Friday, April 5, 2019

Barn Communities

Here's a nice standard 135 year-old timber frame barn where the 100 acres of land was taken out of the crown in 1868 for $50. For another $50 the pioneer bought the 100 acre farm backing on this one, which is the farm we now own. When we were looking to buy a farm in 1984 near Chesley, this 200 acre farm, with a story-and-a-half frame house, 40 by 60 foot barn, driving shed and out buildings, was selling for about $65,000. We hummed and hawed and opted to build our own house from the mostly tall hardwood bush in back 100 acres. A severance was accepted by council and the rest...well, young age and a lack of cynicism got us to where we are today--a timber frame home from our trees and a few scattered outbuildings, including my stackwall workshop.
The only regret I have is not having a heritage barn. But then my son and his girl friend, who purchased the original farm a few years ago, now own it so I get to use the barn as well.
Back in the late 1800's, when the barn was built, it wasn't just in the middle of nowhere, but had a community around it. A one room, originally a log and later brick school house, was constructed within eyesight of the farm. Just up the road in the hamlet of Peabody, was a blacksmith, a carriage shop, wheel maker and furniture craftsman. For brick houses there was Boem's brickyard in Scone, about 5 miles away and for windows there was a planing mill in Desboro, about the same distance. As well, in Peabody was the all-important general store, and later gas station. Anderson's saw mill, beginning operation in 1881, was just around the corner. It’s all gone now, except for the school, which still stands proudly today, with the new owners ringing the bell on special occasions.
This community was not an exception, all over rural Ontario in the 1800’s these little communities sprang up, and then 100 years later they have disappeared.
Farm help in 1900 was paid 75 cents per day and room and board was charged at 30 cents.
The barn is a typical timber frame of the area consisting of five bents with queen posts supporting the purlins. Most of the timbers are maple and white ash, which is what we built our house from, as we cut from the same bush.
But the size of the trees then! The purlins in the barn are one piece, 60 feet in length, and all the 40 foot horizontal girts, five of them, are one tree timbers as well.
The barn floors are from hemlock, as are some of my horizontal  girts in our house, and all the barn rafters, sawn from Anderson's mill, are one piece and about 28 feet in length.  My son put up new barn board this past summer, and did some repair work inside and I imagine the barn will stand for another 100 years.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Thai Timber Frame Notches

I’ve been travelling on the western boundary of Thailand, where it meets Myanmar/Burma. There is a range of mountains that runs along this boundary, beginning in the foothills of the Himalaya in the north all the way south to the beaches.
In one of the towns where my wife and I stayed in, Phetchaburi, I found a wooden temple (wat), which is rare these days, as they are now mostly concrete.
This one looks to be about 150 years old, mostly a pole type building, but incorporating some nice timber frame notches.
There are 7 poles, about 20 feet long each supporting the roof overhang. Underneath the main structure are rows of posts, 28 in total, holding up the floor and posts inside. Some of these posts under the building have rotted over the decades, where they meet the ground, and the repair, was using traditional notching methods. The type of notch used, is very similar to the one we use back in Ontario, called a scarf. Much stronger than a simple half lap, the scarf locks the two pieces of timber or post together, for both horizontal and vertical applications. This one has a nice wedge in the middle, called a key, which pushes out the joint and locks them together tightly at the ends.
As well, where the floor joists intersect the posts, there is a tenon and mortise, with a pin, to hold it all together. All the wood seemed hardwood, the most common would have been teak and pahudia or monkey pod wood.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Colonization Road Barn

Our latest barn repair project took us to a remote area in the Kawarthas, where patches of good farm land are rare, and pioneers who came there 150 years ago on the Monck Colonization Road, had a hard scrabble making a living from the land.
After the initial log barns, and there are still some there, small timber frame barns were built. They remain pretty well as they were built to the present day. This is because there was never any extra money to construct additions, the land and weather just didn’t yield any extras.
The wonderful thing about this area though, is that the human touch to the land has stayed static. The few farms are mostly going back into wilderness but unfortunately most barns have fallen down. That is why this barn, 30 feet by 50 feet, is so special. The older owner wants it repaired, not for her to farm, but to retain the historical evidence and beauty of the pioneer structure, for others to enjoy once she has departed. 
The timber frame is small, 8 inch by 8 inch posts, smaller connectors, and round poles for rafters. There is a beautifully built quarried stone foundation that has been repaired and originally built with flat volcanic and colourful granite stones.  The Canadian Shield pops up here and there, with the barn built into, not earth, but an outcrop of bedrock.  The fields are mainly grown up in first trees-- dogwood, poplar with tall wild grasses and weeds, and huge ash and soft maples, as well as northern oaks, marking the original fields.

