Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Happy Holidays from the Barn Hunter and Contest Update

A Christmas greeting card if I ever saw one, this barn in Chester, NH was a Sears kit. Mail order barns were not uncommon in Sasaktchewan, with a few in my study area coming from the infamous Eaton's catalogue. Photo taken from the National Barn Alliance website:
It gets a bit boring to repeat, but time really does fly. I've been busy conducting interviews and working on processing the huge amount of data I collected this fall, and now suddenly Christmas is upon us! I return to St. John's in less than three weeks' time. I have decided to put the blog on hiatus until then, for there is much work for me to do with organising and packing, not to mention feasting and enjoying time with friends and family.

I will return in January from St. John's where I will be finishing my final course in my master's program and beginning to write my thesis. I will announce the winner of the barn count contest in the new year. I'm a bit behind on my work, and so I still don't have the final count. I will notify the winner before I leave Saskatchewan and they will get their moment of fame on this blog come 2014. Thank you so much to everyone who entered a guess, both near and far!

Wishing you and yours a wonderful holiday season full of merriment and joy. I am so very happy to be able to share my love of barns with you, and I hope you will be back in the new year! Until then, all the peace and love of the season be with you, and here's to ushering in a new year full of love and preservation for barns all across the land.

P.S. I was honoured to be contacted by Shirley Byers, a freelance writer for the Western Producer to write an article about my work. For those of you who aren't familiar with the Producer, it is like, THE agricultural paper for Western Canada, and I was truly tickled pink when this article came out. Thank you to Shirley Byers for the excellent article. For those of you interested in reading it, it is accessible online in Flash and .pdf format through the publication's online digital archive here. The article is on page 38 of the December 5th edition. Here is a direct link to Flash version.

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Branding the Barn: Finding the Marks Left Behind

In all of my barn hunting, I have discovered one universal truth: no two barns are the same. From the road, a red gambrel roof barn may look very similar to its neighbour, but just a little investigation always reveals  that this is not so. There are differences in construction, size, formation, etc., but each barn also boasts unique features, signatures if you will. Some barns are identifiable for miles around because of a distinctive exterior detail, like a date painted on the loft door or a large met ventilator, or multiple cupolas, or a distinctive weather vane. But nearly every barn I have seen also harbours many secrets inside its walls.

I quickly discovered that barns often have some sort of graffiti inside, whether a date traced in a cement floor, a cattle brand burned into the wall, or even spray painted initials of youngsters in love. Now whenever I go into a barn for the first time, I'm always on the lookout for these barn signatures. Often people will point them out to me right away, indicating that they are just as interested as I am. This barn graffiti is significant because it shows that people felt a barn was an important enough place in which to leave their mark. A good many people spent a goodly portion of their lives working in barns, so it's no surprise that they wanted to leave behind some evidence of their having been there.

And so now, for your viewing pleasure, is a selection of some of the barn art I've come across.

A name is carved in the cement floor of a barn southwest of Radville. There might have been a date once too, but it appears to have slipped through the cracks of time.

The preceding two photos come from the Verot barn southeast of Radville. The first was the cattle brand of Peter Verot, now deceased. The "AV" probably stood for Alphonse Verot, Peter's uncle and the man who had the barn built in 1918. There was also the name "Hlavka" carved nearby, but too faintly for the camera to capture it. Peter's wife, Alexina, who was in the barn when I took these photos, remembered that they had once had a hired man in the 1940s with that last name. Apparently he didn't want to be forgotten and the barn bears his memory still, however faint.
Another "A.V." - this one is carved in a barn southeast of Ceylon owned by the Verbeurgt family.
Continuing with the "A" theme, this one comes from the North Star barn south of Ceylon. Allan Ayotte figured it was probably him who put it there when he was a kid during the 1950s.
A young couple expressed their love for each other with spray painted initials in a barn southeast of Radville.

These three photos all come from the same barn southeast of Radville.
These last two photos came from a barn southwest of Radville. It was built from the boards of a barn that was taken down southeast of Radville in the '60s. The present owner thinks these paintings must have come with boards from that barn, or perhaps boards salvaged from an old house. Wherever they came from, they are an unexpected and delightful surprise, particularly this painting of a tree. The "J.D" in the top photo may be for John Deere.
"M.M" initials carved into the wall of the chop bin in the McGrath barn southwest of Ceylon, built 1912.

