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'Shining beacons in our rural landscape'
By Ben Bulmer
Old barns are synonymous with the Gatineau Hills and those lucky enough to have one on their property are using them for more than storing hay. From hanging up rope swings for the grand kids, to allowing a band to use it as a recording space, historic barns play an important part in our rural culture.
Wakefielder Adéle McKay is an independent consultant in environmental biology and agricultural research and spearheaded a government-funded program to restore historic barns around the Hills from 2012 to 2015.
"It's really important to protect Quebec's agricultural heritage and our pioneer farmsteads," said MacKay. Their tin roofs and distinctive wood cladding dominate rural fields, and the consultant describes the structures as "shinning beacons in our rural landscape," adding the barns are reminders of the connection to our agricultural past and honour the efforts of the settlers who built them.
Masham's Roots and Shoots Farm has one of the best preserved timber frame barns in the area, said McKay, and received grant money from Agriculture, Pêcheries et Alimentation Quebec allowing for extensive renovations to the 150-year-old dairy barn and five others historic buildings at the site. Although the actual age of the barn is unknown, original deeds for the land date back to 1866, when Charles Moore arrived from Ireland and paid $100 for 100 acres of farmland. The barn built predominately from Eastern White Pine and Hemlock would likely have been built shortly after the land was purchased and a farmhouse built.
Carpenter and owner of The Wooden Shoe Timber Frame Co., Lester Perrault, worked as an engineer on the two-year restoration project and describes the carpentry techniques used to build the barn as "true craftsmanship." Perrault said the barn, commonly referred to as an English Box Frame, features mortise and tenon joinery using ash or oak pegs to hold the joints together with not a steel nail or screw in sight.
Roots and Shoots Farm coowner Robin Turner bought their Masham farm last year from Gail Nesbitt and said the barn was a great addition to their organic vegetable farm, although the cathedral-like space isn't currently being used for farm purposes. "We had a band record in it," said Turner, adding the musicians were very happy with its acoustics.
Developer Sean McAdam purchased the Hendrick Farm in Chelsea in 2005, seeing the 150-year-old barn on the site as a centrepiece of his proposed residential development.
"For us there was no question, we wanted to keep the barn," said McAdam, adding he felt a moral obligation to preserve the area's history. McAdam won't divulge how much the barn's restoration cost, saying only, "it was expensive" and it "required a lot of work." McAdam lets the building out for events as well using part of it for his office.
Brooke and Bob Gibson bought their Wakefield property from Phil and Glennis Cohen and describe the barn and collection of heritage buildings on their property as their "pride and joy."
"I feel it's a responsibility to hold onto our history," said Brooke, adding she didn't want to see the barn lost. Its current use is for storing old Theatre Wakefield sets and donations collected for Wakefield for Refugees, which is awaiting the arrival of a second Syrian family. It also houses rope swings for the grandchildren to play on.
Although Brooke admits they spent "far too much" on the restoration, she said, "I don't regret it...[I'm] smitten by the charm."
McKay said the historic barns remind her of a quote from architect Witold Rybczynski: "The greenest building is not the one with the grass on the roof or a rainwater reservoir in the basement, but the one that lasts the longest."