Our Historic Barns Headed for Extinction?


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Prince Edward County had a farming heyday in the 19th century, a period when the great wooden barns were raised, the ones with the massive axe hewn beams held together with wooden pegs and builder’s skill.  The whole neighbourhood flocked to the barn raising. Squads of men sweated until each section rose vertically to be pegged together to the others by the foreman padding about fearless high above the ground.  Up went long poles to support the roofing, more poles to floor the hay mows, board sheathing to cover the sides and keep out the weather. On went the huge double doors to let the hay wagons through.

The women laid on masses of food for the famished crew.  Mashed potatoes, dumplings, chicken pot pie, smoked ham, pickles, cabbage salad, steaming carrots and turnips, pickles, pitchers of cold well water, cream and milk.  And for afters, apple, cherry, raisin, mince, custard pies, pound cake, marble cake, spice cake, pots of tea and coffee.  The men sloshed the dust from themselves at the well and dug in.

When dusk fell and chores were done, out came the fiddles. Those who had laboured all day, danced reels and square dances and waltzes into the night dances while their over excited children fell asleep in soft piles of hay.

Those barns still stand a 100, 150, nearly 200 years later, the beams that had been so carefully chosen, shaped and seasoned, still as good and the day they were put up. Good for another two hundred years.

Good, that is, if the roof has been kept in repair, the leaks kept out, the rain prevented from pouring in carrying its deadly cargo of rot.  All over the county these old barns, which so often had little use any more, are left to collapse from neglect.  Their beams decay, their roofs and sides gape open to the weather, the November winds bash at them until they give and fall down.

Some of them, solid and sound, are taken down for no fathomable reason save that they appear to have no use any more.  Our local barn enthusiast, through his lament, begs us to leave them stand.  Eventually someone will think of a new purpose.  He’s right.  An artistic couple have turned a large barn into half gallery, half splendid home.  Our wineries are doing a great job turning old barns into their visitor centres.  Some barns are making a comeback as dance halls, wedding and event venues.  One even lets couples get their wedding pictures taken on a great green combine.

My own barn, well it’s held together with two steel cables, one side sinks alarmingly and a great roof beam is crumbling at the top. However, it has stood since the 1860s, faced down Hurricane Hazel and her relatives and still presents an immovable face to the howling country storms.  I keep the roof nailed down and will certainly leave it standing until its brand new purpose comes along.


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