A larger view of the wall, which is full of carving and pencil marks, though they aren't very clear in this photo. However, I can make out "Big Cow." What can you see?

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Hay, What's all the Fuss About?

Barns are often considered very impressive buildings, and rightly so. Gambrel roof barns, more commonly known as "hip-roof" barns in this part of the world, are especially impressive looking, what with their lofty height, distinctive shape and usually bold red colouring. What's interesting about these barns is that their impressive look was mostly due to the need for storage of a rather humble, yet necessary, material: hay.

How important was hay? I asked this question of nearly all my informants, and they all gave me a look that said, "you idiot." But they answered anyway, because I had forewarned them that some of my questions would seem incredibly stupid. "Real important, really important," Frank Porte emphasised, "because I can tell you about the '30s."  I will let my informants speak for themselves:


In case the embedded video doesn't work, check out the video on YouTube here

The Top Three Most Interesting Facts Ever About Hay in Southern Saskatchewan

1. Hay dictated the dominant style of barns in this region. A gambrel roof barn had a large capacity for hay, and hay was integral to the survival of livestock through the winter, particularly the work horses which were indispensable to farming prior to the 1930s. Additionally, many barns had hay slings, which was a method of transporting loose hay into the loft whereby a system of ropes and pulleys on a track pulled hay up from the hay rack (wagon) into the loft. Any gambrel roof with a "peak' (sometimes called a hay hood) invariably indicates a hay sling. Some barns without peaks still had slings - a track extending outward from the loft doors is an indication of this.
The peak is a dead giveaway that this gambrel style barn west of Ceylon was built with a hay sling. If you look closely, you can see its track. 

Here's a close-up of a hay sling track. Some barns had these even without the peak or "hay hood."

2.  Most hay in the region was "slough hay." For those of you who aren't familiar with the term "slough", it refers to a wetland, a body of water. Sloughs are prone to drying out in the summer. The use of "tame hay" or sown hay did not become common until the middle of the twentieth century. Most informants mentioned the '30s, a time of terrible drought in the prairies, commonly known as the "Dirty Thirties." Sloughs failed to produce enough hay, and many farmers resorted to procuring hay from elsewhere, such as Manitoba (they either bought it and had it shipped, or travelled east themselves to cut it and bring it home), or resorted to desperate methods: cutting a common weed, Russian Thistle, and mixing it with straw to feed the cattle.

3. The evolution of hay spelled the end for many barns. The original purpose of the big red barn was as a horse house and a hay house. There were usually a few milk cows thrown in there, but generally the barn was meant to house and feed the workhorses, the indispensable power of farm machinery before the tractor. Within just a few years, tractors mostly replaced horses, but still the barns were used to house horses, milk cows, pigs and calves. Hay was still needed for all of these, and so hay storage remained important. Loose hay was replaced with bales in around the '50s. The earlier square bales and small round bales continued to be stored in the loft. But the development of large round bales in the 1970s eventually spelled the end for the loft's use. Large round bales are too heavy for a loft, and their shape sheds water, meaning they can  be left outside. Thus hay, the original reason for the gambrel roof barn, eventually brought about its end.
Thanks to big round bales like these, barns like the one in the background became almost totally obsolete. Is it just me, or do the bales seem smug?

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Barn Hunting for Beginners Part II: The Art of the Ethnographic Interview

Barn hunting may be done (although I have only just discovered two barns I missed in my survey, so my declaration was premature), but my work as the barn hunter is far from finished. Surveying season is over, but interviewing season is now just underway.
My project is an ethnographic analysis of barns, rather than a purely architectural study. A bare bones definition of ethnography from the online Merriam-Webster dictionary states: ":  the study and systematic recording of human cultures; also :  a descriptive work produced from such research." Thus, my barn research does not end with counting, photographing, classifying and observing the structure of the barns. In fact, I believe that was only preliminary research. The ethnographic part, which consists mainly of interviews, is where the real story begins. 

Like any other skill, learning to be a good interviewer is a process of learning from others, reading about how it's done, and a lot of trial and error. I have a lot of experience interviewing people, since I once worked as a newspaper reporter. But ethnographic interviews are a bit different. Last year in my graduate field school in Keels, Newfoundland, I learned a lot of new skills about how to conduct interviews properly. For starters, remember that an ethnographic interview (which can also be called an oral history interview) is not necessarily just for your own reference, but could end up being a historical record available for posterity. So with that in mind, here is my quick and dirty and not in any particular order manual to the art of the interview. 

