Barn Raising: A Pioneer Economic and Social Necessity 

Barn Raising: A Pioneer Economic and Social Necessity as it provided settlers with an opportunity not only to build a barn, but also build a community.


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The settlers in Grey and Bruce counties faced many ordeals in their attempts to make a new life. The harsh winters and lack of efficient transportation links with the rest of the colony led them to depend upon one another for survival. Many early journals and diaries report of food being shared when supplies were not available. Others report of helping each other to clear the land in order to meet the terms of their land grants. 

The settlers quickly learned that co-operation among relatives, friends and neighbours was the key to making life in the Grey and Bruce wilderness a little easier. Skills, tools and simply a helping hand made an arduous task a simpler. Pioneer life was essentially a cashless society. Consequently, neighbours soon learned to trade goods and services for assistance. 

These circumstances led to an event that became popular in the long hot summer. Every farmer needed a barn and the logistics of building a structure large enough to house animals and feed was often far beyond the abilities of a few friends and neighbors. Consequently, out of this situation came the 'barn raising". 

"Barn raising" proved to be more than just a laborious task. It became a cause for celebration and a break from the tedious, back-breaking toil of survival on the frontier wilderness. 

Weeks before the event, the settler would discuss with his immediate neighbours the possibility of building a bam and decide upon an appropriate date. 'Then, the word was passed that on a certain day there would be a barn raising. 

In the days leading up to the event, not only would the necessary construction supplies be gathered, but the women of the area would start preparing food to fuel the energy of the workers. 

The day before the raising, wooden tables and, if available, a quantity of chairs would be set up around the house. The last-minute details, and chores were completed. The next morning, all of the settlers in the area would rise earlier than usual, and, after completing their daily chores they would head to the farm where the bam was to be built. 

The volunteers were divided into teams and group leaders were selected. Each group was assigned a specific task and, before long, the air was alive with the sounds of hammers, hammering and saws ripping through the wood. At the lunch break, the efforts of the morning would be surveyed, and plans were made for the afternoon's work. 

Despite. the lack of modern, efficient tools and help that may not have always been the most skilled, by the end of the day, the walls and the roof were in place. Except for some finishing touches, by nightfall, a new barn had taken its place on the landscape of the area. 

Although the workers were tired from the hard days work, they did not head for home immediately after the job was completed. Instead, it was party time. Musical instruments were taken out and a dance was soon under way. The tables were loaded with food and the party often lasted well into the night. 

Often, one bam raising was the occasion for the planning of another. Although it was hard work, barn raising provided the means of not only helping a neighbor build a barn, but also a respite from the day-to-day trials and tribulations of pioneer life in Grey and Bruce counties. Barn raising also helped to build a sense of community among pioneers who may have come from many different areas across the Atlantic.

A version of this article originally appeared in my Local History column in the Owen Sound Sun Times.

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