Ontario Barn Preservation

THE BURLY BARN

by Jenny Phillips, OBP Regional Rep for Middlesex, Elgin, Chatham Kent and Lambton, originally published in her book “Does it Pay?

On October 6, 1926, John Kenneth Galbraith, a young cub reporter for the St. Thomas Times Journal interviewed W. F. Glover of Fingal Ontario. Glover was one of the 214 farmers in Southwestern Ontario that were interviewed. Ken wrote under the pen name – “The Plowman”.

I wanted to share a portion of this particular interview as it relates to a specialized barn. I love old barns and the unique stories they have to tell. I’m an artist and I love to sketch and preserve images and history of our ever changing rural landscape.

Glover shared info with The Plowman about one of the new money making crops . . tobacco. Before this time very little tobacco was grown north of the state of Virginia.

There was a great deal to learn about growing and harvesting the plant. Of particular note are the descriptions: How big was the barn? How was it built? How was it heated to cure the tobacco?

The Plowman’s questions are bolded and Glover’s replies follow:

“How do you cure the crop?”

“We harvest it early in September and the last of August. We distribute slats about four feet long in the field, split the plant from the top to near the bottom in order that the drying may be hastened, leave the plants on the ground till they wilt, place five or six plants on the slats, draw to the barn and leave them there to dry.”

“You have a new barn?”

“That is another item that enters into the cost. Some say it is all right to use an old shed for the curing purpose but we thought it best to put up a special barn. Ours is thirty-six by ninety-six feet. As you see it is made of good stuff throughout. Indeed, we have built it in such a fashion that it may be devoted to ordinary farm purposes. Look at the sides. Every fourth board is hinged so that it may be left open for the admission of air. You see these runs? They are crosswise of the building and four feet apart. The slats are placed upon the rungs about eight inches apart. Between the rows of tobacco there are air spaces that allow the atmosphere to circulate freely. There are doors in the end to admit plenty of air.

Burly tobacco drying in a barn.

“But you will have found the air very damp this season?”

Curing Barn Heated

“That is another thing that makes it harder and riskier for the tobacco grower. Abundance of drying air would be a great thing for us this season. We are going to smoke the tobacco this year by having three trenches in which we will have low-burning fires come to our rescue. We will have the curing barn heated to about eighty degrees. This will be a job that keeps us with both eyes wide open till the curing is done. We are looking for the government to send us a man who will help us out in the curing. We hope that he will be on the job when we need him most.”

“What comes after curing and baling?”

“The next step is the selling. It is right here that we wish we were a little better posted. Naturally we want to get all we can out of the crop. As you see there is a great deal of risk. We have to put a great deal of time and labor into the whole process and we think we should have a square deal at the time of selling. We have the utmost difficulty in knowing what a fair price is. The market is tricky at the best and if we happen to get in wrong we are sure to suffer.”

“How does this crop fit in with mixed farming?”

“We think it will do all right. In normal years it leaves the ground in fine condition for fall wheat. The soil is rich. It has been cultivated to the limit and we see no reason why the crop of wheat should be quite as good as when the wheat is sown after any other crop.”
“Our idea in growing the tobacco is to have another cash crop. You know farmers need just such a helper out. Beans and sugar beets are other cash crops. I have been saying a good deal about the risks of tobacco. That is a condition that must never be overlooked. But ‘nothing venture, never win.’ A man is very foolish to give over all his farm or time to growing a crop that is so risky. He had better begin easy and work into the whole business.”

“What profits will you get from this year’s crop?”

“I’ll tell you better when I see my money. There is no use counting on a single penny till the money is actually in the bank.”

The correspondent cannot but think that the tobacco companies will be well advised by carrying a share of the risk of the production of the crop. However, that is their business.

“Who is the mechanic* for your barn?”

“If you lived around here you would not ask that question. Look at these joints and those doors. Every joint is a perfect fit and every door swings true to a hair’s breadth. These tell the story of Dougie McIntyre and his brother Dan. Mr. Adair has been associated with them on the work, a fact that speaks of further efficiency. Mr. Adair, too, is a splendid mechanic. He is over eighty years of age but he has been on the job all summer. The day of the raising he gave the signals and had general oversight of all the operations of the day. No man on the gang is going stronger.”

*Mechanic in this case means maintenance man

This old tobacco barn is located on Highway 3 in Kent. You can smell the sweet tobacco and smoky scent for miles when the barn is drying and curing the Burley tobacco.The old Burley tobacco barn is located on Highway 3 in Chatham Kent. You can smell the sweet tobacco and smoky scent for miles when the barn is drying and curing the Burley tobacco. Burley is one of the most versatile tobaccos, very high in nicotine, almost no sugars as opposed to Virginia’s and flue cured tobaccos.

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