1. Get the best audio recorder you can afford and learn how to use it properly
There's all sorts of fancy audio recording technology out there, many of it running in the thousands of dollars range. I can't afford that, but it is important to get the best recorder you can afford. Do not use your cell phone, thinking it will be "good enough." You never know where your recording will end up: archives, radio, television. So don't cheap out. I learned this important lesson from Dr. Guha Shankar of the American Folklife Centre, and he is an expert who seriously knows his stuff. The same goes for photography and/or videography. Ideally with an interview you will use external mics, but I really couldn't afford that much equipment. I bought a basic model of a respectable audio recorder brand, and I learned how to use it.
My friend the Tascam DR-05, available from Amazon and other purveyors of electronics.

- Read the manual and test it out with yourself several times from different angles and at difference settings to be comfortable with it. It's embarrassing to be fumbling around with your equipment at an interview, so figure it out before it gets to that point. 
- Always record in the highest quality (.wav vs. .mp3 for example). It will take up more space, so always promptly upload the files onto your computer and then back it up religiously. Losing an interview is devastating. 
- Always bring extra batteries. ALWAYS. 

2. The interview is not about you. Be a good listener. 
The first time I ever heard a recording of an interview I'd done with an informant, I almost died of humiliation. Seriously, my face heated up to dangerous temperatures. I was constantly interrupting my informant (this is how we in Folklore commonly refer to the people we are interviewing) with little anecdotes of my own, finishing their sentences for them, and generally being a loser. Your job as the interviewer is to stimulate conversation, and then to let the informant talk. Keep your own commentary to a bare minimum. Trust me, the first time you hear yourself on tape, you will vow never to speak again in an interview. 

3. Don't be an interrogator. Keep it as casual as possible. 
I used to go into every interview with a long list of questions. This is fine, but I found that it distracted me too much and sometimes distracted the informant. Now, I just take in a short list of keyword reminders. I still prepare for the interview and think about what I most want to know, but I'm not married to a sheet of questions. Start out with a few basic questions and you will usually find that the conversation spins off in all sorts of directions. Let it. Many times the most important information to come out in an interview will not be in response to a question you had, but will naturally emerge from the memories of the informant. 

4. Brief the informant before the recorder is turned on
Sometimes the audio recorder can be like an elephant in the room. Conversation is going great, the informant is a fountain of knowledge, and then suddenly you bring out the recorder and the temperature suddenly drops in the room. Recorders can make people a bit nervous, so be as casual as possible. Never record without the informant knowing. Breaking trust is not only a shady move, but is unethical in situations like these. See #5. Explain what sorts of ground you want to cover in the interview and let them know that if they ever want the recorder turned off, you will do immediately. Don't ever break that promise. 

5. Obtain oral or written consent before beginning the interview 
As a university student, I am required to pass a rigorous ethics review before beginning my research, and this includes drawing up an informed consent form which informants must sign before the interview begins. The form basically ensures that both parties know why the data is being collected and what is to be done with it. In my case, this includes obtaining permission to use the data in my thesis, on this blog, and to submit it to the archives. There were lots of shady ethnographers in the past who collected data from people and then used it for their own advantage without ever obtaining permission. That was totally lame and made lots of people suspicious and rightly so. 

6. Enjoy the process. People want to tell you their stories.
Despite all of the serious talk above, seriously, enjoy it. For me, interviews are the best part. A lot of people get nervous before interviews, and I still do get a few butterflies before each interview, but I truly enjoy it. Each interview I've done so far has taught me more about barns, but has also been a great few hours. Often after the recorder is off, I end up staying around for a bit to look at photos or let the conversation drift into other matters. People want to share their stories. You are giving them the opportunity to do that, and it is truly a gift on both ends. 

For more information on interviewing, including a handy checklist and some videos (everyone loves videos)
check out these two posts from my friends at the Heritage Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador here and here. An excellent and hilarious manual for interview skills is The Tape Recorded Interview: A Manual for Fieldworkers in Folklore and Oral History by Edward D. Ives.

