Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Some great stonework

photo by Andre´ Lemieux

Some great stonework here. 
This is small section of a big project taken on by Eric Landman and his crew of Andre´ Lemieux and Ryan Stannought, along with a few guest wallers like John Bland Sean Donnelley and myself. Lots of good fun and camaraderie happened here over the course of many months.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Post Tumulus

I received this photo in an email yesterday of the tumulus (underground chamber) we built last year in England.
I see the entrance to our structure and the sodding of the top is now officially complete. 

Here's what it looked like before we added huge slate slabs to form a roof  for the ramped entrance, (and before it was buried under tons of earth).

Of course no one who visits the tumulus now will ever see how it looked on the outside.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Recycled Material

Sean Donnelley recently completed this lovely curved dry stone feature using only the stones that he found laying around the garden area on his client's property. It's difficult when you only have a limited amount of material to create something magical, especially if it's all reclaimed. Add to that the difficulty of building with round stones and having to come to level at such a short height of wall, and the whole thing becomes even more of a feat. 

Wallers get a bit spoiled picking and choosing from the tons of beautiful quarried square limestone that's available in Southern Ontario. Good stone can be delivered to any job.  

While it is very difficult to work with a very limited pallet of material, such as Sean used here, the results are often more stunning because the projects require much more skill and reflect a lot more creative problem solving.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Life I Love You

Yesterday morning I revisited an arch I built years ago in Uxbridge Ontario. 
They say an arch never sleeps, yet this one looked pretty "dappled and drowsy".

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Walling is like Music

The word Wall is many things. Not just the end result.
Wall is a noun and a verb.
And 'to wall' is like making music.
It is the whole event not just the finished static structure.
Walling is an allegory. A expression of life in all its continuity - creatively combining spontaneity and permanence .
It is a process that needs to be appreciated in its entirety
To say one builds and rebuilds with the basic element - stone, puts it in its renewable context.
It is a creative dance with natural material using mass, balance and dynamic friction.
It needs to be appreciated at every stage of space and time.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Poetic Injustice

I must go down to see one day
This wall built by some guy
They say it's tall and built of stone
I wonder if it's dry 

I should go down to check one day 
And see how it was made
And if it's all done perfectly 
All shaped and coursed dry laid 

I must inspect this wall of his
I'm sure he built it wrong 
With stones an amateur would use 
Not square or straight or long   

I'll see a wall I must not like
All running joints I bet
Who cares it's lasted ninety years 
It still might fall down yet. 

Monday, September 22, 2014

Polish Walls

Kevin Recoskie and his son Marcus stand in front of one of the Polish walls in Renfrew County that were built before his father Ambrose was born

The ground brings a new harvest of stones every year. 

Another of the many wide walls you can find in this area.

Follow the 8 foot wide, dry laid, raised 'stone road' !

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Renfrew County Walls


Over the past two weeks Mark and I managed to restore 420 feet of wall that was originally built by Polish immigrants who cleared this part of the early 
Ontario wilderness of trees and rocky terrain known now as Renfrew County.

Many of these Polish farmsteads have a network of excessively wide walls (consumption walls ) stretching across the old farmland clearings and also penetrating into areas dense now with bush, where the trees have reclaimed the land that was so valiantly fought for by the original settlers

I can't help but think of the hardship involved and the heroic effort that went into making these well defined walls, instead of farmers just casting the rocks off to the side of the fields in random heaps .
While many of the old walls in Ontario I've worked on can be traced back to British and Irish origins, I feel honoured to be involved in the restoring historic walls representing other cultures too. There is no question that these Polish walls are very much a part of our great Canadian dry stone wall heritage.


Thursday, September 18, 2014

Where were you J S-R ?

Tomas Lipps emailed me this youtube link after the 2014 Stone Symposium in Maine last August. 
There was no other content, just the words 'Where were you J S-R ?'

By contrast, last weekend after the workshop at Amherst Island the students and I built this arch without using any rocks for centering or support. We just held the arch stones in place and then let go!  Voila !

Wednesday, September 17, 2014


Lots happened at Willowbank last weekend. Among others our own Kenny Davies passed his intermediate. Congratulations Kenny

The dry stone blacksmith house got close to completed.

Looking pretty solid !

Adan Clark built this sweet looking pillar in 6 hours ! 

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Mending Wall

The people of Amherst Island took the time and effort to mend a dry stone wall on the island last weekend under the instruction of Sean Donnelly and Eric Landman and myself.  

Proposed wind turbine farm on Amherst Island

We at Dry Stone Wall Association of Canada and the people of Amherst Island as well as many Canadians hope to save this beautiful part of Ontario from turbines and preserve the many historic walls on the island from the unavoidable damage that will come if the walls are subjected to thousands of truckloads of concrete and heavy equipment to build the three dozen wind turbines on this small island. 

