There have been no animals for a long time in Gilles Bélanger’s barn, but the smell of hay still hangs there. Illusion of memory? Real reminiscence? Anyway, this slightly sweet and herbaceous aroma remains the breath of the place.
On the Côte des Chênes, in Saint-Jean-Port-Joli, five beautiful buildings with red doors overlook large cultivated areas. The first cut of hay is already wrapped in large round bales placed at regular intervals, much like the dots that mark this page.
“In the good harvest years, the hay rose to the ceiling beams,” says Mr. Bélanger, now 78 years old, with his arms raised. The place also revives the memory of her sister, Marielle Bélanger, who remembers being rescued from a pile of hay by her father.
“It was so hot when we stacked the hay here. On the floor below, there was a pile of manure which also gave off heat. The bell tower served to ventilate the building. You stood in it and it pulled air upwards, ”recalls the tall man, still very upright on his legs.
“Gilles went up to the steeple last week to repair it, right at the top,” said his sister, half worried and half proud.
The barn and the adjacent shed were built in 1911, Belanger believes. There are still a few bills from the time in the family archives: the roof cost $ 123, a pretty penny for the time.
The family of nine children were raised on the land, which is now rented out to other larger producers.
The family has stopped raising animals for almost 40 years, but the barn continues to be used, mainly for the storage of snowmobiles and cars. But without the maintenance of Gilles, this industrious engineer, it would certainly not be in such good condition, insists his sister Marielle. The man treats the work done by his predecessors with deference: “Look at the precision of the times. Everything’s going right, even if they cut to the egotist, ”he said, pointing at the joints of the planks in the floor.
Mr. Bélanger keeps old tractors there, still shiny and of a still perfect red thanks to his good care. In the adjacent shed, in the same style as the barn, a scratch-free Plymouth car is sheltered from the elements: “She’s older than me. It was Curé Martel’s car and it is said to have a heavy foot. But even though he wanted to move faster, these vehicles are so heavy! “
“That’s the very definition of authentic,” says her sister. But no one knows what will happen to these beautiful buildings when Gilles’s hands are too tired.
The preservation of barns indeed depends a lot on the will – and the manual and financial capacities – of their owner. Just like the possibility of making another use of it.
It was so hot when we piled the hay here. On the floor below, there was a pile of manure which also gave off heat. The bell tower served to ventilate the building. You stood in it and it pulled air upwards.
Ode to resourcefulness
Not far away, in Saint-Aubert, in another row, Alfred Gagnon tries to open an upstairs window in his old barn.
The light filters and suddenly justifies the nickname that some of these buildings have been given: the cathedrals of the countryside. The volumes are vast. The space calls for calm. The sun’s rays are guided through high-placed openings. The vaults of the roof are visible.
The 70-year-old man with the white beard and his wife Marie-Josée Larocque practice agriculture that they describe as “family”: a dozen animals for meat – a few chickens and a rather old sow – and a vegetable garden .
This couple-scale production has always served to complement their other activities. Under the word “resourcefulness” in a dictionary, we could probably describe them. Mr. Gagnon has earned part of his living shoeing horses, another making sugar and chopping wood; Marie-Josée has an exceptional talent with plants and animals. In their kitchen, superb baskets of red hart hang from the beams.
Alfred Gagnon, basket maker and miracle worker on old boards, will not tell you that he is on the Inventory of Ethnological Resources of Intangible Heritage. He does not practice all these manual trades out of vanity: he does not really like the term. “Everyone has two hands, it’s not like you’re born ‘manual’. And it is the head that directs the hands. “
What guided the restoration of his barn was the urgent need to shelter the animals during the winter.
Before the couple took over, it was the “barn at Réjean”, the neighbor – a “real hot potato,” says Mr. Gagnon. Like many others, the old man loved the building, but he could neither take care of it nor bring himself to sell it. The boards had started blowing in the wind, it was rather the kingdom of pigeons, he jokes.
But in 2006, their own barn was reduced to ashes. They lose half of their animals in the fire and must quickly find shelter for those who remain. The solution is obvious. “She was dilapidated, but still plumb. I thought she was beautiful for a long time, but I would never have touched her if it hadn’t been needed. The sinews of war is obligation. “
Without great financial means, it is with the support of friends and relatives that they set about the task. They will spend time straightening it up, dressing it again, and then laying down the cedar shingles that cover it today one by one. Luckily the structure was good and still straight, an essential ingredient, and they solidified it in several places. As for the materials, it was their already active spirit of recovery that enabled them to get what they needed. “I already had sheet metal from a chicken coop that I had demolished not far from here. Either you are a millionaire, or you manage, otherwise you do not embark on this kind of project ”, sums up the man.
The windows are not original and several “pieces” come from other ancestral buildings. “You shouldn’t be too purist either. It’s not a museum, it’s a barn! He exclaims. It took two years of hard work – and several finishing weekends – to get to the current result.
His passion and resourcefulness did not fail to benefit from a little financial boost: to redo the roof, he was able to call on an ephemeral program from the Ministry of Agriculture. “It made a difference,” says the man.
His way of life and his desire to bring heritage to life are not unusual, believes Mr. Gagnon. He and his partner say they are happy to see young people attempting the adventure of small family farms. But beware: you must not be too romantic, he warns: “You have to recognize all that this brings as concessions. We had a lot of messes who slashed our hands at the wrong time! “
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