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Louise Abbott is the author of seven books, including the bestselling  two-volume landscape history Memphrémagog: An Illustrated History (Georgeville Press, 2014, 2017), Eeyou Istchee: Land of the Cree (COTA, 2010, Reprinted in 2012 and 2017), and The Heart of the Farm: A History of Barns and Fences in the Eastern Townships of Quebec (Price-Patterson, Montreal, 2008). All of these books are available at Studio Georgeville, 20 carré Copp in Georgeville, Quebec. They can also be ordered by emailing  This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it  or  This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it  

Reviews of Eeyou Istchee can be found elsewhere on this web site.


heart dustjacket

Reviews of  The Heart of the Farm:

 

Townships Heritage WebMagazine  

NEW BOOK ON BARNS AND FENCES

(October 9, 2008)

 

Matthew Farfan

 

The Heart of the Farm has the look and feel of a coffee table book. It is a solid, 300 page-plus tome, with a gorgeous dust jacket featuring a round barn. The book is replete with illustrations, both archival and contemporary, of barns, fences and scenes of rural life in the Eastern Townships. The illustrations are beautiful, be they large-size full-colour images of entire barns, close-ups of rafters, tree knees, dovetails or tenons, or action shots of men and horses hauling timber or craftsmen working on a timber frame. 


But this book is more than a book of beautiful photographs. Its creators have thoroughly researched the different building styles and techniques employed by farmers in the region from the earliest days of settlement to the twentieth century. They shed light on the agricultural trends that have influenced farmers through the years in their choices of barn and fence construction. And they weave their findings together with discussions with living, breathing Eastern Townshippers.


The Heart of the Farm includes chapters on everything from the timber framing techniques favoured by the Loyalists and other early settlers, to colonial English barns, to the round barns of the early 1900s. Other chapters focus on farm fencing techniques, silos, gambrel roofs, painted barns, cupolas and weather vanes. The illustrations complement the text, making this book a very pleasant read.


Reached at her home in Tomifobia, Abbott explained her fascination with the barns of the Townships as extending back to the years her family lived on the historic Roswell Farm in Austin. As an adult, she says, her quest to document rural life began on a trip to the Hebrides in Scotland. She came to realize that she knew very little about her own Eastern Townships. She began to explore the area, and fortuitous meetings with Heather Darch, curator of the Missisquoi Museum, and Frances Walbridge, owner of the Walbridge barn in Mystic, piqued her interest further, and led to several projects. She has been writing about and photographing the region’s rural lifestyle ever since. She has also written books focusing on isolated minorities living on Quebec’s Lower North Shore and in Newfoundland.

 

For his part, Niels Jensen is no stranger to wood and woodworking techniques, and his interest in barn and fence construction is understandable. By trade, he is a master furniture designer and cabinetmaker. He makes his living in Tomifobia.


The Heart of theFarm (306 pages, hard-cover) is published by Price-Patterson. It is illustrated with colour and black-and-white photographs, maps and diagrams, and contains an index and source list. It is available at good bookstores throughout Quebec. Retail price: $49.95.

 

The (Montreal) Gazette

A look at local treasures

The barns of the Townships

John Kalbfleisch, Special to The Gazette

Published: Thursday, November 27 2008



In 1907, Louise Abbott tells us in this delightful book, fire destroyed the barn on William Holmes's farm near Way's Mills. Holmes quickly set about to replace it, though this time not with a conventional rectangular structure, but a circular one nearly 80 feet in diameter.


By the end of July, it was up and ready to shelter cattle, to store hay and - for one day that month, anyway - to accommodate a barn social where a "big crowd ... report(ed) a fine time."


More than a century later, the barn is still in agricultural use, the heart of the Holmes farm. "It's the only round barn that I know of in Quebec that's still in the same family that built it," William's grandson Stanley Holmes says.


Once there were more than 30 of these distinctive structures in the Townships. Snooping along back roads, you can still come across the six that remain, or perhaps an even rarer polygonal barn, including a restored, 12-sided oddity on the old Walbridge farm in Mystic.


