Citizen Action Monitor

Arthur’s “Onaen” Project

No 15 Guest post by Helga Wintal, May 24, 2010

Onaen”, by any other moniker, means to kindle. And there is another moniker. According to an Old English/Modern English dictionary that I consulted, “onǽlan”,  pres onǽleþ past onǽlde ptp onǽled/onǽld, means set fire to, ignite, heat, inspire, incite, kindle, inflame, enlighten, burn, consume.

Arthur Churchyard

If you visit Arthur Churchyard’s house in Guelph, you will find the word “Onaen” emblazoned on a chalkboard in his living room. Now that’s pizazz! How many people do you know who have a chalkboard in their living room, never mind one boasting a long-dead Anglo-Saxon verb?

The chalkboard in the living room is not the only eye-popping feature about this residence. How about the raised vegetable beds filling the left side of the driveway, the rapeseed plants growing in the public space between the sidewalk and the roadway, the five bicycles lined up in a neat row in the side yard, and a brood of chickens in the backyard?

Arthur, a rural planning student in the masters program at the University of Guelph, is a young man with a mission.  His goal is to transform the landlord-tenant relationship into a cooperative partnership to ‘green’ rental housing and promote sustainable living.  A tall order, but Arthur’s house is a living laboratory for creative, low-cost ideas for urban sustainability.

He began his experiment in April, 2009 when he used his scholarship money to buy a 1970s-era bungalow.  He was drawn to this house because, in addition to being affordable, it featured a huge cold storage room in the basement.  In his first year of home ownership, this entrepreneurial locavore has made some impressive changes, helped by his student tenants, government grants and other incentive programs, faculty advisors and partnerships formed with Guelph businesses and organisations.

The house now has a high efficiency furnace and energy efficient appliances. To save electricity, the tenants have opted for a fridge, which is easily less than half the size of a standard fridge. They have learned how to keep a variety of produce in cold storage and have experimented with making preserves. They dug up the entire back yard and transformed it into a garden for edible produce, with two cold frames to start plants from seed and a chicken coop to house the five chickens which supply an average of five fresh eggs per day. Rainwater harvesting and indoor worm composting help to supply the garden’s needs.

Not content with his accomplishments, Arthur continues to explore ideas for cost-effective retrofits and urban sustainability practices. He has plans for dispensing with the front lawn. He talks of creating a partial green roof and a simple grey water filtering system to recycle water from the shower and kitchen sink for use in a future greenhouse. Other projects include an indoor composting toilet – as soon as a use can be found for the “fertilizer deposits” — and a wood stove to burn scrap wood and heat the basement until an alternate heat source is installed.

In Arthur’s house, student tenants with a large vision share a small space. Seven people currently call it home, each occupying less than 100 square feet of space.  To live and share in the work of maintaining and transforming the house requires a passion for urban sustainability. In this arrangement, everyone benefits. Tenants benefit directly through lower water and energy costs, through building community, sharing fresh locally grown food, and gaining hands-on experience with housing retrofits and sustainable budgeting. The landlord benefits from the many improvements to the property, which add value. The community and the environment benefit from the sustainable practices demonstrated.

Arthur challenges us to dare to dream, and to turn that dream into a reality. Bravo!


  • Living in a Green House”. By Lori Bona Hunt. at Guelph, June 3, 2009. Student landlord, roommates will use demo home to study ideas for eco-house tenants, landlords.
  • The locavoric university student”. By Nicole Elasser. The Ontarion, May, 6, 2010. The house, which has been called by the residents as The Onaen Project, is a model for sustainable living in a rental situation. Roommates work together on a garden and the keeping of several egg-laying chickens. One of these roommates, Arthur Churchyard, is a U of G student who also doubles as the landlord of the house. Churchyard is also active in the local food movement in Guelph and has worked on a number of other initiatives locally outside of The Onaen Project.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


This entry was posted on May 24, 2010 by in counterpower of one and tagged , .
%d bloggers like this: