Monday, 18 November 2013

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.


  1. Wow, a lot of work Kristen,
    I loved following your blog posts, seeing so many different barns, the photography.... I think you should do a photography book of Saskatchewan Barns.
    The barn with the diagonal boards is amazing, someone took pride in their work! It wasn't just a barn to them.
    All the best writing your thesis... you could blog about that too :)

    1. I really appreciate your support, Angie! And don't worry, I'm not done blogging yet. I'm not officially barn hunting anymore, but I'm still the barn hunter and I've got lots more stories to share.

  2. Wow- So glad I found your blog (pointed here from the National Barn Alliance FB page). I too am a grad student interested in barns. My first intention was to do a historic barn survey of my area (rural northern California) but it seems to be morphing into an altogether different animal now....a cultural/heritage needs assessment for a rural ranching community (that has amazing barns by the way!) You're work is inspiring, and it is so great to be able to connect with other barn fanatics. One thing I've noticed is when I tell people my research interests include barns, people from all walks of life light up and connect to the topic (which i found surprising at first!)

    1. Hi Karen.

      Thanks for reading! I'm very interested to hear more about your work in California. Please email me at so we can discuss our projects!