Rectangular ones were built far more frequently over the years, but of course they have been no less immune to time. No matter what a wooden barn's shape, wind twists its frame and pries off pieces of roof. Rain and snow-melt rot its timbers. The relentless cycle of freezing and thawing undermines its foundations. Fire, as William Holmes and so many others knew, can strike any time. And when they don't simply fall down, old barns sometimes are torn down, no longer useful to the farmer or - perhaps a kinder fate - see their timbers used for some new building.


Abbott and her husband, Niels Jensen, have made a noble effort to preserve what remains, not merely with the text and photos of The Heart of the Farm, but by implicitly urging government and the general public to support restoration projects like the one that has saved the Walbridge barn. The Townships, the couple in effect argue, wouldn't be the Townships without these structures.


But they're money pits. Stanley Holmes spent $65,000 on repairs to his round barn in 2001, and a year later, after Quebec declared it a historic monument, another $100,000 had to be found. Yet government lifelines don't always connect: Several owners have declined to seek heritage status, daunted by the red tape involved.


As its subtitle suggests, the book covers the evolution of Townships barns from the crude, round-log structures of the earliest Europeans through to the generally charmless steel industrial structures of our own day.


Abbott and Jensen's colour photographs - nearly 350 of them - are complemented by deftly chosen archival material, mainly in black and white. Together, they show the differences among so-called colonial English barns, the much rarer Dutch barns, Quebec long barns and high-drive barns. They also make sense of the actual building techniques: the hewing of timbers, the cutting of mortises and shaping of tenons, the placing of rafters, braces and sills, and the virtues of timber vs. balloon framing. They help explain why high-drive barns have those earth or wooden ramps to an upper storey (so wagon-loads of hay could easily be dumped to animals below) and why round barns are round (to reduce the timbers needed to build them and to facilitate chores afterward).


beach barn cupola


The photos of flourishes like cupolas and weather vanes are wonderful. Yet Abbott reminds us that for all their variety, even flamboyance, they had real functions: cupolas for ventilation and to provide light, and weather vanes to help farmers anticipate sun or storm. As for the murals we see on a few Townships barns - a goofy elephant here, a mounted knight errant there - well, they're just fun.


But the book, necessarily, is also a history of Townships settlement, with Loyalists in time being joined by British immigrants, many of whom, in the late 19th century, began leaving for greener pastures in Ontario or the United States, to be replaced by French-speaking farmers from the overcrowded St. Lawrence lowlands.


It is a history of farming itself, from early subsistence practices to highly specialized dairying, poultry and pig operations of today, even the raising of exotic creatures like emu and elk and crops like lavender. It is a delight to come across, in proper context, half-remembered words like mow and gambrel, and words perhaps never known, like purlin and dump rake.


The future of farming in the Townships is clouded, but by no means is Abbott entirely gloomy. There are new settlers there, among them innkeepers, city folk converting old barns to new homes, and gentlemen farmers, and they are behind much of the effort to preserve what's left. As Abbott points out, old-timers who still have the knowledge and skills of an earlier day are handing them on to a small but dedicated band of younger craftsmen. There's life in those old barns yet.


John Kalbfleisch's Second Draft column on Montreal's history appears in The Gazette every Sunday. He lives on a farm in eastern Ontario where two timber-frame barns are still standing.


The Heart of the Farm: A History of Barns and Fences in the Eastern Townships of Quebec
Text by Louise Abbott
Photographs by Louise Abbott and Niels Jensen
Price-Patterson, 306 pages, $49.95

The Gazette (Montreal) 2008


Other books by Louise Abbott:

the-coast-way-dust-jacket 2

 The Coast Way (McGill-Queen's University Press, 1988)



the-french-shore-dust-jacket 2

The French Shore (Waterous, 1996)



a-country-so-wild-and-grand-dust-jacket 1

A Country So Wild and Grand (Coasters Association, 1999)