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BEHIND THE SCENES: Fergus couple trades home for a chateau in France

EloraFergusToday's Keegan Kozolanka takes us behind the scenes

In each “Behind the Scenes” segment, Village Media's Scott Sexsmith sits down with one of our local journalists to talk about the story behind the story.

These interviews are designed to help you better understand how our community-based reporters gather the information that lands in your local news feed. You can find more Behind the Scenes from reporter across Ontario here

Today's spotlight is on's Keegan Kozolanka, whose story 'Fergus couple trades home for a chateau in France' was published on Oct. 24.

Here is the original story if you need to catch up:

FRANCE – With housing prices skyrocketing in Ontario in recent years, many took the opportunity to trade-up for a bigger house or more land by moving to a smaller market. 

But one local couple took it to the next level when they went from a four-bedroom house in Fergus to a chateau in southern France. 

Sara and Stephen Cole weren’t running away from Canada when they moved to the 37-acre property in a small village of 500 people called Saint-Germain-des-Prés in southwest France, they were seizing an opportunity to live out a dream.

“We have spent a bit of time in Europe but France seemed to be the one that pulled at our heartstrings and we kept coming back here. It’s something about the culture, the lifestyle, the artistry,” Stephen said in a video call from the chateau. 

“Art is just built into culture here, the whole ‘why have a metro station when you can have a metro station with art’ sort of philosophy,” Sara added.

Living in a small town isn’t unknown to the pair, with Stephen growing up in Kincardine and Sara near Peterborough. 

They spent about 25 years living in Toronto doing “the corporate thing” before moving to Fergus where they lived for about five years. 

Sara said they desired a smaller community they could integrate with that was within reasonable distance of her job in Waterloo and the airport so they could continue to travel. 

They first discussed moving to Europe about 10 years ago and that lingering thought never really went away. 

Once the Ontario housing market took off, the Cole’s more seriously searched for properties and realized they were affordable. 

Sara explained very few people are willing to take on the maintenance work needed for a property with some parts of it being 500 years old and therefore the market for chateaus like the one they bought is not competitive. 

“It took us one week to sell our property in Fergus, this property was on the market for three years before we came along,” Sara said. 

The chateau consists of a tower that is 500 years old but the rest of the current structure would have been developed in the 19th Century, with Stephen noting a stone on the exterior that has 1900 carved into it. There’s also a barn and workhouse on the property as well.

“Parts of it definitely date back to the 16th Century,” Stephen said. 

“It’s a quirky mix of neo-gothic architecture and art nouveau interior,” Sara added.

The Coles declined to talk specifics when it came to costs but said it essentially balanced out between selling their home and buying the chateau.

Sara thought this spoke volumes about how desirable places like Fergus are becoming in the province. 

“When people were feeling the pinch of not having space, a town like Fergus that is within easy reach of major centres and has so much to offer, that’s a big demand,” Sara said. 

“The French real estate market doesn’t work the same, as in it doesn’t have the competitiveness that it has in Canada,” Stephen said, explaining there are rules in place that prevent the price from being driven up by competing offers.

Stephen has been brushing up on his French since moving two years ago and said he’s lucky Sara speaks the language very well. 

There are some English speakers in the area — the region is a popular destination for British tourists — but the town of less than 500 people has around 20 native English speakers, they figured. 

“It’s very rural, there’s a lot of farm community around us, crops and fields, tractors going through the middle of town, it’s quite different from what we’re used to in Fergus,” Stephen said. 

Sara and Stephen have turned the chateau into a business, and a YouTube channel, called Manor and Maker running creative retreats and workshops.

“Chateaus were never meant to be a place for two people … they’re meant to be a space that is shared and we’re really trying to bring together people who are passionate about whatever their thing is,” Sara said. “If you’re passionate about something and you want to get together with other people who are passionate about it, that’s what we’re trying to do.”