she built and enjoyed for 60 years -- but she doesn't have to move. Ms. McCarthy recently donated her property and a fund to maintain it -- totalling over $1 million -- to the Ontario Heritage Foundation, a nonprofit government agency.

The new owner is happy to wait decades to take possession.

"I love my place, and one way to love it is to look after it. The more you care for a place the more you build into it and it is built into you," said Ms. McCarthy. "This place is my root. On the other hand, I have always tried to hold it lightly. I have always felt I was a steward."

Her two-bedroom house, reflecting pond and five-acre garden are perched on a peninsula-like outcropping of the Scarborough Bluffs surrounded by federally-protected ravines. Magnificent views of Lake Ontario and neighbouring gardens have inspired her painting and writing. Ms. McCarthy bought her property in 1939. She named it "Fool's Paradise" because she spent $1250 -- more than she earned in a year -- for twelve acres of pasture on the Bluffs. The labour shortage during the second world war forced her to become her own construction worker. She even helped pour the well's concrete liner, spending hours at the bottom of the 52-foot shaft wearing a saucepan as a makeshift hard hat. In 1946, she moved in permanently.

"I never thought about selling," said Ms. McCarthy now 88. "I knew I was in this house for the rest of my life or as long as I was able. I had to worry about who would look after this place when I am gone."

On her death or when she moves, the Foundation -- now the irrevocable owner -- will take possession of the property and open it as a retreat for established Canadian artists, musicians and writers who need "a healing retreat" or a "time for peace and focus." Ms. McCarthy spent almost a year working out the details of this arrangement with the Foundation.

In this charitable-giving variation also used by registered charities, including hospitals and universities, the property was donated in exchange for an income tax credit, interest on the fund and the donor's right to continue living in the home for a specified period of time. The tax credit is established by a market-value appraisal minus the benefit for living in the property, which is calculated with a Revenue Canada formula.

Many of Canada's more than 70,000 registered charities have planned giving programs but not all can offer the "live-in legacy" variation. Take the time to build a relationship with the organization that will become your heir and landlord.

Ms. McCarthy continues to enjoy her home between painting expeditions that take her around the world.

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