Here are the wonderful informants I've had the privilege to interview so far. I will be sharing some of their stories in more depth in future posts, so check back!

Dave and Sharon Verot and Xina, Radville, SK.
The Verot barn southeast of Radville, built 1918.

Roy Levee, Radville, SK

The Levee barn, just north of Radville, was moved to this spot probably in the 1920s from its original location in the present ghost town of Brooking 8 miles to the west. It started out as a lumber building (built around 1910) and has just undergone its latest renovation.

Frank and Eveline Porte, formerly of Radville, SK, now living in Weyburn, SK

Eveline and Frank.

Frank showed me his beautiful woodworking during the course of the interview.

The former Porte farm, south of Radville, built 1926.

Roland Carles, Radville, SK.
The Carles barn, built 1925 (despite what the paint say!) is southwest of Radville, just a few miles north from the Porte barn.

Stafford McGrath, Ceylon, SK.
The McGrath barn southwest of Ceylon, built 1912.

Allan and Edith Ayotte, Ceylon, SK

Edith demonstrating how the butter dasher was used. How is this connected to the barn? The milk came from the cows housed and milked in the barn just outside!

The Ayotte barn, known as the North Star Barn, south of Ceylon, built 1916.

Monday, 18 November 2013

Guess How Many Barns! And Win!

As I mentioned in my previous post (click here), I am just tallying up the final number of barns I have found in my survey. Rather than just boringly telling you, I want you to guess! Email me your guess to The guess closest to the actual number will win a homemade gift basket from yours truly. So put your guessing hat on!

Contest Rules:
1. Email guess to by December 15, 2013.
2. The guess closest to the actual number will win a gift basket of homemade goodies (if you live within a reasonable and deliverable distance). If the winner hails from further away, you'll get a gift certificate from Better World Books.
3. Limit of one guess per person.

- This number will be the total number of barns in both the R.Ms of Laurier and the Gap. 
- This number will include barns built before approximately 1960 (no rigid-frame buildings, steel buildings, cattle sheds or calving sheds will be included in this number).
- This number will include barns of all different roof types, not just the common "hip-roof" barn.

Now you know there's at least one barn in the area. This is one of the biggest and best preserved in the region and is located west of Radville.

The End of the Road: Hunting No More (and a contest! yay!)

 It's been a couple weeks of silence, and I'm sure some of you may have been clamoring for a new post. I assume that's so, even though I haven't had a single person ask why I haven't written a new post in awhile.
Where have I been, you ask? Well, I've been finishing up barn hunting, of course! And I can now say with confidence that I am pretty much done the survey (there's a couple I have to photograph still).

Late afternoon shadows paint an intricate deign on this barn south of Ceylon that only nature could create.

The barn survey is the true hunting of a barn hunter's trade, for this was where I actually got out on the road and attempted to count and document every single barn in my study area. For more info on this aspect of my study, you can read my post here. I can say now that I have driven every single driveable road in the R.Ms of the Gap and Laurier and seen every single farm, whether still occupied or not. As much as I wish I could say I have captured every single barn, I know that it's quite possible I missed a few, whether because of roads that were too impassable even for the Le Sabre or because I'm a faulty human who is apt to make mistakes. But, as far as I know, I got the vast majority of them. And right in the nick of time, too, the day before our first significant snowfall which doesn't seem to be going anywhere soon.

The survey, which I originally thought would be a fairly secondary part of my study, became a herculean task. To say it was a learning process is an understatement. I learned not just about barns, but about how to properly and thoroughly conduct research, how to stop on a dime on a gravel road, and how to tell the time of the day by the sun and shadows (seriously). I learned so much, spent probably the most enjoyable few months of my life (despite the expected setbacks and fatigue), and experienced the countryside in a truly meaningful way.

Now all the sappiness aside, what were some of the most important takeaways from the barn survey experience? I learned so many things, it would be impossible to list them all here, so I'll just stick to the big ones.

1. I'm not sure what a barn actually is.
There are a few buildings in my survey which are classified as unverified barns, because try as I might, I simply could not tell whether they had been built as a barn, were at one time used as a barn, or are a barn now. Some good indicators are a loft door, but in my early, ignorant days of barn hunting I sometimes got confused by openings that looked like loft doors and classified granaries as barns. Another indicator is the presence of cattle corrals, but those are often removed or fall down so it's not a sure bet. So, long story short, barns aren't always straightforward.

