Van der Galien: It’s not a tragedy when some old barns fall down

These decrepit structures have sentimental value, but is that enough in modern times?

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Whenever high winds or fire topple or destroy old barns that were a relic from the days of horses and carriages, reporters often trot out to the farm and write a story about the loss. It is certainly tragic if animals are lost in the fire. But why all the fuss if it was just a dilapidated old barn that served its purpose all those years ago?

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The owner would never say that the old building had been there for three or four generations of the family and was actually obsolete for today’s farming. He would never say that it was a relic of the past, like the threshing floors. He would never say that it was falling apart with the boards flying over the years and had become an eyesore. He would never say that he is glad things are falling apart.

No, he would complain about how the barn had been used by his great-grandfather, his grandfather, his father, him, and now he wouldn’t be there for his children if they wanted to take over the farm. It would always sound like the old is not replaceable. How could they farm without the building that great-grandfather helped build in 1902?

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Those sad stories always make me roll my eyes. Barns built for loose hay no longer work.

A farmer I knew lost an old storage barn to a fire a few years ago and wept with sadness in a newspaper article. It was built when agriculture was done with horses. There was a horse stable at one end of the barn and low ceilings made up the rest of the building. The horse barn hadn’t seen horses since the 1950s, when tractors came on the scene. There was still a smell of horse manure in the barn from a long time ago, so the owners were limited in what they could store there. Certainly no household items. The low roof portion of the barn housed hay carts and small machinery.

Three decades earlier, I tore down a similar barn structure that was twice as long and built a 70 foot by 150 foot structure. No more low ceilings, barns and calf pens to clean with a wheelbarrow.

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So seeing this man overwhelmed with grief over the loss of an old and useless structure that was insured was not something he could understand. He could take the insurance money and build a modern barn for today’s farming. I told him that in a nice way when I ran into him at a farm function a few weeks later. Look at it in a positive way.

Maybe he did. It had a solid steel frame built for the new century of agriculture. Now her children are making good use of it.

So I ask: Why are people so attached to old barns? Barns have sentimental value, but is that enough? Now, don’t get me wrong. I love seeing a tall, manicured bank barn that is still standing and looks smart and in shape just as it did when it was built all those years ago.

I remember the times when these barns must have been in their prime and glory. Like a castle in the landscape. Old barns can do that to a person – they stir up a lot of emotions and feelings about the good old days.

However, at present, it is hard to ignore the shape of many of these barns today. Many look like they could collapse at any moment in a wind storm. It’s just the way of nature. Stop shedding tears if they put you down.

Maynard van der Galien is a Renfrew-area farmer and a long-time agricultural columnist.

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