B.C. garage with rooftop garden inspires unexpected love story

Freida Eriksen will never forget when she was a child and started helping her parents transform their home into an international attraction that would change her life forever.

“What happened was, my dad and mom have always been creative and industrious,” Freida says. “And dad was into stone work.”

Although he was a barber by trade, Freida’s dad Andy Gilstein covered their garage with countless oval stones, before creating benches, windmills and lighthouses out of stone in their backyard.

Then her mom Margarete Gilstein filled it all with elaborate arrangements of flowers.

“It was a beautiful sight to see,” Freida says, adding that neighbours started calling it a mini Butchart Gardens, after the famous Vancouver Island tourist attraction.

“It did create a lot of attention.”

Tour buses began making regular stops on their quiet, suburban street, and visitors from the around the world started taking pictures of the stone garage with the garden blooming on top.

“Which also lead (the tourists) into the house,” Freida says. “Because dad wanted to share his clocks.”

Andy had a collection of 400 antique clocks, many hundreds of years old. He’d offer the visitors tours of his display down in the basement. If they hit it off, Margarete would invite them up for a meal in the dining room.

“That’s how I met my husband,” Freida says, before laughing. “He came for supper and he stayed for 51 years!”

Before he was her husband, Finn Eriksen was a visiting merchant marine from Norway. Rather than the beauty of the backyard, his eyes were focused on Freida.

“Beautiful gal. Drove a ’58 Pontiac.” Finn recalls with a smile. “Can’t get any better.”

“I’m still wondering if it was the car or me,” Freida laughs.

Finn says it was definitely her. After she performed traditional Norwegian music on the accordion for him that night, Finn asked Freida out.

“(Margarete and Andy) may have been a little uneasy when I was dating their daughter, because sailors don’t have the best reputation,” Finn laughs. “But they were lovely people.”

And they were happy Finn was Norwegian. Margarete and Andy were the founding members of the local Sons of Norway dance group. They and their children regularly volunteered to perform at seniors’ centres and veterans’ hospitals.

“They enjoyed what they had and sharing it with other people,” Finn smiles.

Which was exemplified by their elaborate backyard, which Margarete kept filling with flowers after Andy died, tending to it daily until she died at 97.

“She just enjoyed life so much,” Freida smiles.

Although the property has since sold, and the tour bus stops ceased, the stone garage with the garden on top remains. It’s a legacy of love, family and community perennially there to inspire.