Article by Veronica Leonard
Photos by Colin Leonard
“There should be a heritage program for barns. The County barns we see standing are all we have left. There won’t be any more like these and we lose more of them every year.” Richard Karlo, Karlo Estates Vineyard
There is something grounding about an old barn. The massive hand-hewn posts and beams are a connection to early pioneer settlers who built this area. The soaring walls of barnboard outlined by daylight pouring through gaps between the planks and the high vaulted roofs give a sense of agrarian cathedrals. Visitors are both awed and at peace within their protective walls.
Sadly, a barn deteriorates when it is no longer used. Without the weight and density of livestock, machinery, and hay the winds and storms eventually shake them to pieces. Without the warmth of animal bodies in the low-ceilinged pens, dampness wicks up old posts and rots lower beams. Without the day to day minor maintenance of a farmer, important supports give way.
Every year more old barns disappear from the landscape, but over the past decade several historic barns were brought back to life by winery owners who are prepared to hold on to the heritage of the past regardless of the cost, and the cost can be huge.
“Three years, three contractors, and three quarters of a million dollars,” is how Kemp Stewart sums up the restoration of the 1860s big red barn at Hillier Creek Estates. Although advised by engineers to demolish it, Stewart refused to tear down a barn serving as a local landmark for 150 years.
Unused for a generation, the barn had deteriorated badly. It had no foundation – just large limestone blocks under each post, and the whole barn sagged. On the south side of the barn, the posts were rotten at the base.
Tom Verbeek supervised raising the barn to pour a new concrete foundation. Using a method learned in Holland, he built 26 cribs around the base of the barn and slowly raised it inches per day. They wanted to include a barrel cellar as part of the foundation, but it filled with water the day after it was dug.
“This site is in a bowl and all the water is running downhill to the creek. We had to put in three wells and a 10,000 gallon cistern at the front to control the flow of water,” recalled Kemp.
The barn also needed new siding and a stone wall to replace the section of rotted posts. Fortunately the old roof needed only sealing with a plastic insulated coating.
The tasting room is located where the equipment and horses were kept. A low interior window looks down on the new barrel cellar and the tank room is in the old milking parlor. Upstairs, the hayloft is now a three-season event room with windows looking over acres of vines and doors opening onto the raised deck. A set of antique bank doors have replaced the old barn door.
The acoustics in the event room – which is open to the rafters – are so good two local bands regularly practice there. According to Kemp, the barn was built by local shipwrights from Pleasant Bay and the unusual bracing of the rafters creates a roof in the form of an inverted hull.
The outdoor livestock corral is landscaped with flowers and limestone and these days serves as a pleasant grazing area for the many tourists who come for gourmet pizza and a glass of wine.
There are three barn wineries on Closson Road, each with a unique character.
Built in 1826, the barn at The Grange of Prince Edward Vineyards and Estate Winery is among the oldest in the County and yet one of the best preserved. Owned by the Trumpour family who farmed and ran a sawmill, it stayed with family descendants until the 1960s when it passed on to a farmhand.
It was still an active farm when it was bought by Robert and Diana Granger in 1976. Replacing the cladding, they housed their horses and stored hay for their beef cattle in the barn.
While many of the wineries have a sense of preserving other people’s history, Caroline Granger – CEO and winemaker at The Grange – was brought up on this farm. “I’ve probably put more hay than grapes in this barn. I walked those old beams in my youth and I watched my kids playing in here.”
Renovations began in 2000 to repurpose it for a winery. A steel frame extension was added at the front for the processing unit and a new entrance and wine laboratory were built from the old stables. A wide corridor and stairs were built joining the new entrance to the hay loft of the main barn. It is now one of the most spectacular tasting rooms in the County with its massive 12 by 12 inch hand-hewn beams and the high pitched roof.
The old straw loft was turned into a gallery and the milking parlour below the tasting room now houses the barrel cellar.
Caroline explained the barn is the icon of their winery. “It is part of our vision to embrace the new while maintaining the old and it is pictured on our labels.”
