The concept of the road trip is rather self explanatory, it’s all there in the name. Many credit Jack Kerouac’s classic On The Road as the catalyst for the road trip phenomena. Personally I think it goes deeper into our history, possibly back to prehistoric times when a group of Cro-Magnons decided to mosey across the valley to check out the neighbouring Neanderthals and this crazy fire rumour. It seems to be encoded on our DNA.
This particular Tuesday esteemed photographer Gordon Beck and I were heading out on a road trip. It began very early, at least in my parlance. Not bright and early, as the bright constituent only arrived as the Country Style coffee’s caffeine began to course through my veins. Considering that Gordon was driving I trusted that he was bright eyed and bushy tailed, although I can’t attest to the latter, as he was sitting down.
But this wasn’t just any whimsical jaunt, but a quest for the last barn at the northwest corner of Leeds County. By way of explanation Gordon is photographing old barns throughout Leeds & Grenville County to document them and the way of life they symbolize before they disappear. There are criteria for consideration. The barns have to pre-date 1900 and hopefully have some unique characteristics.
So, no ordinary carefree loosey goosey excursion. Rather an epic journey of discovery akin to Livingstone’s quest for the source of the Nile, Scott’s race to the pole or Alexander Mackenzie’s overland trek to the Pacific. Okay, maybe not exactly the same, we were planning on stopping for breakfast. In Phillipsville.
Early in the trip and the day. Apparently the original saying was, “Let sleeping horses lie”. I could certainly empathize as I waited for caffeine to kick in. (Photo Courtesy Gordon Beck)
The carrot for this sleepyhead was the promise of a farm breakfast in the aforementioned village. On a previous trip Gordon had discovered a sign for a monthly breakfast gathering on Tuesday April 18th, the day of our excursion. A chance to sit down and learn the history and stories of the area from those who lived it, manna for amateur historians such as ourselves. Or so we thought!
As we neared the converted church/community hall that hosted the breakfast the date on the sign said Tuesday April 24th. Gordon was sure when he took a photo of the sign it said April 18th. But wait, the next Tuesday should be the 25th. Had we arrived a year early or a year late? I did mention it was early and the caffeine was still making it’s wait to the neurons in my brain. No worries, signs are not written in stone. I got out of the vehicle and checking the other side of the sign found the date was Tuesday April 25. Apparently it was a multiple choice invitation.
Stymied in our quest for sustenance we decided to soldier on. Gordon suggested we visit the Holy Japanese Martyrs Cemetery. Found on a bucolic, shady lane (Hartsgravel Road) outside the village, the graveyard is dedicated to the memory of the 26 priests and missionaries executed by the Japanese in 1597. The original church, now a private residence, lies across the lane atop a small rise. Perusing the headstones it is obvious this was an Irish settlement with a plethora of Murphy, Kelly and Kennedy markers.
Chatting with a lady out for her morning constitutional we learn there is also a farm breakfast in Elgin. She’s not sure when or where but supplies the name of a person to contact. Armed with this information and doubling our chances of somewhere, sometime finding a farm breakfast gathering we head off down the back roads. A little while later we crest a hill and find ourselves back in Phillipsville. The sign still offers a choice of dates for breakfast, just not today.
We choose a likely road off the main highway and set off exploring again. Bisecting fields and forests that show all the verdant evidence of the arrival of spring we see few candidates that fit the criteria for the sought after barn. I should mention we are not travelling blind. We are using an archaic form of reference used for reconnoitring known as a map. What it lacks in the way of electronic wizardry it more than makes up for in ease of use. It also, as we soon learn, isn’t one hundred percent accurate.
Much to our surprise (reference the map’s accuracy comment) we find ourselves once again entering Phillipsville. Now I assure you that a vehicle containing a photographer and writer probably has more than its share of overactive imagination. However I’m fairly certain many readers would have shared our concern that we had somehow found our way into a Groundhog Day scenario, ever doomed to repeat the moments of this particular day, over and over. That, or perhaps we had become residents of an early Twilight Zone episode, the one where all roads leading out of town are just illusions and you are trapped, doomed to roam back roads, a veritable Flying Dutchman, searching for an off ramp. I quickly checked for Rod Serling. The sign still promised a hearty farmer’s breakfast, at a future date, just not today.
Thinking good thoughts and channelling all the psychic energy we could we attempted to break out of the illusory breakfast vortex. Okay, we actually just headed out of town again, hungry but determined. Did I mention we hadn’t had breakfast yet? Apparently we achieved the critical mass necessary to break orbit. Philipsville was in our rear view mirror. I can’t say for certain, the sun may have been in my eyes, but I swear I saw someone come out of the community hall and start to change the sign.
We headed northwest, sort of. It was a winding meandering route, necessary when on a voyage of discovery. Or if your trusted map is invaluable, but just a turnoff shy of reliable. Where we were headed the country lanes were untainted by GPS readings. There was plenty of early promise.
One lane yielded a suitably pedigreed barn with an unusual yellow stone foundation. Unfortunately the owner couldn’t be persuaded to allow any photographs. Probably a bad experience with previous documentarians. We had tried to work on a cover story to soften our entry into the farm community, but without much luck. I had offered up the suggestion we pose as Fuller Brush salesmen, but even I admitted it was feeble. Gordon wanted to go with the idea we were missionaries for the Church of Barn Again Christians. Points for humour and ingenuity, but still not the key to unfettered access.
We learned there was a church with Tiffany windows in Newboro. Not a barn, but as it turned out well worth the trip. We found a barn on Myers Road that showed that the concept of re-purposing materials has deep roots.
Watch your step, the first one’s a doozy (Photo Courtesy Gordon Beck)
The stone foundation held stalls for the cattle while the upper level was storage for the cows. It was built into a small hill and one of the upper level walls had a door that opened about twelve feet off the ground. There was no ladder and no evidence that the ground was much higher “back in the day”. Clearly it was a conveniently recycled piece of structure. Or folks really were taller back in Biblical times.