Ethan Minnie explored his first abandoned building when he was 13. While his mom was driving him to school, he noticed a string of empty houses in Courtice, Ontario. He begged her to take him back so he could go inside. “The whole concept of being somewhere I wasn’t supposed to be was very exciting,” he says.
Now, the 23-year-old Minnie makes a living by exploring abandoned houses for his YouTube channel, which has nearly 100,000 subscribers. He spends every day driving around the GTA and scouring real estate listings, looking for beautiful, empty places that are waiting to be torn down. Time capsule homes are his specialty: spaces where the decor has been entirely preserved from the era in which the house was built, often during the 1960s, ’70s or ’80s.
Minnie has stumbled upon a 1980s megamansion replete with an indoor swimming pool, a brick 1890s farmhouse with an original wood-burning stove and an entire neighbourhood of abandoned luxury homes. Entering abandoned buildings—a.k.a. trespassing on private property—is illegal, and he follows a strict code of conduct for his expeditions. The first rule: don’t break in. “If I can’t enter the house without doing damage, I won’t go inside.” Another forbidden activity is stealing; he’s found gold, money and valuable collectibles before, but he leaves them all behind. “One house probably had $100,000 worth of Star Wars memorabilia, but it’s not mine to take.”
His job comes with unusual occupational hazards. While exploring a house in Oshawa, Minnie heard a noise coming from a closet. The doors flew open, and two people chased him outside, one holding a hunting knife and the other a large chunk of staircase railing. Despite doing his best to fly under the radar, run-ins with the police are also common. He’s used to hearing a noise at the door and opening it to see a badge staring back at him. His usual explanation: the door was open, and he’s there for pictures for his YouTube channel. The police ask him to leave, but sometimes they let him finish taking photos first.
Documenting these interiors is a fairly lucrative career for Minnie—his income fluctuates between $2,000 to $17,000 per month—but it’s also a way to preserve history. “Unique houses are being replaced by generic white and grey modern developments,” he explains. “We’re going to get to a point where, one day, there’s going to be none of this left. I document for the future when everything is gone.”
“I came across this house in the Bridle Path in Toronto while driving around with friends. There was a sign in the front yard explaining that the property was being rezoned, and a new dwelling was going to be built. This long ranch-style bungalow had a three-car garage off to the side, and every part of this house had its own style. Down the hallway from this room was a separate living space with a fireplace and a built-in tropical-themed bar.”
“Walking into the house, my reaction was pure amazement. It was so well preserved that I felt like I’d stepped into someone’s brand-new house from 65 years ago. The sculpture’s motif matched the rest of the room, and it was actually a bench you can sit on.”
“This home, a brown-brick split-level on a big corner lot in North York, reminded me of the Brady Bunch house. The blueprints for the house, dated 1968, were on the kitchen counter, so I figured that meant the original owners had lived there until the house had sold. My favourite part was the main living room, which was covered in orange shag carpeting and had a fireplace with built-in shelving in the middle of the room. Inside one of those shelves, I found a hidden record player and stereo system setup.”
“I drove by this white brick house on Lake Ontario and noticed the driveway wasn’t plowed, and the roof was in bad condition. Before I went inside, I checked the windows and sliding doors, which were all dated 1971. The bedrooms in this house had different-coloured carpeting, while other floors had a laminated, retro-looking pattern. It looked like someone had closed the door one day, left the property and never came back. It was unfortunate to see a place like this just sit and rot away. When I got home, I did some research and learned that this house and the one beside it are slated to be torn down, and a custom home developer is planning to build one big home on both lots.”
“I try to treat each house as if it were my own. This space was once home to someone’s life, and when I go inside, I always get a picture inside my head about the parties that took place here. The vibe in this room was especially incredible. The bar, which had geometric tile designs on the backsplash, was impressively large, and I imagine they played Led Zeppelin, the Beatles and other big hits of the era.”
“This house was near the south end of the Bridle Path with an eight-foot fence around the property and a permit that signalled it was slated for demolition. Judging by the flat roof, this house was probably built in the 1950s or ’60s, but when my friend and I got inside, everything looked like it had been renovated in the late ’80s or early ’90s: white tiles and kitchen cabinets, grey countertops and a half-wall of glass blocks. The whole house reminded me of Patrick Bateman’s apartment in American Psycho. In the basement, there was a second living room with a conversation pit, where I noticed a weird red stain on the carpet that looked like blood. Across the hall, there was a bathroom with more red streaks in the sink and all over the floor. Normally I’m pretty calm and take my time while exploring houses, but that was unsettling, so I got out of there quicker than normal.”
“This sunroom was tacked onto the back of the Patrick Bateman house. It looked out onto a small backyard where you could see the neighbour’s house. Since there’s so much money concentrated in this area, when people built their homes, they used architecture as a way to show off their wealth. Sometimes when I’m inside a house, I wish I could buy it to preserve it, but I’d have to be a multi-billionaire to save all the places I see.”