Hugh Fraser, MSc., P.Eng. has almost completed a 50 chapter, 275 page, hard-covered book entitled, “Swing Beam Barns of Niagara: Stories about 50 barns built in Upper Canada/Canada West/Ontario ca. 1819 to 1884.
Swing beam barns were built for storing and threshing wheat—the valuable cash crop of the day. Each chapter commences with an imagined scene and dialogue combined with family and local history about something going on locally when the barn was constructed. This is followed by a detailed description of the barn with plenty of photos and schematics. There are hidden religious and superstitious messages from past owners, intricate carvings, paintings, root cellars, carved dates and precision fitted joints. Stories find barn owners participating in, and witnessing history as it unfolds around them, such as playing in the first ice hockey game ever played in 1839 at Chippawa (near Niagara Falls), or witnessing the sailing of the first two ships through the first Welland Canal in 1829. Each chapter concludes with “what really happened” tying in the imagined story that may have foreshadowed or predicted0 future events. The book describes why it was called a “swing beam” but this structural timber was enormous, the largest researched being 70 cm (27.5 in.) in depth and 30 cm (12 in.) wide, constructed from giant white pines the first settlers of European descent in Niagara found when they made their way to Upper Canada in the late 1700s to early 1800s. The 50 barns are all still standing, many still used on farms. Each was measured and there are scaled schematics of what the barns likely looked like when constructed. There are some 3-D CAD views.