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The livery barn — not just for horses

Today, in every town and city, parking space is vital to the success of local businesses. Customers have to have a place to park their cars while they shop and run errands. When I was a boy, we travelled by horse-drawn vehicles, but even so, we needed a place to “park.” That parking place in our town, as in all other towns, was the livery barn, and in fact, our small town boasted two.

It was obvious who was in town because we could recognize all of the cutters and sleighs parked outside the barn. If a particular event was on, such as a curling bonspiel or a concert, space was at a premium. Indeed, latecomers might have to tie their horses in the centre alleyway, or even outside. These barns were private businesses run by local men, and customers would pay to have their teams of horses sheltered in the barns while they shopped and ran errands in the town, or attended public events.

The barns were usually large, hip-roofed buildings that had as many as two dozen double stalls. Customers would bring their own feed if they wanted their team to be fed while in the barn. A couple of oat sheaves was the feed of choice for most people as they were easy to handle and didn’t require the use of a pitchfork. There was always a tiny waiting room in the livery barn, heated by a woodstove. Men would gather there to visit and smoke. What tiny, stuffy rooms they were, full of cigarette smoke and barn smells, but very much a part of the local men’s world of that day – one entered in awe by an impressionable young boy.

There was a certain prestige associated with the team and vehicle you drove, just as there is today about the kind of car or truck you drive. Some less wealthy farmers simply used their heavy draft horses to pull their cutters and sleighs, whereas more affluent farmers owned a team of light horses used solely as drivers. I recall one family who had a team of buckskin drivers, and they used to speed past us on the way home – much to the chagrin of us young folk.

The livery barn in a small town was a place to shelter horses, but it was also a gathering place, a meeting place for neighbours, in a much less rushed society than the one in which we live today.

– Albert Parsons writes from

Minnedosa, Manitoba

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