Is this a barn? I really don't know. Any help would be appreciated!

2. No seriously, what is a barn?
When I first started out, I wasn't including "new" barns, that is, barns built in the past 20 years or so. Then I thought I should. Then at some point I realised that what people may call a barn is actually a calving shed, and is that technically a barn? Also, a lot of people I met with think that barns with gable or "peaked" roofs weren't "really" barns, even if they were built before 1960 and housed a milk cow and hay at one point. So, it gets confusing. I'm still working out exactly what a barn means in the context of my study area, but my tentative hypothesis is that a barn was meant for livestock (usually work horses and milk cows) and hay storage for animals. Sounds simple, but it's actually not. The point is, barns were and are living buildings, and went through a variety of changes of use and form as agriculture changed and individuals' farming practices changed, whether by personal whim or because of the influence of outside forces.

3. Barns are good at hiding
There were several barns I hunted during the survey which were located in places I have driven past numerous times, and yet I somehow missed that there was a barn there. Also, some barns really are concealed by the landscape features, whether trees, hills or man-made features. One barn I found was in a yard right along Highway 6 that I have seen a thousand times in my life, but the barn is mostly hidden by large steel granaries. So, barn hunting ain't no fluffy past-time, you gotta track 'em down.
This one really isn't hidden at all, located just a few miles east of Radville on a busy road, and yet I somehow didn't really notice it until I was barn hunting. 

This barn is hidden on an abandoned farm deep in the hills, and the barn itself is deeply built into one of those hills.

4. Barns can tell us a lot about the past.
Duh, right? I mean, I won a grant for my research based on that argument, so I should have that figured out by now. I always knew that barns had a lot of knowledge embedded in them, but I didn't realise how very deep and broad that knowledge is until I was in the middle of my survey. I have learned so much about this place from studying its barns, and not just about farming, but about family ties, settlement patterns, social existence, gender roles, and on and on.
This is the last barn I officially hunted. Located in a field southeast of Radville, it is unique in my region. I haven't come across another barn built with diagonal boards like this.

5. There are a LOT of barns out there.
One of the things I hear most is, "gee, not too many barns left." If I hear that one more time, I will spit black bile. I used to agree, but now I say "You try going out and seeing them all, then come back to me!" Every day I went out to survey (so, pretty much every single day), I thought I had an idea of how many barns were in the area I was going to survey that day. Every single time, there were more than I had anticipated. You'd think I would have learned, but I never did. It happened even on the very last day of my survey. Now I know that compared to what there used to be that there aren't many barns anymore, but really, there's a lot left. Which just reinforces the importance of barns, because possibly only a fraction survive of what there once was.

This leads to the second most common thing I hear, which is the question "how many barns are there?" I actually didn't know, because I wasn't counting as I went along, just collecting all the data and taking the photographs to compile later. I'm in that compilation stage now, so I will soon have the final tally (excepting those few pesky unverified barns). And this brings me to an exciting announcement - a CONTEST! I'm not just gonna give away that hard-earned number. I want you to guess. Click here for those details.

I have learned so much during this barn hunt, and I know I'm just scratching the surface. It's now time to do interviews, and that's where I will put the meat on the bones of this particular barn saga. The hunting is over, but the barn hunter still has a lot of work to do. And all that hunting would never have happened without the help of a lot of wonderful people, some of whom I'll mention here. Every person who was home when I drove into their yard was a huge help to me. I can't name them all. There were also people I ran into in the street who gave me helpful suggestions. I've also had a number of people directly call me to give me help, and they will be listed elsewhere. For now, I want to publicly thank those who actually came barn hunting with me. Their local knowledge, driver's licenses, and ability to wrangle with Bob the Tape Measure were an invaluable help. Thank you to my long-suffering sister, Janelle Catherwood, my brother Shawn Catherwood who came barn hunting with me last spring when I didn't even know what I was doing at all yet, my best friend Teresa Whiteman who also came with me in the very early days and whose encouragement is better than any medication, and my old friends Mitchell Bert and Ian Larsen who knew better than to put up with me for an afternoon but helped anyway. Thank you also to Michelle King and Kenton Fisher who got roped into helping against their wills but were good sports about it. Very special thank you to my partner in crime Stacy Mackenzie who loves the hills the same way I do and knows more about barns than I ever will (also shout-out to Mehson and Hyden for a fun afternoon of barn hunting). And finally, the biggest thank you of all to my dad, Ken Catherwood, who has been teaching me folklore my whole life and is the best barn eyeball-measurer I know.