We took off the old cedar barn board, furrowed and thin with age, splintering into shards, and nailed on new pine. In the stables, we took out the rotting 15- year old cedar posts and installed new, and patched the mow floor with two inch hemlock. On a nailing girt, with the tenon broken, we added an ash spline and finally jacked up a centre post with a built-in ladder. Good for another 100 years.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014


A part of local history is gone forever as the 19th century Scone Mill, near Chesley, Ontario

was taken down last fall. A flash flood three years ago, which bypassed the dam, undermined the timber frame mill, causing extensive damage to the foundation.  The owners, who had a bicycle and art business,  tried unsuccessfully to obtain funding from local and provincial historical and cultural sources to repair the building and now have sold the property to a local entrepreneur.
The mill was best known for being the second oldest hydro producing plant in Ontario, the first one being Niagara Falls! The original brick building housing the dynamo has been saved and electricity will continue to be produced, which is being sold to Hydro One. The dynamo and pinion gear are being repaired, which haven’t been in operation since last May. A dynamo was first installed prior to 1894 and in 1899 owner Robert Bearman built a new brick powerhouse, attached to the mill, with a 120 horsepower dynamo to power incandescent lights in Chesley. Electrical service to Chesley was available from dusk until midnight and 5:30 am until daylight.
This wasn’t the first time there has been a flash flood around the dam and mill fed by the North Saugeen River. In June of 1916, extensive rain caused the flume to break and the original bridge to be washed away, resulting in a hole 16 feet deep and 90 feet wide.  The wooden bridge had been built in 1894 by Peter Hepburn for $314. Luckily, the new concrete dam, built in early 1900 to replace the original log one, held fast. Three dams downstream, two in Chesley, were washed away from the force of the water. In 1974 there was another flash flood, the rushing water causing a huge cavity around the mill and then flowed back into the river.
The timber frame structure that was taken down, was originally built as a sawmill and grist mill. It had burned down a couple of times before, once in 1893. It was later dismantled in 1898 and the framework was sold to another sawmill operator in Mooresburg, which was also located on the North Saugeen River. The mill was an important service for pioneers and later established farmers in the area. In 1874 the price of flour from the mill, using local wheat, was $5 per barrel (200 pounds).  In 1887, the mill charged 3 cents per 100 pounds to grind feed for livestock.
Grant Turner, who used to live on a farm just north of Scone, has many memories of the mill. When Hurricane Hazel wreaked havoc in Southern Ontario in 1947 he came down with his brothers to the mill because they heard such a loud noise. The water was flowing through the flume for the mill so fast that the pinion gear and dynamo were shaking the building. “We came into the mill and it was hard to see from the dust in the air from the building shaking,” he said.  Later he helped to take out the two ton dynamo to be repaired with a chain hoist and rolled it through the mill out the front door onto a waiting truck. The dynamo was taken to the Collingwood ship yards but couldn’t be repaired there, so it was shipped by boat to Hamilton. Turner also worked there part time, cleaning farmer’s seed for planting. He would start after evening chores were finished on his farm and worked until two or three in the morning. A pink dusty fungicide used to treat the seeds was put into each bag, and many times Turner would come home with a pink nose. The seed cleaning business at the mill ended during the 1960’s.

Besides the historic power-house brick building, another small addition on the east side has been kept, which used to house, among many other enterprises, a restaurant. 

Monday, January 27, 2014

Shoes Off Please

This is one of a few blogs that I couldn't post because of the internet was not big enough for my photos. I thought I would do it now as I find them. This is from 2010, when Lillian and I travelled the width and breadth of Thailand. .
We came to stay in our fifth town in Thailand, called Lampang, known as the rooster capital of the country as it has rooster statues and motifs everywhere. We stayed near the river in a small guest house but what is most amazing is the area's wooden buildings. They are at least a 100 or so years old, mostly pegged posts and beams and formed the commercial part of the town at that time. The street is windy and along both sides are two story teak houses, mostly joined, with the second story serving as a balcony and overhang to protect the space below. People live upstairs and on the street level are multiple- folding teak doors that open up as a store front.

