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?