by Hugh Fraser, Director, Ontario Barn Preservation
On Sunday, October 24, 2021, Ontario Barn Preservation (OBP) teamed up with the Grey County group ‘Contemplative Centre for Nature-Based Arts and Culture’. This months-old, Beaver Valley group brings people together to be enriched by arts and culture in the area. OBP President Jon Radojkovic and directors Jim Campbell and Hugh Fraser attended to speak about the old swing beam barn the event was featuring. The barn is owned by Valley residents, the Scott family. About 25 attended, fully vaccinated, masked up and physically-distanced during this continuing time during the pandemic.
Swing beam barns were popular in Upper Canada, then Canada West, then Ontario from the early 1800s to about 1875. They were mainly built for the growing, threshing and storing of wheat and other grains. They appear all over areas opened up by settlers of European descent, from Niagara, to southwestern Ontario, to Owen Sound and to areas east of Toronto. Sadly, from thousands, only hundreds still stand.
The primary barn feature was the swing beam, usually the largest beam in the barn, running across the barn, but unsupported except with one post at either end. This blog author has seen swing beams ranging from 24 feet to as long as 46 feet, however there are accounts of ones even longer. Because they were only supported at their ends, they provided a wide open-concept work area to ‘swing’ a flail when threshing grains, or to ‘swing’ a team of horses under it after they were unhitched from a wagon that had been drawn onto the threshing floor. Some say the swing beam was so-named because its cross-sectional shape resembled a ‘swingle-knife’ used for beating and cleaning flax.
The Scott barn is in great shape and likely ca 1847-1850, based on its swing beam bent configuration, size of swing beam(s) and records for the owner at the time. Yes…swing BEAMS. This barn has two, one on either side of the threshing bay. Both are almost identical, with one just slightly larger in girth. Each is tapered, deeper at the centre than the ends. One is 17 inches deep at centre, 13 inches deep at its end; the other is 16 inches and 12 inches respectively. Each swing beam is 11.5 inches wide.
However, equally impressive are this barn’s extremely rare, four jowled end posts supporting the swing beams. Each post is 13 inches wide at its base, but then tapers larger to 15 inches where the swing beam rests on the end post shoulder. The end post then tapers back to 13 inches up at the roof plate beam. This flaring of the end posts is visually spectacular. This blog’s author believes that although there are some structural reasons why this was done, it seems more of an artistic signature than anything else, distinguishing the master builder from others in the area and beyond.
On behalf of OBP, I’d like to thank the Scott family for inviting us into their barn, and the ‘Contemplative Centre for Nature-Based Arts and Culture’ for sharing this event. We wish your new group luck!