Sawdust filled the air of a small Ontario township on a sunny Friday afternoon, as cranes operated by a team of more than 45 volunteer builders from across the continent lifted heavy planks of timber while they put the final touches on the frame of a barn that is set to transform a community.
“You can just feel the love,” Annabel Slaight said. “This is a very special project.”
Ms. Slaight is the founding chair of the Ontario Water Centre, a not-for-profit organization that is leading the barn-raising in Georgina township, 45 minutes north of Toronto. The project has brought together more than 150 volunteers, all to work on a structure that is signifying a new beginning for Georgina on its 200th anniversary this year. The original barn, which had stood for 112 years, accidentally burned down two years ago.
The reimagined barn will serve as a multipurpose event space and educational hub for children, and is part of a larger vision for Clearwater Farm, owned by the township and leased by the Ontario Water Centre, to promote environmental sustainability for neighbouring Lake Simcoe. It is set on farmland that once belonged to the Reed family, who were among the first settlers in the area over 180 years ago.
“It ties the history we have with the future,” Naomi Davison, the town’s deputy mayor, said of the project.
On Thursday, the barn’s frame, made of Douglas fir, was raised before more than 100 onlookers who dropped by throughout the day to check out the progress, Ms. Slaight said. The town will gather Saturday for a festival to mark the official unveiling of the structure.
“The building of the barn has really brought people together,” said Judy Cameron, a local and volunteer who organized more than 1,200 meals for the building crew throughout the nine-day construction period. Many residents have also opened their homes to serve dinner or provide volunteers with a place to stay.
The barn-raising is the first phase of bringing the space to life; the completed barn is set to open by the fall of 2019. The next phase will be the completion of the 2,450 square-foot structure, which will have two floors – the first serving as an educational space for children in the community, equipped with a kitchen and a learning area that will feature a large sculpture of a turtle as a nod to First Nations’ stories of creation, done in consultation with the Chippewa people in the region, Ms. Slaight said. The second floor will serve as a multipurpose event space, complete with a terrace and view of the lake.
The overall cost is an estimated $1.9-million, Ms. Slaight said. Around half of that amount has been raised so far with the help of local businesses and members of the community. The Ontario Water Centre is also applying for federal grants to further fund the project.
“There’s an attitude that nothing happens here," Ms. Slaight said, but she is hopeful the barn will add a new excitement to Georgina. She said the barn was planned with community’s children in mind, many of whom were consulted on what they envisioned the new space would look like. A key point for the children, Ms. Slaight said, was preserving the history of the barn that burned.
In line with the children’s wishes, Ms. Slaight enlisted the help of the Timber Framers Guild, an international, not-for-profit organization based in the United States that takes on projects across the continent, with the aim of preserving this traditional building method. Rob Geoghegan, project manager and a member of the guild, said volunteers for the project have come from as far as Boston, Vancouver Island and even California.
Last Friday, Joe Darby flew in from Roseville, just outside Sacramento, to be part of it all. While he joined the guild to learn more about traditional methods of timber framing, he said the town’s excitement toward the project has brought more meaning to his involvement. “I’m always surprised that people open up their homes to 30 total strangers from all over the place,” Mr. Darby said.
Ms. Slaight said some of the barn’s original pieces have been preserved, and will be reworked into the new structure, including “beautiful” hand-cut stones that once served as the base of the older barn.
“We can never bring the old barn back,” Georgina Mayor Margaret Quirk said. But, she added, "you try to turn a tragic event into something that is positive for the community.”