Sunday, November 21, 2010

Historic Dinner Plate Found Under Barn Plate

I was repairing an 1880 era timber frame barn near Tara, about 20 kilometers from Owen Sound. In front of the earthen and stone ramp the rock elm bottom plate was rotten in places and I was cutting out portions of it with a chain saw. This rock elm is incredible, for even though there was over 120 years of moisture and rot in it, the parts that were not rotted were still fresh and holding.
Anyway, as I pulled out some of the rock elm, it exposed the top of the stone foundation. The foundation is about 2 feet thick, and I had it repaired by a good stonemason that summer. In the middle of this foundation, where it is mainly just loose rocks, was a circular object. I picked it up, dusted it off and it was a dinner plate! Even though it had decades of ingrained dirt on it, it was still in good condition. I found out the plate was made between 1840 to 1865 in England and probably brought over by boat by the immigrant pioneers who settled this land.
I believe it was a gesture of good luck for the barn, put there by the owners when the barn was constructed over 120 years ago. I mean, it was perfect, a beautiful cream coloured plate, with wheat grain relief on the outside perimeter, placed under the bottom plate—a plate under a plate-- --never crushed by the tides of time, wagons full of hay, horses tromping over it on top of the floor, tractors later running up and down into the barn. And maybe it was good luck, for the barn had never burned down, been swept away by a tornado, or collapsed under heavy snows.

Monday, October 4, 2010

12-Sided Barn Goes UP

In the first three weeks of September I travelled to Iron Bridge, near the Soo to put up the 12-sided barn I took down last year. After installing the floor joists (sleepers) in July it was now time to get the walls and timber frame structures up.
I had on average about 3 Amish and 5 or 6 volunteers everyday to do the work including myself. The walls are 20 feet high and about 16 feet wide. We built 6 of these walls on the floor of the barn and after putting them up and bracing them, we built the other 6 walls in between. This construction was originally part stud wall type and part timber post. We tried to replicate as much as possible the 1919 heritage barn contraction techniques and use as much of the old timbers and lumber as possible.
After the walls went up with the help of a crane we got busy the next week building the timber frame tower which stands in the middle of the barn. It’s 16 feet square and 33 feet high. Two of the 33 foot major posts were rotten on the ends and I cut off the bad parts of the timber and notched on new sections. As well, a cupola was built being 22 feet wide and 10 feet high, to sit on top of the tower. Original and new pole rafters (26 feet long) are then attached from the wall to the tower/cupola to make everything rigid.
With the help of a crane on a Saturday and a big crowd on hand to watch this spectacle the tower was assembled, pinned together and then craned up. It went well. The cupola was then raised 33 feet up to the top of the tower. Tense moments were on hand as it all had to fit! And it did!
We then spent the rest of the week-end installing the rest of the rafters –36 long ones and 24 shorter types. Now the roof is on and the barn board almost finished.
I had a great crew of people working there, many, many laughs and a couple of gracious hosts who put me up for three weeks. Thanks to all!
For barn enthusiasts it will officially be open next year and will be used as a hall/meeting room, museum, dances and farmer’s market. One of the last three surviving 12-sided barns in Canada, it will be a great addition to the community.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Sleepers and Amish

It’s a long way to Iron Bridge, near Sault Sainte Marie, but it feels like another world there. More like a frontier, less traffic and history abounds in the form of pioneer settlements and farms still left intact.
Last year I was up there to take down a 12-sided 62-foot diameter barn and then erect it on municipal property about six miles away. This year we began the process of putting it up. Well, the foundation is poured to replicate the old one using boards and I went up there last week to help install the joists, or sleepers as they are called in barn terms. We tried to use as many of the old ones as possible, which span a distance between 20 to 25 feet. Even dry, these old timbers weighed a lot and with the use of a crane, Amish and some volunteers we managed to install about 60 old sleepers and new fresh cut red pine ones. The average size of the sleepers was about 10 inches, flat on two sides and 14 to 16 inches wide. One could not move any of them without the use of machinery and I wondered how they were installed 90 years ago when the barn was built.
I had great hosts, Will and Elaine Samis, who farm 164 acres near Iron Bridge. They both love reading and discussing everything from farm problems to the world’s philosophers and laughter was a common theme around the kitchen table.
One day I worked just with Joseph Yoder, a 20 year old Amish man, finishing up some notching on short connecting joists. He forgot his lunch and as there are no restaurants around I drove him to a small Trans Canada Highway general store that looks forgotten in time. An enthusiastic clerk greeted us and Joseph asked for bologna and a loaf of bread. Nope, they had run out of bologna, but had ham instead. Joseph was disappointed, as he really wanted bologna! Well, with a loaf of Bambi white sliced bread and ham, he managed to have a meal, while I contributed some chips and an orange. We sat in the shade eating, watching his horse graze, and laughed about the silliness of the fast world.

