Over the last few years, the Historic Bell Barn has gone from being one of Canada's most endangered heritage properties to becoming a fully-reconstructed replica, thanks a group of dedicated volunteers and substantial financial support from various levels of government, community and private investments. It is with great pleasure that I stopped by recently to take a closer look at what is nothing less than a success story for rural economic diversification through heritage.
"In 1882 the Canadian Pacific Railway pushed construction of Canada's first transcontinental railway across Saskatchewan. Before it reached the future site of Indian Head, a massive corporate farm was being built but a mile north of the railway right of way." (source: Bell Barn Society)
Originally an experiment supported by the federal government of Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald, Saskatchewan's first round barn, was dismantled in April 2008 because of its deteriorating condition. It was reconstructed stone by stone on another portion of the original Bell Farm yard. Although the corporate farm only operated until 1889, the mythology of this farm has lived on in history books and through people of the Indian Head district.
Frank Korvemaker, a well-known figure in heritage realms is one of many volunteers who have invested thousands of hours, preserving through a replica what would have been lost forever, had it not been for The Bell Barn Society's efforts.
The original field stones were used as much as possible to rebuilt the structure in a manner which resembles as closely as possible the original plan.
Where new stones needed to be used, they were gathered in a manner that most closely approximated original provenience and type of fieldstone.
The final product is well worth the field trip to Indian Head.
The first impression for visitors is one of entering a very special building indeed. The Bell Barn invites further exploration. It is a feat of heritage conservation engineering using a combination of field stone and post and beam weight-bearing structures, configured around a graciously laid out circle. I understand that much of the lumber had to be imported from British Columbia.
Creating a space that serves both interpretive and multi-purpose facility uses requires balance in design. A couple of original stalls have been integrated to the main floor space, to further enhance authentic character and the preservation of the original Bell Barn fabric.
The main floor space incorporates a theater, which combines as meeting space.
Artifact displays are plain, yet effective with a great combination of both of natural and artificial light sources.
All these aspects contribute to creating just the right atmosphere for meetings or programs to which a Prairie agriculture theme might be imparted.
Special care and attention was given to the Bell Barn's interpretive elements. It would be easy to travel back through time.
One of the real attractions of the Bell Barn is the loft area. I understand that the barn has been used avenue for a barn dance two or three times already. What a way to capitalize on the tourism potential of such a unique facility.
In the centre of the loft, stairs invite visitors to go up to a third level and visit the cupola.
The edges of the loft allow visitors to still "feel" the fieldstone walls.
The string of fanions lining the barn's structural element and subtle colour to the space.
The view from the cupola frames evocatively the Prairie landscape.
Blending the feel of wood with that of stone touches on all senses.
Back on the main floor, one's curiosity for how this brilliant re-creation came into being can only be refuelled by the richly detailed interpretive panels on display.
Congratulations on a job well done!