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Hog Barn Timbers Rise Again In Clearwater

“He took a hog barn, and turned it into something that would look good anywhere in the province of Manitoba.”

– DAVID GUILFORD

“If we can raise a barn together, why can’t we deconstruct a barn together? I think we still don’t recognize the value of old buildings.”

– LANCELOT COAR

The community-owned restaurant in this community has a new screened patio thanks to the efforts of some university students who saw the beauty in a derelict barn slotted for demolition.

Arched timber ribs resurrected from the old hog barn helped create the addition that was officially opened over the Easter weekend.

The project, a construct of students from the University of Manitoba’s department of architecture, has linked forever the small Manitoba town of Clearwater and its residents with a group of future architects and their teacher.

The students, mostly undergrads, were assisted by countless volunteers from the town and other communities after trucking in their finished creation in pieces from Winnipeg. Since its instalment, it has become the talking point of the district.

“People did doughnuts and laps around the town to see what was going on,” said residents, who plied the team of students and volunteers with hot drinks, muffins, and food throughout the past several weekends of frigid weather as they installed the addition.

Led by Assistant Professor of Architecture Lancelot Coar, the goal was to challenge the students to find ways to use old barn timbers for a new purpose, and to connect their project directly to the nearby community in some positive way. They took up the offer of a barn located on the farm of Pam and Clint Cavers near Pilot Mound, whose timbers had originally been shipped overland from an Ontario farm in 1913.

“We didn’t want to see it just burned up as firewood,” said Clint Cavers, whose family has shared a long history with the barn.

Two additions were attached to each side of the barn during the 1940s, enlarging the building; it also survived a lightning strike. One of the additions included a number of 32-and 35-foot curved arches, made of laminated 1×2-inch strips of wood, held together with glue and nails. These arches interested the students and were to become a focal feature of the restaurant patio. Old shiplap and tongue-in-groove timbers in the frame were also eyed for use in the project.

“For us this is interesting, because this is a very old addition,” said Coar during last autumn’s four-weekend “deconstruction” phase of the project on the Cavers farm. “It’s not unique to farmers, but we are very excited.”

Without the involvement of Coar and his students, the barn would likely have been simply demolished and burned, or buried.

Salvaging and reusing old material is a core goal for Coar.

“We can buy new materials, but it’s very expensive to make them, and very labour intensive,” said Coar. “And it’s wasteful to throw away precious resources. Farmers know this more than anyone. We don’t have the luxury of cutting down anything we need now – we have to learn to use things more than once.

“This project means that people will be able to see everyday objects in a different way – that is the radical part. We have to stop seeing old buildings as ‘used objects,’ and to see them as sources. If we can raise a barn together, why can’t we deconstruct a barn together?”

The students, along with community volunteers, spent a number of intense weekends first on location at the Cavers farm, taking the hog barn apart, separating the pieces into piles, and cranking out hundreds of nails from the wood they would be regenerating. They stored the sections they wanted in a nearby Quonset over the winter. Their design plans were being drafted back at the university for ways to reuse the wood and benefit a community.

The decision was made in January to create an addition from the segments for the town’s cafe. The Clearwater Junction Restaurant was over in December of 2006 by the Clearwater Development Corporation. For the community it is about more than just money. The café is one of the biggest employers in the town, with around six staff. It is also a well-established meeting point, which is a primary reason it was chosen for the project.

“This is as much a public space as a private space in the town,” said Coar, during the opening ceremony held on the new patio steps on Saturday, April 11. “We selected this project because it would be used on an everyday basis throughout the year.”

The patio is attached to the end of the restaurant, using recycled timbers as a wall feature to combine the two spaces. It has rolling screen doors on both its front and back, with a roof of semi-translucent white polycarbonate sheeting. There are even two roll-up media screens, which can be used for projecting images for community events or meetings.

Outside, using more of the barn timbers, the students created benches and steps to sit on. Recycled railway timbers form the building foundations and the flower bed frames, which rest on several inches of recycled railway gravel ballast.

Generous donations of new building materials – including the windows and hardware – came from a variety of private and business sponsors from surrounding communities. The project was also supported financially and conceptually by the University of Manitoba faculty of architecture, Manitoba Conservation, and the Harvest Moon Society, among many others, he added.

“It’s a three-season patio,” said Keith Gardiner, president of the Clearwater Development Corporation. “We can move the tables out into it. If the weather is warm enough, we can start using it right away.”

The cosy seven-table restaurant, open seven days a week, features full-course meals, and occasional specials, such as its recent Authentic Ukrainian Night buffet for $15.95. The most popular item on the everyday menu is the Farmer’s Omelette, and the cook says she can rustle up to 30 of them on a Sunday morning, whisking in hash browns, green onions, and sausage and ham into the mix.

The staff are confident the new patio will be good for business.

“He took a hog barn, and turned it into something that would look good anywhere in the province of Manitoba,” said David Guilford, one of the community volunteers.

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