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.

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Barn Hunting Buddies

Everyone loves cute animal photos, right? Fair warning: this post contains copious amounts of them. If you're one of the few soulless, cold-hearted people in the world who despise photos of cute animals, please leave this blog right now and don't ever return.

This lovely little barn SW of Radville is home to several creatures including goats and kitties,
 I have mentioned in a previous blog post, The Dangers of Barn Hunting that encounters with animals are par for the course in a barn hunter's fieldwork. And while I've had to deal with slithery snakes and sinister spiders (as well as the promise of revolting rodents), I've also had my fair share of adorable animal encounters. There have been so many, in fact, that it's become dangerous in its own right. For these encounters sometimes eat up large amounts of a barn hunter's most precious resource: time.

When I drive into a farm yard when I'm doing a survey, there is always the risk of cute animals to distract me from my true, no-nonsense purpose of barn hunting. For instance, last week while Stacy and I were out surveying (we should have been measuring, but I had forgotten the scale at home, just another barn hunting blunder), we stopped in at one yard with a tiny barn and a host of animals. Upon opening the door of my dad's truck (the Le Sabre was out of commission), three excited dogs came to greet us, and two of them actually jumped right into the truck and sat on my lap. Needless to say, the usual ten minute stop stretched out to about a half hour at that farm. At another farm on a different day, I left my vehicle to take some photos of a barn. When I returned, a cat was curled up asleep on the driver's seat. How he got in without me noticing is a mystery. I've yet to encounter a mean or scary dog or a vicious cat, but maybe that's just because once I retire from barn hunting, I have a future ahead of me as a dog and cat whisperer.

In addition to dogs and cats (so many cats!) there have also been sightings of pigs, goats, donkeys, ponies, horses, chickens, turkeys, llamas, sheep, and of course, cows. When we're working on measuring a barn, which is an all-day, usually multi-day affair, we get to really mingle with the local animal-folk. I'm surprised that I haven't smuggled any kitties home with me yet. Just yesterday we were measuring a barn where a brand-new calf is in residence, and Stacy and I discussed how we might sneak him into the trunk of the Le Sabre and take him home, and then what could be done with him once he grew into a full-sized bull.

Encountering animals during barn hunting is not just cute and fun, it's also exciting because it provides us with a sort of glimpse into the past. In decades past, all Saskatchewan barns would have housed animals of some kind. Most barns in this area were built to house the horses which were needed to work the land, and the cows which provided milk for the family. Animals were always a part of farm life, but what was once common has become exceptional. Most yards that I drive into now don't have any animals save for a dog and maybe some cats. The majority of barns I've investigated are not housing any sort of livestock. Many of them are still inhabited, but by swallows, mice, flies, and perhaps cats, in short, not the sort of creatures these great buildings were meant to house.

Thus, when I come across a barn that is still used for its original purpose, or even partly for its original purpose, it's exciting. This is a barn in its original context, this is a glimpse of the past.

And now, without further ado, are the cute animals. This is but a small selection of the many dozens of animal photos I have taken during my time as a barn hunter, and most of them were taken at two farms that still have barns in use as animal houses.
This barn south of Radville has a somewhat unusual design in that there is no hay loft, but rather a mow in the centre which holds the hay. The leans on each side contain stalls for cattle and horses. The mow is also home to several cats.

 A jersey milk cow and her brand new calf.

Mama and baby head outside for the calf's first glimpse of the sun. 

Cat in a feed trough, nonchalantly. 

Cat in a hayloft, elegantly. 
A hen poses glamorously in the shadow of a fence post. 

Goats frolicking! And a chicken!
Chickens grazing! And a goat!

My cat, Rufus, who is afraid of leaving the house and can't even imagine the privations of living in a barn.

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Barn Hunting Blunders

If I've given the impression thus far on this blog that I am a barn hunter extraordinaire whose barn hunting prowess is unmatched, please don't be fooled.

