Playing House

Two best friends refuse to let societal norms price them out of Victoria’s real estate market

Best friends Annie Poirier (top left) and Annick Bujold joined forces, funds and families to become homeowners with daughters Ella (bottom left), Frederique and Gabrielle.

Two best friends refuse to let societal norms price them out of Victoria’s real estate market

Six girls perch together on benches around a spread of blueberry tea and muffins. Stuffed animals linger in the corners, freshly painted crafts decorate the room. Some of us arrive in high heels a little big for our feet. It’s a real tea party; the kind with trinket cups and mom’s homemade treats. But this is no ordinary home, and the girls at this tea party range from age 9 to 42.

I’ve been invited to The French Ladies’ House — a makeshift co-op home comprised of five best friends: two moms, three daughters (and three cats) who may be trendsetting the new way of house buying for single Victorians, and giving a renewed meaning to the term extended family.

It was one week after starting kindergarten at L’école Victor-Brodeur in Esquimalt that Frederique Hains met Ella Jouanisson-Poirier.

“I remember when she first walked in the room, I said, ‘Oh, she’s pretty, I want to be her friend,’” says Frederique, now 11. “There were these little stations at school where we could play house, so we went in a house together to play. And now we still are! But it’s a lot more different now.”

Little did the girls know then that their friendship would pave the route for their mothers, Annick Bujold and Annie Poirier, to develop a lasting bond that would lead them to purchase a house together only six years later.

“I’ve often told Annie that she would be my perfect boyfriend,” says Bujold, 37.

“But I’m just not ready to get the surgery yet,” adds Poirier, 42, with a teasing laugh.

The honeymoon period

Poirier, a French instructor at UVic, has been a single mom to Ella, now 10, for the last seven years. Bujold, a nurse at an Oak Bay senior facility and mom to Frederique and nine-year-old sister Gabrielle, was divorced three and a half years ago. While both women originally hail from Quebec, the two moms did not meet until their Victoria-born daughters bonded at the French school. The two families would go on regular camping trips together when Bujold was still married, and would even spend Christmas and some holidays in each other’s company.

“Even back then, it was funny what a good team we made,” says Poirier. “When we were camping I would forget so many things, and Annick would always have extra on hand. She really knows my shortcomings, and I know hers.”

“Yes,” adds Bujold. “And Annie has all the creativity, and so much vision. She knows just how to bring the fun into any situation.”

It’s only been four months since the two families officially merged into their five-bedroom, one-and-a-half-bathroom house in the Cedar Hill area, but already the two women finish each others’ sentences, smile with glowing compliments for the other and work together in a type of joint parenting for the three girls. Meanwhile, the girls share time between the house and their fathers’ homes, but all report to love the change — a change that came about at Poirier’s suggestion.

“I was reading this book last November that challenged you to consider what you thought you could never achieve, and I thought ‘I want to be a house owner,’” says Poirier. “But of course, being a single mom in this economy, in Victoria’s market, yeah right. The bank refused me.”

When Poirier and Bujold realized they shared the dream, the two wasted no time. Poirier saw the 1930s house they now live in, and says “it was love at first sight.” Bujold agreed, and they put an offer on it in December, then moved in March. It wasn’t complicated to sign a mortgage together, or even deal with moving from their long-time rented places in Cordova Bay and Metchosin. Even their families were supportive — though some had the guts to ask if this was more than a housing swap.

“One of the first things my ex-husband asked me was, ‘So you’re gay?’ and I just had to laugh,” says Bujold. “This is something people accept in school or university-age, the idea of having roommates, but in our society it’s just not common to buy a house with your best friend.”

Both Bujold and Poirier say the whole experience has been “quite magical.”

Each bedroom is set up to respect every lady’s unique desire: Bujold’s is minimalist with white walls and exotic art, Poirier’s is lightly decorated with orange walls. Frederique’s nook has an angular ceiling with spacious mirrors, Ella’s loft is elegant with a pink bed spread, and Gabrielle’s “diva” space is a changing room in progress. Despite the five of them, they’ve never had a problem with bathroom space either.

The living room quadruples as a greenhouse, fashion show room, theatre and concert hall for the girls’ many productions; the dining room hosts an arts-and-crafts table; the hallways offer wall space for French and language history — and, of course, Frederique, Ella and Gabrielle’s creations. More than anything, the women have found camaraderie in each other, and harness the fact that they can do more together than apart.

Friends ’til the end

“We laugh at the same jokes, we both love the same cheesy songs, we’re two drivers, two cooks, two cleaners, two moms,” says Bujold. “Annie and I are like a couple, but better — without the tension.”

Poirier says that deep friendship comes down to accepting each other exactly as is. They don’t even pretend to be in good moods when they are not, she says.

“The other morning Annick was crying, and when I opened the door I just said, ‘Oh, it’s that kind of morning, is it?’ and took her in my arms,” says Poirier. “It felt good for both of us — in a relationship there’s so much of, ‘Oh, what did I do wrong?’ but I didn’t feel any of that.”

In an ironic twist, both women have become the envy of many of their married friends. Even Frederique and Ella have had friends at school remark on how lucky they are to get to live together, and with parents that don’t fight.

“When I look at other women I know who are married, I find there is a lot of solitude in marriage. It’s interesting to look at other cultures’ ways of organizing women and men,” says Poirier. “With children and work there is always something to do, but with my ex-husband it was a conversation every day. We had so many conversations about chores, and not really any just as friends. And that’s a big relief, now. Annick and I never have to talk about who’s going to mow the grass or make dinner. Somehow, it just always happens.”

While all the ladies (except Ella) boast that they are single and looking, they aren’t planning on changing their living situation anytime soon. Between sips of tea, Frederique recounts a memory when she was sad that an annoying boy tried to play house with Ella when she was supposed to. The moms laugh.

“Maybe that will happen to us one day: ‘Oh, that guy! He wants to play house with my friend,” says Poirier with a laugh.

“It could be, eventually,” agrees Bujold. “I think we both hope so, at some point. Life now, though, is more exotic. We all get to play every day.” M

For those who want to join in the fun, Annie Poirier is opening up their home to offer French language and cooking lessons. She can be reached at anniepoirierples@hotmail.com.                

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