It’s easy to drive by The Old Third Winery thinking it is an abandoned barn. Owners Jens Korberg and Bruno Francois make only 500 cases of pinot noir a year and close the big gray barn door when sold out.
The barn was built in 1860s and was in poor repair. The beams above the underground livestock pens were rotted and had to be replaced. The stone supporting wall needed repointing, and the processing area and barrel room needed a new concrete floor. The old exterior barnboards needed replacing and the barn interior had to be gutted to just post and beams.
An interior designer, Jens created a tasting room in the centre of the barn separated from unused areas by freestanding wall sections of steel siding alternating with white fabric screens and stacks of vintage tomato crates. The barn was wrapped in weather membrane and the new hemlock siding installed was gapped and left to turn gray to recreate the old barn look and allow muted light through the wrap.
Large glass panels adjacent to the glass doors provide the main source of light, and it is all concealed when the massive old wooden sliding door is closed. “We wanted to preserve the heritage but with a modern twist.” Jens explained.
In comparison, it is impossible to miss Closson Chase’s purple barn down the road.
The barn was constructed in 1892 and needed extensive repairs when it was purchased by the consortium. Seaton McLean, one of the partners, said they did two renovations after realizing the first was not going to meet their needs.
The winery production area is now in a new building, and the barn houses the tasting room, art gallery, offices, and wine storage.
The interior decorating is unique with Plexiglas lining the walls allowing light to shine between the barnboards. Ornamental bricks tile the floor and coloured glass panels striped in red, white, and blue surround the doorway to the garden. The grounds have lush rustic landscaping and lavender abounds setting off the faded paint of the barn.
The decision to paint the barn purple was made by Seaton and Sonja’s daughter Avalon and Michael MacMillan’s daughter Claire who were left to play with samples of paint for the barn and came up with a blend.
“The painter said it was the first time he’d ever been asked to paint a barn purple and it took three coats to get it right,” laughed Michael.
When Richard Karlo and Sherry Martin were looking for a winery property, they had three requirements – it had to have grape-growing soil, be near the lake, and have a hip-roofed barn. The property for Karlo Estates Vineyard on the Danforth Road met all three demands.
The barn hadn’t been used for 50 years and was in rough shape. The posts at one end were completely rotted and only barnboards held up the wall.
Fortunately Richard Karlo had studied civil engineering, could see the barn’s potential, and was impressed with the craftsmanship.
“There is a beauty in the way barns are built. All the beams are hand hewn. Somebody 150 years ago had to fell the tree and hew it into that shape. Even though they look crude, barns are sturdy and well thought out. You don’t see the craftsmanship like this anymore.”
The first stage of the their barn was built around 1845 by the Stevenson family and expanded from a pitch roof to a hip barn with the prosperity of family’s dairy and tomato farm. Stacks of the original tomato crates are now used to display Karlo wines.
Rather than gutting the barn to posts and beams, Richard wanted to retain the character and feeling of the original structure. He bought a couple of fallen barns and used them for parts including replacement posts to which he reattached the original boards. Fortunately the roof was sound but needed to be straightened.
“We tried to maintain as much of the original barn as we could with non-invasive repairs. We created formwork around the barn and poured concrete over the existing rubble base. The barn had been there for over 160 years, so it wasn’t going anywhere,” explained Richard. “Our production area is in the milking parlour and the barrels rest comfortably in the haylofts.”
There are four tasting rooms in the barn – the retail store where farm equipment was stored, a winter tasting bar in the small heated calving room, and a third upstairs in the rebuilt hayloft where Sherry Martin has an art gallery. To accommodate crowds and special events, the owners added a large deck at the back framed with their spare posts and beams and covered to make a three season solarium.
To cut down on drafts, battens from old boards cover the interior gaps between the barnboards and preserves the look of the exterior.
Richard and Sherry, with the help of friends did a lot of the work, and called on Loyalist Timber Framing to assemble the post and beam structure for the solarium deck. Although Sherry finds barns incredibly grounding, she still remembers the shock of returning to the winery two days before opening to find the back wall removed in preparation for deck. It was assembled in time for opening.