Stacy's creativity makes me look like a cooler barn hunter than I actually am. Photo by Stacy MacKenzie
 Truth be told, I kinda suck at barn hunting, or at least I've been feeling that way lately. It's natural to encounter setbacks during any quest worth its salt, and barn hunting is certainly no exception. Discouragement comes easily to some, myself included, and I've been feeling a bit mediocre as a barn hunter lately, mostly because of my some of my many flaws as a human being.

I am clumsy, I am forgetful, and I am careless. Ask anyone who knows me at all well, and they will agree wholeheartedly with the above statements. Don't ask  my sister though, because she'll make me sound worse than I actually am. My forgetfulness causes no end of headaches in my life and in my barn hunting. I'm one of those people who will frantically search for my keys, only to realise several minutes later that they've been in the ignition the whole time, and that the Le Sabre is actually running. I'm also clumsy, with a chronic case of the dropsy (not the old-fashioned word for edema, nor the modern definition of a fish disease). I drop things constantly. The sound of small items clattering to the ground is my constant background noise. Maybe I should record myself for an hour or so with my audio recorder so I can create my own barn hunting soundtrack. Though perhaps not, because it would be riddled with expletives. I'm also careless in that I will set things down without thinking, thus leading to the forgetfulness of where I put it, and usually some clumsiness is thrown in there when I drop something else while trying to find the thing I misplaced in the first place.

Here's a random photo of a cat on a barn. Have I mentioned that I'm a crazy cat lady?
 So, long story short, I am really thankful that Stacy hasn't left me yet to seek tedious, unpaid employment elsewhere.There have been many occasions where she has told me a measurement, only to have me ask thirty seconds later what it was again, because I have already forgotten. The other day we were held up for some minutes while I frantically searched the Le Sabre for one of my drafting pencils (you may remember the importance of these from the post Barn Hunting for Beginners Part I. Notice the caveat of "guard these with your life." My life should be forfeit). I never did find it, and had to make do with an inferior, standard mechanical pencil. There really is a difference.
I finally found the missing pencil, lying innocently and smugly in an obvious location.

Even more egregious was the other day when I headed out for a few hours of barn surveying. I picked up my sister, Janelle and her friend, Michelle along the way to accompany me. I thought they'd be excited to see me. Along the way, I somehow got temporarily lost despite having an R.M. map right beside me and despite having lived in this area my entire life. By the time we reached our first barn, daylight hours were already dwindling (it really is getting dark earlier these days). I soon discovered that my camera battery had died and that surprise! I had left my spare at home, in the charger. This is one of a folklorist's worst nightmares (not quite as bad as recording a lengthy interview only to realise that the recording was erased, malfunctioned, or that you forgot to turn on the recorder altogether, but almost). An integral part of the barn survey is photographing the barns I find, so it was a really dumb mistake. I went ahead and spoke to the owner, took basic measurements and recorded it on the map anyway, but I have to go back to photograph it now, which is a huge waste of valuable time.

I probably drained my battery taking photos of these trumpeter swans and their duck slough-mates. But aren't they beautiful?
 Then there are the many mistakes I make in my scaled drawings. These aren't necessarily caused by my own character flaws, but rather by my poor understanding of mathematics and the tendency for barns to be a bit on the crooked side.
Stacy dubbed this the "Bermuda Room" after the Triangle. We got lost in there, math-wise.
And there is the archive, where I live once a week, and which is my own personal vortex of distraction. My archiving adventures will be chronicled in more detail in a future post, but you can be sure that you'll be on the edge of your seat when the time comes.

Barn hunting is an endlessly exciting pursuit, and a rewarding one, but I am committed to honesty in my reports .Last week you learned about the dangers of barn hunting, and this week you're learning about the potential setbacks that can be caused by a blundering barn hunter. But if this quest didn't present a few challenges along the way, it would hardly be worth doing, would it? 

Home of the infamous "Bermuda Room," this 101 year old barn is well-loved, and though I curse its crookedness, I love it too, just like I love all barns. After all, I am the Barn Hunter, blunders included.