Sarnia is dotted with homes that aren’t really homes at all.
They’re actually electrical substations, urban imposter designed to blend in with their single-family neighbours.
Built mostly during Sarnia’s industrial boom of the 1950s and 1960s, these “transformer homes” show a surprising sensitivity to their surroundings.
It would have been quicker and cheaper to build them concrete block and chain link fence, but authorities opted instead for solid brick “homes” to preserve the quiet, suburban character.
To aid with the camouflage, many have porches and shutters and landscape shrubs and trees. A few have garages.
When the transformer home at 967 Cathcart Blvd. was photographed for this story we found a newspaper stuck in the front door, having evidently fooled a carrier into thinking someone lived there.
The oldest of Sarnia’s 14 substations was built in 1890 and the newest in 1978.
Hidden within is heavy machinery with a utilitarian purpose. The stations convert high-voltage electricity into current that can be used by the real homes around them, said Alex Palimaka, Bluewater Power’s vice-president of corporate services.
Palimaka said he shares The Journal’s “bizarre fascination” with transformer homes. As a boy growing up in Wallaceburg he had one right around the corner, he said.
“I remember walking by and every so often seeing somebody in there. This one actually had a workshop in it. I was 10 or 12 years old and it took me a while to figure out if it was a house or not.”