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.