The sun sets over a barn just west of my farm.

Monday, 4 November 2013

Barn Hunting Across the Pond: British Barns Part I

Due to my many blunders, you might assume that I am a barn hunting novice, but I actually cut my barn hunting teeth this past summer in Great Britain.

Though its exterior esthetics are sort of humble compared to Saskatchewan barns, this is one of Britain's most famous barns, Coggeshall Grange Barn, which was built more than 700 years ago, making it one of the country's oldest surviving barns.
My research there wasn't as inclusive and far-reaching as my current barn study, but it was a start in barn hunting. This past summer, I was fortunate to spend six weeks in Essex, England participating taking a course which consisted of study trips around the country, in addition to my own research on barns which was also part of the course requirement. So, this barn hunter ain't no rookie.

British barns are completely different from western Canadian barns. The word barn itself is derived from the Old English bere (barley) and ern (house/place), thus the word itself originally meant "the place for barley." Historically, barley and wheat were the two most important crops in Britain. Nowadays, agriculture is just as industrialised as here in North America, but prior to about 1800, crops were sown, reaped, and threshed by hand. The barn was an incredibly important building in that it was a sheltered place where the grain could be processed throughout the winter and stored. In that era, every single grain was precious. Failed crops meant famine. To see how grain was threshed by hand using a flail, check out this short YouTube video with accompanying cool English folk tune.

Thus, the barn was vital to the entire functioning of society. Very few barns from the medieval era (roughly 1000-1500) still survive, and those that did tend to be exceptional barns, ones that were built as store houses by religious orders, such as Coggeshall pictured above.

One of the informants I interviewed in Britain, upon hearing that I was from Saskatchewan (he just so happened to have taught here in the '70s) remarked "your barns have got the doors in the wrong side."
In this photo of Upminster Tithe Barn (ca. 1450), which is now a museum of nostalgia, notice there is a door in the long end. All British barns have doors like this.Note also the thatched roof, which desperately needs to be replaced at a cost of close to $200,000.

He was referring to the fact that most barns here have the doors in "short side." This is because barns in this part of the world were primarily meant for horses and other livestock. Thus, stalls run both sides of the barn, necessitating an alley in the centre for care of the horses. British barns were intended for a completely different use. They are divided into bays, sometimes alternating between threshing floors and storage floors.

Coggeshall Barn is dressed up for a wedding, but you can make out the bays, which are the spaces between trusses (the squarish things composed of posts and beams which support the entire building).   

The doors were in the long side because carts loaded high with grain were driven in, relieved of their burdens, and driven out again. The doors were often left open to allow a draught to blow the chaff away. Interestingly, the doors on one side of the barn were often taller than their opposites. This was because the cart came in with a high load, but emptied out, didn't need such a tall door on the other side.
Carts like these (displayed in Coggeshall Barn) hauled precious loads of grain from field to threshing floor.

 The comment about doors, and the ensuing explanation, demonstrate how widely buildings can vary according to their intended use. Some Saskatchewan barns are still bring used for what they were originally intended, but no British barn is. The focus of my paper in England was the adaptive re-use of British barns. I will discuss this more in a future blog, and if there are any lessons Saskatchewan barn lovers can learn from the Brits in terms of preserving and/or re-purposing barns that are doomed to neglect.

You may have noticed the gigantic size of these barns and the huge timbers that were used to build them. When I showed my dad the photo below of the timber in Upminster Tithe Barn, he remarked, "Ten million dollars!", meaning it must have cost a fortune to build. They did even in their time, but now such timbers like that (all oak) simply don't exist anymore, especially not in England.
Ten million dollar trusses? These ancient oak timbers are a treasure, and many Brits are passionate about preserving these buildings in part because of that. Truly, they make the posts and beams in Saskatchewan barns look rather spindly in comparison. 
Timber-framed barns in Britain employ joints like these to hold the timbers together; there's not a nail to be found. Vernacular architecture fanatics get really excited about joints like these, because they can help date buildings based on knowledge of joinery techniques of different eras.

