Barns are part of our heritage and we're losing them

Jon Radojkovic, president of Ontario Barn Preservation, in his Chesley-area workshop on Saturday, March 7, 2020 in Arran-Elderslie, Ont. Supplied to The Owen Sound Sun Times/Postmedia Network

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Time has not been on the side of many old barns we see while speeding through the countryside.

These monuments to hard work and skilled craftsmanship are fading landmarks which modern farm practices and land-use changes are making redundant. Age is catching up with them too.

Grey-Bruce has the largest concentration of pre-First World War timber-frame barns of anywhere in Ontario, said Jon Radojkovic, a Chesley-area timber-frame homebuilder, author of two barn books and contributor to The Sun Times.

He’s president of Ontario Barn Preservation,  which he and Stratford-area architect Krista Hulshof established a year ago to help save as many of these barns, built between 1860 and 1914, as possible.

“We’ve lost thousands of them, in the last few years even,” Radojkovic said.

The group’s website lists contractors which have expertise fixing or converting barns to new uses. It features some photos and drawings of old barns, articles about them, and it advocates for governments to consider how they might help save these barns too.

“Every part of a barn is significant as far as our culture and heritage in Grey and Bruce and all across Ontario,” Radojkovic said. “It’s like walking into a church.”

A barn east of Wiarton. Jon Radojkovic/For The Sun Times/Postmedia Network Scott Dunn/Sun Times

While the outside of farmhouses often look original, inside they’ve often been updated. Barns are the opposite: Hopefully new boards and exterior repairs, but inside the exposed beam structure looks just as it did when build, he said.

Even the stone foundations are impressive, he said.

They’re countryside landmarks of hand-hewn timbers with scallop marks often left by the farmer himself when making them. They’re appreciated by many people, residents and visitors alike, he said.

“People who drive up here are not enamoured with our new, modern barns much. They expect to see old barns,” he said. “They’re the most original architecture that we have from the past.”

The group plans to host barn tours this summer, including in Grey-Bruce, if that can be arranged, Radojkovic said.

Barns can be repurposed or fixed up and used as intended again, but on a much smaller farming scale by today’s agricultural standards, he said.

But none of that has been enough to protect them.

Radojkovic knows of no statistics kept of the remaining stock of pre-1914 barns in Ontario. But they’re being lost in Grey-Bruce and the farther south you go, the fewer that remain, he said.

“Definitely, down south into Perth County, we hardly have any left. Eastern Ontario they’re being abandoned. In the north they’re being abandoned as well.”

It’s about history preservation, something Europe is admired for, Radojkovic said. “In a hundred years, people will flock here because they want to see all these amazing timber-frame barns.”

Ontario Barn Preservation has about 50 members. Its seven directors hale from across the province and from many walks of life.

One is a retiree from Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food, who entered thousands of barns in his career. There are two architect-designers who make new uses out of old barns or have them moved to use elsewhere. It also has farmers who have worked in barns all their life.

Fore more details visit www.ontariobarnpreservation.com 

 

 

 

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