Monday, July 5, 2010


I’ve been back home at the farm for a couple of months now and am deep into fixing barns and notching timber frames. The transition was easier then before as I had gone through it three times now. But there are some things that I have noticed. First, it was really nice not to be involved in Canadian politics, compared to Thailand, it’s much more secretive here, filled with corporate inequalities and not many seem to want to be involved (apathy). I know Thailand has gone through some difficult times recently, but on the whole, as foreigner there it was refreshing not to be frustrated with the goings on of local politicians.
The other thing that I got quite used to in Thailand was seeing ancient buildings every day as a matter of course. And the reason there as still such amazing buildings left there is because the Thais care for their heritage and culture much more then we do here. Sure, we’re a new country comparatively, filled with people from different countries, but we have some beautiful 100 year old or more architecture here that not many seem to care about saving. A case in point is the Paisley Inn, northeast of Guelph or London Ontario. It’s a historically designated building over 150 years old, brick and timber frame, but the local municipal government seems bent on tearing it down. I have never heard them mention it as a heritage building once, only as “unsafe”. That was five years ago now, when warnings were posted that the building was going to fall down any day. It’s still standing and still in the courts, with the municipality still wanting it demolished. I really don’t think that tourists will want to come up here to see Tim Horton’s in its place and new subdivisions where an old barn and farm were.
But in the end, it’s good to be back, what a beautiful part of the world we have here as well.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010


One of the best parts of this country are the amazing temples or wats that are in every little town and city and especially here in Chiang Mai where there are 300!
I found this one, a rare wooden one actually in Lampang, about an hour's drive away. Mostly made of teak, the wooden wats were made for centuries but monsoons, and termites made maintenance a big priority. When cement was discovered here 10 years ago, most became concrete and wooden wats that had suffered the ravages of time, were renovated using cement. This one, was unfortunately not even being used, and looked ready for destruction while a new shiny wat had been built just meters away. These Buddhist temples, were always housed in a compound made of a half a dozen buildings.
The amazing part about most of the wats, for me, even the concrete ones, was that the inside, the structure was of a timber frame style, where posts, either round or square were used to hold up purlins with a principle rafter roof structure.
I couldn't get inside this one, it looked like no one had been inside for a while and parts of the eaves were rotten. But look at the wonderful detail, all carved by monks at one time with some huge teak posts inside.
Now in Chiang Mai I am getting up in the morning early to beat the heat, and walking to one or two of them to photograph. After, a good strong cup of iced coffee is my reward.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Thailand: Monkeys in Lopburi

Lillian and I left for Thailand a couple of weeks ago to have some fun on the beach and then take a slow train north to Chiang Mai and visit towns along the way that interest us. We’re into week three already but last week we came to a town called Lopburi. It’s a mid-sized, busy place 300 km north of Bangkok and has some very old ruins dating from the 11th century. We got off the train down town and found a hotel room on the 4 corners of the city. It was noisy and the room was 2nd rate but it had air con and a toilet and shower. Deluxe! It had no soap or shampoo but luckily we had brought some from the last place we had stayed in. The windows to our room were caged on the outside and we soon found out why. We heard a funny noise outside and pulled the curtains and there were three grey monkeys looking at us. In fact the monkeys were all over that part of town and we found out that Lopburi was known (beside the amazing ruins) for its wild monkey population, which numbered in the hundreds. During the day they climbed along hydro lines, down sidewalks, sometimes trying to grab pedestrian’s shopping bags, and up building walls to sit on window ledges. Being Buddhists, the local population would not harm them and put up with them while the monkeys brought in more tourist dollars as bus loads came up from Bangkok to see the ruins AND the monkeys.

The most eerie part was at night, as the monkeys all went to sleep on top of and along the walls of Lopburi’s most famous and oldest ruin, the Three Connected Towers. Shades of Kipling’s Jungle Book where in one story Mowgli gets kidnapped and taken to the ancient ruins where the monkeys reside. I just remember it as a scary story. Lopburi’s three towers were fenced and gates locked at night, as it was NOT a place where the monkeys would make someone feel welcome either, just as in Kipling’s book.