A filmmaker built this wood cabin from scratch on a cliff in Quebec

There was just one problem: he didn’t have a construction background, or even tools

Alex Cyr 
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(Photography courtesy of Sacha Roy)

In 2016, freelance filmmaker Sacha Roy moved out of his Quebec City condo and bought a one-acre property on top of a cliff for $10,000, near the small village of Wakefield, Quebec. The lot was off the provincial power grid—hence the rock-bottom price—and there, Roy planned to build a wood cabin that could be his weekend getaway. There was just one problem: he was a communications major with no construction background. He didn’t even own any tools.

Upending his life for an unbuilt home in the countryside was a risky move, but it was also a well-earned break. He worked seven days a week, often travelling across the world to shoot video content for an array of clients. In one three-month stretch earlier that year, he’d visited 25 countries, including Peru and El Salvador. When he came home, he realized he was completely burned out. 

An outdoor enthusiast since birth, Roy saw the wood cabin as a chance to escape from his old lifestyle. He used Air Miles to buy his first-ever handsaw and collected advice on how to build a cabin from friends in the construction industry, from strangers at the Wakefield hardware store and, predominantly, from YouTube. “It was complete trial and error,” says Roy. He replaced his network of gutters once, reconfigured his water filtration system twice and has taken four stabs at the plumbing. “In fact, it still is trial and error. This cabin hasn’t stopped evolving since its conception.”  

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First, Roy laid concrete pads and used slabs of cedarwood to create a 556-square-foot shack with towering 18-foot ceilings. He added three sprawling windows to the south wall and insulated it all with mineral wool and Styrofoam. Inside, he built a partial second floor that holds a loft-style bedroom. The rest of the space became an open-concept living room with a sectional couch and a hammock that faces the windows. 

The living room flows into a quaint kitchen with a full-sized fridge, propane cooktop and wood stove, which helps heat the house along with eight solar panels scattered on his lot and a 3,500-watt generator. A corner of the main living space functions as an office, with satellite internet to ensure a strong Wi-Fi signal.

The building costs were higher than Roy anticipated. He estimates that he’s spent over $175,000, in part due to the provincial government forcing him to install his own septic system—which set him back $50,000—and his constant tinkering. Finding the proper waste system for the home was a challenge. At first, Roy had built a small outhouse, but later replaced it with an indoor composting toilet. He eventually parted ways with that too because he could not handle the smell. Instead, he installed a pedal toilet, which barely uses any water. “That’s a good example of how I’ve done things,” he says. “I start quite humble and slowly upgrade.”

Over the last seven years, he has also upgraded his solar panels, installed a rain catchment system, rebuilt his bedroom three times and redesigned the living room. “At first, I imagined a little shack in the woods where I could relax on weekends,” he says. “And then I fell in love with it and couldn’t stop trying to make it better.”

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Roy made the cabin his permanent home in 2017, and he’s embraced the rugged lifestyle that comes with it. During most months of the year, he chops his own wood at the foot of the cliff, carries it up a hill on a 90-foot material elevator he built himself, and tosses it into the fire twice per day. In the winter, he clears the roads, shovels snow away from the solar panels and monitors water levels. 

Supplying the cabin with enough water is a constant challenge. A system of gutters captures rainwater and funnels it through a six-litre vat in a small shed a few metres away from the house. From there, a 12-volt pump shoots the water through a UV filter, which purifies it and makes it ready to drink. Roy had originally installed his filtration system on his home’s second floor, but relocated it outside after a rainstorm caused it to overflow inside, making a mess of water and tree debris. The water supply occasionally runs low in the winter when rain turns to snow, so Roy limits himself to three showers per week and outsources his laundry to a friend’s house. Recently, he replaced his rusting metal bathtub with a cast-iron-foot tub—a longtime dream of his.

In 2019, Roy started dating his partner, Anna, a conflict resolution worker, and she moved in with him soon after. “It was a huge leap of faith to start living together so early and in a space like this,” he says. “In the early days, we were still pooping outside.” He couldn’t leave the place for more than a week at a time because the water tank would fill and snow would pile onto the property. Now, the couple live there year-round. Roy still works as a filmmaker, and Anna takes over the daily chores when he leaves for his long video shoots.

Even then, he doesn’t like being gone for extended periods of time: seven years of fine-tuning has left him attached to his abode—so much so that he would never consider moving out. “Way too much work went into this for me to sell,” Roy says. “It’s a source of pride, and working on it keeps my stress levels down. It’s my baby.”