Not all British barns are built of timber. Architecture varies widely in England depending on local materials. Here in my ancestral home in the Peak District near Glossop, barns were built of stone. This is a later barn (by British standards) from the 18th or 19th century. Its roof type and shape look more like what we're used to in Saskatchewan.
Now that you know what British barns were originally intended for, I will follow up this discussion with another blog about how British barns have been re-purposed for use in the 21st century, at some point. You'll have to check back here multiple times every day to find out when! In the meantime, I'm hoping for one last gasp of nice weather so I can finally finish up my survey. One R.M. down, a fairly vast swathe of the other to go!

Monday, 28 October 2013

The Barn Hunter Brags, or Why Barn Hunting Matters

When I first began this project a few months ago, I assumed that I would be toiling in obscurity. I started this blog almost as an afterthought, and more as a way to keep myself on track than with the hope that anyone besides my thesis supervisor, a couple devoted friends, and maybe my dad would care (he only learnt of its existence last week, by the way). But for some reason, a few people actually seem interested in my work, and that makes me happy. For those of you who have been following my ramblings, THANK YOU!! You're the best.

Thus, it's time for a bit of shameless self promotion. I warned you it was coming.

Listen to my interview with Sheila Coles
My wonderful alma mater, Campion College at the University of Regina, included me in its most recent edition of its alumni magazine Brag. The lovely folks at the Heritage Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador uploaded an interview I did with folklorist Lisa Wilson in Edmonton about the importance of intangible heritage and my personal feelings about it, and most recently, I did two interviews with CBC Radio: one for Saskatoon Morning with Leisha Grebinski and one with Sheila Coles for the Morning Edition in Regina. You can listen to the latter here.
Update (November 4, 2013):  CBC Radio One played my Saskatoon interview on "The Story From Here,"  which means that it was heard nation-wide! This is a different interview from the one I did for CBC Regina, so check it out!
To listen, click the link for "Oct. 30 Part 2" and my interview starts at about 13:30.

I am very pleased about these developments, not just because they flatter my ego, but because they draw attention to this project which I hope has an importance beyond my own measly master's degree requirement. Barns are disappearing from the landscape. This is indicative of a much larger change in rural Saskatchewan: the increasing industrialisation of agriculture, the rise of agri-business and the deterioration of the traditional family farm. With any such change comes both advantages and loss. For the most part, barns are on the losing side.

In Saskatchewan, there is virtually no protection for barns and extremely limited grant funding available. All of the pictures of pretty barns I've published on this blog are examples of private individuals putting a lot of money into these structures simply because they care about them. The photos you've seen of deteriorating barns are not necessarily examples of barns that nobody cares about, but perhaps the owners simply can't afford to fix them up. 

There will never be enough money available for every barn to be saved. But just recording the barns that still exist is a start, which is basically what I am trying to do in my study. I can only cover one proportionately tiny area in this vast province, which is why I hope there will be more barn hunters in the near future. On that note, I will take this opportunity to share with you some links related to barn conservation and preservation in other parts, mostly the United States. It is my mission to help initiate some similar sorts of projects here in Sasaktchewan, most notably a province-wide survey.

The National Barn Alliance - "We provide national leadership for the preservation of America's historic barns and rural heritage through education, documentation, conservation, and networking." Yep, Canada is in need of a similar organisation.

The New York State Barn Coalition - "The New York State Barn Coalition is a non-profit organization formed for educational purposes. The coalition is dedicating to promoting the appreciation, preservation, rehabilitation, and re-use of historic barns. The organization seeks to promote a broad understanding of the educational, economic, historic, symbolic, and aesthetic values of historic barns and farmsteads in order to revitalize communities and promote pride in New York's cultural heritage. The coalition's members include preservationists, students, teachers, government employees, barn owners, farmers, architects, engineers, contractors, craftsman, historians, and general enthusiasts." - This is just one example of a state level barn preservation organisation. Saskatchewan, and every other province, should have something similar.

Michigan Barn and Farmstead Survey - This is a group of barn hunters! This flagship survey project is what I hope will happen in Saskatchewan one day soon.

