Wednesday, November 9, 2011


This 107 year old timber frame barn, now owned by Dan Weirmeir, is said to be the highest barn in former Bentinck Township, West Grey, Ontario, at about 40 feet high.
The four bent, 52 foot by 60 foot barn had an overhang on the south side which was closed in by Richard Weirmeir, who bought the Lot 15, Concession 11 NDR farm, located about 6 kilometers east of Elmwood, in 1960.
Robert Weirmeir, Richard’s son and Dan’s father, remembers helping to lay the first steel on the high pitched roof over top of the original cedar shingles about 40 years ago.
“It was real scary on the north corner as it was so high,” he said so he preferred nailing the steel on the south side where there was an “L” addition. “You had a 50/50 chance of bouncing off the addition,” Robert laughed.
At the beginning during the 1960’s and ‘70’s Richard had a mixed operation, like many of the local farmers. They built some stanchions in the high stables and milked six to ten cows and shipped cream. In the spring wiener pigs were bought, fattened all summer and sold in the fall. Beef cattle were grazed and housed in the stables during the winter. Pigs and cattle were sold at the Keady auction. Sometimes, Robert remembers, cattle buyers came by the farm with fat wallets, offering $250, $275 and even $300 per beef cow, all in cash, with $100 bills being counted over and over again until a deal was struck.
Everyone in Richard’s family, one son and two daughters, and his wife Helen (Halliday) helped with farm chores. Cows were milked by a simple ¾ inch vacuum pipeline and a portable milker, grain was bucketed down from the granary in the mow, through a chute to the pigs and cows below. Dan and Robert both remember the large high mow, full of square bales of straw on one side and hay on the other, being above the eaves of the barn.
Richard, who was a Bentinck councilor and deputy reeve for many years, did custom haying and combining with his Massey Harris Super 92 for many years. He would cut and bale first-cut hay for local farmers, then came the grain combining and then second-cut hay. “He was away a lot, and in between all that he would do our hay and grain,” Robert said. The 102 acre farm had “good land,” Robert says, with only about 3 acres of bush and 3 acres of rough land and the rest workable. Fields were divided into 4 and 6 acre parcels, and each field had different crops. “Farming was prosperous in the “70’s,” Robert remembers.
Originally inside the barn, there were two tracks for hay carriers, one at the peak and another on the north side, where the ramp came in. What is somewhat of a timber frame mystery is that all the outside bottoms of the posts of the barn have a four foot section beautifully scarf notched in as an extension. Looking at some of the timbers inside, there are used ones for the top plates, some girt connectors and the posts themselves. Since this barn wasn’t built until 1904, a previous barn on the farm could have been taken down and the timbers re-used. Perhaps the posts of the previous barn, or another in the area that was taken down, were too short and those extensions were notched in to allow a higher timber frame structure to be raised.
The roof rafters are round, signifying an earlier built barn, but could have been re-used from a previous one. The queen post timber frame, where the top of the bent has a long brace to meet the purlin, has timbers with sawmill and hand adzed marks, again indicating new and re-used timbers.
The main concrete ramp into the barn has a cistern underneath it which was filled by rainwater or by a pump from the well. This watered the cattle and pigs inside the stables. On the cement lid of the cistern are initials “W.W.” and the date, “1931.” Farmer Wilfred H. Wright owned this farm from 1922 until 1958 and was proud of the ramp and cistern he built.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Barn Inspections

It’s been a great summer, although busy as usual. After a cold and rainy spring it turned hot and dry and then just as rain was urgently needed, it began to rain and has been on and off for the last month. So a good growing season as well.
It has also been a busy barn inspection season. People are mainly concerned about the well-being of their heritage barns. They see the historic value of these buildings but don’t really know how and where to start in repairing them or if it’s even worth doing it. I know when we need to make a decision about something, Lillian and I look for more information, so finding someone with the information you need to make a good decision is certainly worth the effort.
After I came back from Asia I had a number of barns to look at, the first at Fenelon Falls, Ontario, north east of Barrie. Here a young couple from the city had purchased a farm in Haliburton, home of hard scrabble farming. Still, the pioneer’s dreams were in the barn, well framed, added to with a beautiful field stone foundation. But hard farming times and a lack of concern by previous owners had left the barn in neglect yet it was still quite repairable and not yet ready for the demolitioner's hammer.
Over the summer I have inspected over a dozen barns, each one different from the other, having the individual framer’s mark notched into the frame. That’s when every barn reflected the land that surrounded it, and was built to fit that farmer’s needs. The land hasn’t changed much yet the ‘one size fits all’ thinking is certainly prevalent today, and with it the destruction of our agricultural heritage. I hope more people have the foresight to value the amazing agricultural history we have, and conserve some of those hand-built buildings, that still dot our landscape.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Vientiane, Laos

Here we are in Vientiane, Laos, the capital of the country. Certainly one of the sleepiest and smallest capitals in the world. The mighty Mekong River runs by the city which also forms the border with Thailand. So much history has passed through here including many wars and the secret bombing by the US of the country where one-third of the population was killed during the 1970's because they were communist.

The city is surviving now with much of it due to tourism, where they were permitted to come into the country in 1995.

Though the city was sacked by the Thais in the 1800's some of the temples were spared and many new ones built. Some of the buildings date back to the 1500's and there is a reference to 3000 BC! The temples are different then in Thailand in some ways but the basic timber frame structure is still the same. Using round post colomns of wood or cement, they meet the horizontal timber on top. Then laterals come from the top of the post to form the outer edge of the roof, which is steep with timber rafters coming from the peak, supporting on the main columns and finishing onto outside columns. There is a nice intricate set of small timbers making a truss system of support in between the main and outside columns.

Vientiane has the french influence, (france's colony at the begiining of the 20th century) and as a result has some great French colonial style buildings. Big impressive structures with columns supporting the entranceway and big breezy rooms inside with wide plank wooden floors. One is the Settha Palace Hotel, built in 1932, abandoned in the 1970's, and totally renovated in 1995 to 2000. Not our kind of place to stay, especially at $175 per night when guest houses we slept in cost us $15. But the all rosewood floors, furniture and bar is incredible.