Tales from the mural - 19th century barns

highland creek barn raising
A barn raising in Highland Creek in 1909 by Joseph Adamson Blakey was used as reference in Passage to Port Union, the Centennial Plaza mural. Photo courtesy of Toronto Public Library

In our second article in the series about Port Union heritage, Don Allen, Scarborough Historical Society and Archives, writes about barn raising.


By Don Allen

The first frame barn in Scarborough was built by William Devenish in 1807. Barns provided much-needed protection from the weather, shielding animals, feed, equipment and tools. 

“Raising bees” were a necessity in the early days of the township. Chores that required many hands in a relatively short span of time would have been impossible to complete without the efforts of many. Typically, 100 or more men were required to raise a large barn within two days.


The process of barn raising was a long, difficult task. Trees were felled and squared during one or two winters before construction began. The land for the foundation had to be excavated to an appropriate depth to allow for the various animal stalls that were located in the barns’ lower level. This work was done during the summer months after the fields had been sown and before the harvest time. 

Fieldstones were collected for construction, with the largest stones placed in the corners of the foundation to give extra strength and support. After the foundation was completed, a main girder beam was laid from the end walls down the centre of the structure lengthwise. This beam was supported by two or more stone pillars or wooden posts.  The stone walls, up to two feet thick, were capped with large wooden sills that had been mortised to accept the floor beams. Once the beams were in place, the floor deck was added and the structure was now ready for the “raising bee.”

The basic framing of the barn required “bents” to be constructed on the ground. These large timber frames formed the width and height of the barn. These “bents” would be poled into place by many men using 16-foot-long “pike” poles. Once secured, they would continue to raise more “bents” spaced at intervals, until the entire length of the barn was completed. Roof timbers were installed. The building’s walls were clad with large vertical boards, leaving air space to allow for drying of feed and air circulation. The roof boards were laid and a surface of cedar shakes was installed to give protection from the elements. An earthen ramp would give access to the large first-floor doors. The animals’ area in the lower section opened directly to ground level, allowing for ease of movement of animals and equipment.


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