All of these examples from elsewhere illustrate the possibilities for barnophiles here in Saskatchewan. There are lots of you out there; I've met quite a few just driving into yards. Committed residents in the Indian Head area created the Bell Barn Society, which is now a tourism site. "Google" Saskatchewan barns, and will you find oodles of beautiful photographs. There's also Barn in Saskatchewan by Dave Aldous Barns of Western Canada by Bob Hainstock. I'm sure there's a lot more out there than I know about right now. The point is, there are a lot of people who care about barns out there. If we were to unite, imagine the great things we could do.

Saskatchewanians are known for their passionate dedication to the Saskatchewan Roughriders. Imagine a province full of Saskatchewan barn hunters! It would be a formidable army.

Monday, 21 October 2013

Barn Hunting with the Old Man: The Importance of Local Knowledge

The other day my dad went barn hunting with me. There was a particular barn he had wanted to see, and that I had been saving for him. Now that harvest is finally over and he has some free time, we made the trip south of Ceylon to the North Star barn.
The North Star barn

As excited as I was to be barn hunting with my dad, I had a few small worries about bringing him along, simply because I know him so well. Sure enough, soon after we had settled down for coffee with our hosts, my dad started reminiscing, interrupting my barn questions with memories of his own, random talk about farming, and musings on the weather. I was a bit frustrated, since the barn hunter is on a tight schedule these days (as I write this, there is snow on the ground). But I soon realised that my dad was drawing out information about this barn by asking questions I might not have thought of. For example, in reminiscing about his own experiences growing up on a farm, he said to our host, "loose hay was before my time. Do you think the loft could hold more hay when it was loose, or in bales?"

That was a very good question, and one I had never thought to ask before. Soon after, my dad entered into a good-humoured wager with our host over the width of the barn. The barn owner said the barn was 26 feet wide, but my dad politely suggested he thought it was 28. With glee, we all headed out into the chilly afternoon air with Bob the tape measure to see who was right. We measured it twice, just to make sure, and it was 28 feet on the nose.

My dad inspects an antique Cockshutt tractor in the North Star barn. After barns and cookies, his great love is tractors.

Later that afternoon we went surveying, and my dad's local knowledge was an invaluable help, as well as his uncanny ability to eyeball the measurements of barns. Though I had seen his prowess in action, I was still a bit skeptical. "How do you know that, Dad?" I asked after he estimated the measurements of one barn. "I've been looking at barns all my life, I can tell," he responded with some irritation, as if I weren't really sharp enough to call myself a barn hunter.

My dad also knows about many barns that were once there but are now gone. As we drove through the countryside, he pointed out various abandoned homesteads that had once had barns. Though I know that many have vanished over the years, I would be hard-pressed to say with any authority where and when they had gone.

This expedition with my dad reinforced the importance of local knowledge in a study such as this (which is part of that whole intangible cultural heritage thing I've been going on about). I have been asked several times why I chose to do this study in my own area. There are many answers: free rent, being in the place I love most, reunion with my cat Rufus, etc. But I also truly believe that a study like this is dependent on local knowledge, and since I am a local, I've already eliminated a lot of work. But as much as I know about my area, I still know next to nothing compared to someone like my dad. I can only imagine the difficulties faced by a stranger coming in to a rural area and attempting to find all the barns, make contacts, etc. all in a limited time frame. It can certainly be done, and is done all the time. I did something similar myself last year when I participated in a field school in Keels, Newfoundland.

Some would even argue that doing a study in one's own area is a bad idea because of the inherent pre-conceptions and biases one brings into her work. This is a legitimate concern. But we have biases and pre-conceptions no matter where we go. Awareness of these, and acknowledgement of them is very important.

But for all the potential cons for doing this work in my own area, I believe they are heavily outweighed by the pros, especially the free rent one. In all seriousness, I believe my knowledge of this place will lend a depth and richness to my study that would not be possible otherwise. This is not to say that I will only ever do research in my own area; to the contrary, I love diving into a new place and trying to immerse myself in it as much as possible. But for my master's thesis, I wouldn't want to be barn hunting anywhere else but here. Every time I go out, I end up driving down a road I've never driven down before, seeing farms and barns I didn't know existed, and meeting people I previously only knew by name, or not at all. I've discovered so may amazing things about a place I know so well. It begs the question: how many secrets are waiting to be discovered in your own backyard?

A magnificent barn I knew nothing about, but of which my dad and our North Star barn hosts knew the location. It is situated far from any main road. My dad said he had always wanted to see it, as it is somewhat legendary in the barnlore of the region.