Owning a barn deepened Richard’s interest in the old skills. He built the dry stone wall at the front of the winery and worked with the Dry Stone Wall Association of Canada in 2007 to construct the stone bridge over a stream at the side of the winery. Consuming 45 tonnes of locally quarried limestone, it is the largest dry stone bridge in North America.
It was a lot easier for By Chadsey’s Cairns Winery owner Richard Johnson to repurpose the barns on his property, which were in good condition. Built by Ira Chadsey in 1850, it became a dairy barn owned by the McFarlanes in the early 1900s. Among its owners was the restoration expert Ronald Wey who worked on Old Fort Henry and Dundurn Castle.
Johnston gutted the big hay barn of its stalls and loft but retained its character. Straw bale seating is arranged around a makeshift stage for special events. Hidden behind is the horse barn which houses the tank room, barrel cellar, and bottling line. The stable area was gutted, the walls insulated and replanked, and steel wainscoting added for easier cleaning. He replaced the cobblestone floor with concrete and added a climate control system.
The apple house – built on a prehistoric beach with sandy soil going down 25 feet – serves as the tasting room with a deck at the back offering a scenic view of the vineyards.
Paul Gallagher was not so lucky when he bought the property for The Devils Wishbone Vineyard in North Marysburgh in 2002. A chartered accountant in Toronto, a stroke in late 1998 affected his right side, and he credits working on his 160-year-old barn and the vineyards with his recovery.
The barn was still filled with hay which helped preserve it from the gales off Lake Ontario, and it took three weeks to clear the hayloft. Below, where the main tasting room is now, was a disaster.
“All the beams were rotten, all the stones fallen inwards, and it was filled to the ceiling with wet rotted silage. The methane gas made it impossible to use machines so we had to remove it by hand – pails of disturbing muck. It took three months.”
The walls were restored with stones from the property and replacement beams and planks were made from trees harvested by the owners.
Paul built three tasting rooms in the winery but his favourite is his indoor patio in the hayloft breezeway where he can see the lake through one side and the patio through the other. From here he can also look up and see the unusual eight supporting beams reaching like outstretched arms to the roof. Like Kemp Stewart at Hillier Creek, he credits the local shipbuilders who built it as an inverted boat hull.
Across the bay, James Lahti, his wife Victoria Rose, and business partner Steven Rapkin bought their farm near Milford in 1997 and started planting grapes for the future Long Dog Winery in 1999. Originally owned by the Farrington Dalmadge family from 1840 to 1970, the farm was known for Friesian cattle and apples. The subsequent owners kept the place in good repair and renovating four of the outbuildings for winery use was relatively easy.
In the livestock section of circa 1900 barn, James constructed a building within a building with insulation, pine board walls, metal wainscoting, and a concrete floor for his production area and barrel cellar. The old piggery – now dubbed the swinery – received the same makeover for the crush pad and primary fermentation area.
The carriage house was built in 1875 by Almon Crittendon Dalmadge – one of the first to ship McIntosh apples to England. Lahti made his office in the stall where Dalmadge kept his team of Clydesdales. Two small high windows provide a view of the farmyard. Still visible are the chewed sills above the iron rings where the horses were tethered.
Like By Chadsey’s Cairns, Long Dog turned its apple house into the tasting room with a deck, insulating the walls, and adding extra beams.
Brian Mitchell bought the Half Moon Bay property in 2003 but didn’t open his winery until 2011. It was an old apple orchard and the steel clad barn had housed cattle, hay, and an apple cellar.
The original barn burned in the 1920s and replaced with a barn built with lumber from older barns. It is full of heavy posts and beams notched for cross sections and connections nonexistent in this incarnation. The floor joists are made from recycled roof rafters.
The apple cellar is now his tasting and barrel room with a heated cement floor. His tank room and bottling line is in the livestock area. The walls had to be refinished as raccoons moved into the old insulation but the big posts and beams are still prominently visible.
“When we first bought the property, I would bring my camera to photograph the old barns,” Brian Mitchell remembers. “Now so many of them are gone.”