News

There's no place like a gnome home

Charles Pickard and his dog Brandy check out a gnome home entrance while on a walk in Neck Point Park Thursday. Gnome colonies have been springing up in the park and Morrell Nature Sanctuary with help from Pickard who the gnomes have “contracted” to build the entrances to their dwellings in the woods. - CHRIS BUSH/The News Bulletin
Charles Pickard and his dog Brandy check out a gnome home entrance while on a walk in Neck Point Park Thursday. Gnome colonies have been springing up in the park and Morrell Nature Sanctuary with help from Pickard who the gnomes have “contracted” to build the entrances to their dwellings in the woods.
— image credit: CHRIS BUSH/The News Bulletin

It’s extremely rare to catch sight of a gnome, but getting a glimpse of their domiciles is getting easier these days.

And apparently Nanaimo’s gnomes contract out construction to Charlie Pickard, a retired engineering project manager who worked overseas, including Czechoslovakia, where he lived with his family from 1979 to 1982 and was first introduced to gnome lore by a local man who thought Pickard’s young children might enjoy them.

The friend presented Pickard with a book detailing the 1,000-year history of gnomes in Europe. Then the men created a little gnome home out of twigs, moss and pebbles in the woods.

“Come the weekend – he had two kids, I had two kids – we took them there,” Pickard said. “We told them, ‘Guess what? The stories you’ve been reading? Well, now we’ll go find a gnome home, eh.’”

The men spun the tale leading the children to the gnome home, making sure they kept a safe distance to avoid disturbing the gnomes sleeping inside. Gnomes are nocturnal.

“Well, to this day, I still couldn’t believe my daughter’s eyes,” Pickard said. “She couldn’t say a word.”

Pickard, now 71, needed a hobby and it happens, according to his version of gnome history, that 15 male gnomes from a clan in England’s Black Country, arrived in Nanaimo in 1854 as stowaways aboard the Princess Royal.

They formed a colony in what is now Morrell Nature Sanctuary, but only in the last couple of years have their homes become visible.

A new colony has started in Neck Point Park and word has it gnomes have colonized Cathedral Grove Park, although no official sightings have been reported.

Pickard builds and installs gnome doors with wood from mill operator Mike Gogo and blessings from the naturesanctuary and the city.

Pickard said he gets plenty of positive feedback from people who spot gnome doors in the parks and who often leave offerings at the doors, such as coins, shells, little action figures, buttons and even glitter sprinkled on the ground around the entrances. Some gnome doors even get decorated for Christmas.

Since people can buy gnome doors from Pickard, more gnome colonies are spreading in private properties around town. Pickard spends sale proceeds on better woodworking equipment.

“It’s just magic because you know it will always be there,” Pickard said. “For me it’s just to know that people get some happiness … So I enjoy doing this.”

Learn more about gnome folklore and Pickard’s gnome homes, please visit his website at www.charliesbirdhouses.com.

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