The houses are elegant and airy looking in a simple way that the new concrete ones can never compare with. This part of town was luckily preserved by far thinking politicians and now serves as a vibrant arts, tourist, week-end walking market and
 local working Thai center.

Lillian and I walked up and down those street for three days and always marveled at the amount of shops and restaurants and how all were family run. Next on to Phrae in the north and mountains.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Land Slide Show

This past summer and fall our biggest challenge and greatest accomplishment, was for my family and I to produce the "Textured Structure". It was for an art show, mostly outdoor, at the Markham Museum and Pioneer Village, curated by our friend Janine Marchessault.

 We were asked to build a simple structure that showed the past and future and incorporated an artistic component as well. There were another 32 artists exhibiting also, but we were the only ones that actually built a building.
Whew, to say it was not easy is an understatement, as we really didn't realize how much work was involved. But, as in a lot of hard work, the result and being actually finished by deadline, brought big rewards.
The building is a stick frame, 8 feet by 12 feet, Amish lumber throughout, with a pine floor and unfinished inside. The 4 different outside walls were divided up among myself, and my three sons. Skyler chose stackwall, Ian a painting on the front gable and Misha used cedar slab wood from the local sawmill to finish the back wall. I did a passive solar style wall, with a Trombe wall inside to keep the heat in during cold weather and keep the sun out in the summer. Lillian did the concept for the roof-- cedar shingles on one side and cedar coloured ashpalt on the other, mixed with metal and a photovoltaic solar panel on the south side. Lillian also planted a garden of veggies in 2 planter's boxes we built, and then we added a cedar deck in front. All the windows and door were used and recycled.
We began in early summer looking towards a September 21st opening. Along with our other building projects, there wasn't much time for anything else, such as barn tours, canoe trips, or reading in the hammock, but in the end, it was fun.

Sunday, July 28, 2013


I’ve been repairing, inspecting and generally interested in historic timber frame barns for about 25 years, so one day I was rubbernecking down a small concession road north of Ravenna, Ontario, in the Beaver Valley and unbelievably, an 8-sided barn came into view. It was the first time I had ever seen one in Bruce and Grey Counties, but there are many in the USA and some in Quebec.
There was a for sale sign in front of the long driveway and no one seemed to be there so I took a few photos from the road and later called up the real estate agent. She gave me the name of the owner, who had lived there over 40 years but now had retired and moved in with his children in the big smoke. He gave me the scoop and allowed me to go into the barn to take more photos. I find most farmers who I have talked to about their barns, really hospitable, many just saying, “go into the barn and do whatever you like, I have work to do.”
This unique barn was originally built in 1892 in the heart of orchard country. It’s of post and beam construction, notched and pegged with large timbers, mainly pine and white ash, cut down on the farm. The roof is a lattice work or round rafters with a hip or joint in the middle. The science behind being 8-sided was that as semi-round, the cattle would be tied up in a circle in the stables, around a central feeding chute. The farmer would simply feed the livestock going around to each cow instead of up and down aisles, as in regular rectangular barns. As well, cows could be milked easier and manure gathered by going around and out without having to back up a wagon, or wheelbarrow.
In the mow where the hay and straw were kept, a horse and wagon could come into the barn unload and keep going around and out without having to back up the horses. That was the theory anyway, but the long time owner of the farm, told me a different story. “It was terrible, the stabling arrangement was a nightmare,” he said. During the winter the manure froze and during the warmer months it was difficult to gather up as there was not enough space behind the cattle.
Still, for me as a historic building, it’s quite unique in the way it was constructed. The rules about raising a barn in the late 19th century, would be thrown out with this type of structure, as each bent would have to be raised and secured until the all the eight sides were up, making it an integral structure able to support itself.
It was purported that the original owner liked working with cement, as the barn foundations are all poured concrete, unusual for its time. His love of this material was exhibited uniquely as in 1902, he built a new two story house, all from concrete.
As the farm enterprise expanded the barn could not hold enough livestock or hay and straw. Two rectangular timber frame additions were built, the first in 1930 and the second in 1939. Orchards were planted when the farm was first settled and apple storage was need and as more trees were planted and the need for two more barns further arose.
The old owner told me there were two old pear trees planted 100 years ago and still semi-producing.  As I walked around the back of the barns I spied two gnarly trees, the pears were Flemish Beauties, brought over by the original owner when he settled the farm. Amazing, to think in this day and age when apple trees are up up-rooted every few years to suit the market that two living pieces of history are still surviving along with a historic barn, both from the same era.