Escape to the country

Moving to a historic home in Gravenhurst was part of the healing process for Andy and Kelly Warne following a life-changing car crash.

by Gale Beeby | photography by Danielle Meredith

If courage is the ability to be strong in the face of pain or grief, then Andy and Kelly Warne are truly courageous.

In 2015, Andy and Kelly were living a dream life when a tragedy turned their lives into a nightmare. On November 4 of that year, Andy was involved in a horrific car crash in front of his Ayr, ON, home in which the other driver – who it was later proven had been drinking and using drugs – died.

Kelly was the first on the scene. The carnage was devastating.

Despite being relieved that Andy escaped without physical wounds, the crash left both of them with deep psychological scars.

Their perfects lives, which included two young daughters – 3 and 1 at the time – and a budding woodworking business called the Rock Paper Scissors Company, was shattered.

Subsequently, both Andy and Kelly were diagnosed with severe post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety and depression.

Following the crash, they felt the needed to move closer to their support system of family and friends, so they sold the Ayr house and moved into a two-bedroom bungalow in downtown Hamilton, opening their custom furniture shop nearby.

“Our world spiralled out of control,” Andy recalls. “In Ayr, a small town near Waterloo, everybody knew us and we were constantly reminded of the accident every time we looked out our window.”

“After the move to Hamilton, people were feeding us and taking care of our kids,” Kelly adds. “It was the support we needed because we were really down for a long time.”

The next step in their healing process was to move to the country and the fates led them to the historic home in Gravenhurst, but more about that later.

The beginning

Kelly and Andy first met in Burlington 11 years ago while they were both coaching rugby. At the time, Andy was working as a chimney sweep and was a budding entrepreneur. Kelly was a sign maker and also competed in the Hammer City Roller Derby league.

A year later, they moved to Ayr and on weekends they were making candles and home decor items. That’s when they opened the Rock Paper Scissors Company and started dedicating more time to their passion of working with reclaimed wood.

“We are best known for our custom reclaimed furniture, where we take pieces of old historic Canadian wood and give it new life,” Kelly, 35, says. “Each and every one of our updated pieces have a story to tell, just like us, and just like our new home.,Our goal in life is to honour the character time leaves and shine a light on the legacy of each item we come across.”

“We do art, not just furniture and signs,” adds Andy, 48.

Following that awful day in 2015, Andy and Kelly discovered that the work wasn’t just about making a living and keeping busy.

“The business allowed us to not only put food on the table, but allowed us to mentally heal,” notes Andy. “We started speaking in schools on mental health issues, which is now as important to us as our art. We have grown since the accident.”

Although the couple thrived in Hamilton, their rental bungalow was too small and it was soon time to find a bigger home for them and their growing daughters – Emjay, now 9, and Georgia, 7.

Also, Emjay was suffering from anxiety and she found big city life too stressful, Andy notes. “We were trying to fit into a place that no longer fit us.”

They knew they were going to have to leave the safety of family and friends, not only because Hamilton was becoming stressful, but it also reminded them daily of what they had lost, and because the price of homes in the Steel City were getting out of reach, even in the outskirts.

Their forever home

Their search led them to the property on Sarah St. in Gravenhurst, where stood a 3,000-square-foot red brick house on a double lot that dates back to the 1890s. They purchased it from the estate of June Johnston of the Muskoka Lakes Farm and Winery and Johnston’s Cranberry Marsh in Bala. Before that, the property was owned by a captain for the Muskoka Steamships company.

As the third proud owners of the home, Andy and Kelly intend to honour its history so there won’t be a wholesale reno, just a massive makeover, which you can follow at Facebook.com/ RockPaperScissorsCo.

“The home is very historic with a story we can’t share without tearing up,” says Kelly. “It is absolutely stunning, as well as being frozen in a 1970s time warp, complete with nine kinds of bright wallpaper and a bubblegum pink kitchen!”

After they took possession, “Grandma June’s” family paid Kelly and Andy a visit, walking them through each room and sharing stories about the family’s time in the house.

“It’s full of history and each room seems to have its little quirks. Tradition is important. Grandparents are important, as are friends and family,” says Kelly. “They (the Johnston family) chose us to buy the house and they changed our lives.

“This is now our forever home.”

The mortgage for the Gravenhurst home, where there is also an 800-square-foot outbuilding zoned commercial that can be used as Andy’s workshop, costs less than they were paying for the small bungalow and the workspace in Hamilton.

“The location couldn’t be better,” Andy says, adding that their children will be able to attend a French immersion school in Bracebridge, there is a library with a reading program nearby, the girls will be able to get back to their music lessons and they have joined the local YMCA.

“We are so happy to have found this community!”

The next chapter

Since the car crash, Kelly and Andy have had successes and setbacks but Rock Paper Scissors Company has grown and thrived.

Kelly and Andy have also taken a tragedy that left them struggling with mental health issues and turned it into a way to help others in their community heal from trauma.

“Before COVID, we held many workshops, including after-school programs, March Break camps and women’s-only classes that were all hands-on in a safe and supportive environment. Sometimes, it was the first time someone had held a hammer or turned a screw.

“Now we’re holding those workshops in ‘bubble’ groups of four, all socially distanced.”

“We have an open-door policy,” Andy adds. “We’ve opened these doors to strangers, neighbours, family and friends. We will talk with anybody who wants to talk. There are days when I have come home and tell Kelly that I didn’t get any work done because someone came in and we talked all day.

“When you’re dealing with mental health issues, you feel alone. But once I started talking about my experiences, about my journey, I realized that I wasn’t alone and I saw how much it affected other people knowing that they weren’t alone.”

Kelly and Andy also started the Silver Hammer Fund, which offers children living with trauma a distraction from the confusion of daily life.

“Whether a family member is going through chemotherapy, or the family is experiencing grief, children will have their minds filled with creative adventures during the workshops,” Kelly says. “The children add so much joy to our lives, they love to soak up our attention, show us how creative they can be and are always happy to receive hugs!

“We cannot wait to become more and more involved in the Muskoka community, to bring our art and our programming to a whole new environment and to get in touch with all things historic in the North.”