It should be obvious that lovely stone walls make good neighbours - not so much turbines !

Mending Wall
Robert Frost

Something there is that doesn't love a wall, 

That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it, 
And spills the upper boulders in the sun, 
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast. 
The work of hunters is another thing: 
I have come after them and made repair 
Where they have left not one stone on a stone, 
But they would have the rabbit out of hiding, 
To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean, 
No one has seen them made or heard them made, 
But at spring mending-time we find them there. 
I let my neighbor know beyond the hill; 
And on a day we meet to walk the line 
And set the wall between us once again. 
We keep the wall between us as we go. 
To each the boulders that have fallen to each. 
And some are loaves and some so nearly balls 
We have to use a spell to make them balance: 
'Stay where you are until our backs are turned!' 
We wear our fingers rough with handling them. 
Oh, just another kind of out-door game, 
One on a side. It comes to little more: 
There where it is we do not need the wall: 
He is all pine and I am apple orchard. 
My apple trees will never get across 
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him. 
He only says, 'Good fences make good neighbors'. 
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder 
If I could put a notion in his head: 
'Why do they make good neighbors? Isn't it 
Where there are cows? 
But here there are no cows. 
Before I built a wall I'd ask to know 
What I was walling in or walling out, 
And to whom I was like to give offence. 
Something there is that doesn't love a wall, 
That wants it down.' I could say 'Elves' to him, 
But it's not elves exactly, and I'd rather 
He said it for himself. I see him there 
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top 
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed. 
He moves in darkness as it seems to me~ 
Not of woods only and the shade of trees. 
He will not go behind his father's saying, 
And he likes having thought of it so well 
He says again, "Good fences make good neighbors."

Monday, September 15, 2014

Amherst Workshop Completed

Saturday was rainy and muddy all day, but Sunday the sun came out and things warmed up. In fact by noon yesterday the Amherst Island Dry Stone Walling Association of Canada training course wall we were restoring was nearly completed.

 We all stopped to partake of a wonderful lunch and provided by Amy and her mother at Poplar Del B&B and then went back to add the copes. 

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Parallel Canadian Walling Events This Weekend

Two very distinct dry stone events are happening here in Ontario this weekend. One is at the 
Willowbank School of Restoration Arts near Queenston, in the Niagara region; the other involves the Dry Stone Walling Association of Canada and the community of Amherst Island, east of Kingston.

At the Niagara event, a number of British and Canadian wallers are finishing work on a new dry stone  structure which will be used by the school as a blacksmith shop. It is a great opportunity to work with a number senior British wallers .

On Amherst Island, homeowners and community members are learning traditional Canadian walling as they repair and rebuild sections of the historic dry stone walls on the island using local found material under the instruction of professional Canadian wallers.

The Amherst restoration workshop involves community members and local land owners using only the stone gathered nearby They are not shaping any of the stones. Many of the students are driven to participate in this event by a desire to learn how to restore and maintain important ( and increasingly rare) pieces of Canadian history.

It is thought that these heritage walls were originally built as livestock enclosures and boundary demarcation as much as 170 years ago, an integral part of the vibrant local economy.

I think it is remarkable to have two high quality though very different events taking place within a few hours of one another.

Saturday, September 13, 2014


After a while even well built dry stone walls for a number of reasons sometimes start to fail and fall down . The ones we are repairing in Renfrew County, as I have said before, have suffered mostly from trees falling on them and from vandals or thieves removing stones. 

I suspect there is also another factor that explains places where the walls have mysteriously blown out.  Where this wall runs through or near wooded areas, there is a gradual build-up of decayed leaves and plant debris over the years and eventually this creates a fibrous mulch-like mesh to collect inside parts of the wall. This matted material is very porous and I imagine it is similar to having deposits of soil inside the wall. When this stuff gets wet it retains moisture and obviously when it freezes it expands and must push the stones encasing this mesh outward.  Obviously the wider the wall the more likely there is to be a build up of material. In the places we have repaired we have tried to remove as much of this material as possible.

It seems ironic that mere plant decay can be the demise of a sturdy stone wall.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Enjoying the Fauna Along the Many Feet of Wall We are Fixing.

My client told us to look out for all kinds of wildlife while we are working on the walls at his property in Renfrew County. He sent me this photo he took last year of a wolf walking along the wall that we are fixing this week. 

But so far we've only come across a few chipmunks and this salamander ( or is it a newt ? )

Oh, and Mark found this strange coloured centipede with many feet.

Speaking of feet, here are some of the many feet of wall that we've already repaired this week. 

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Unlimited Hearting

Yesterday we took apart a 30 foot long damaged section of eight foot wide wall.  We repaired the back part first (the forest side)  by removing the tumbled big stones and setting them behind us all the while tossing the hearting up onto middle of the wall .

Avalanches happen occasionally.

When we get down far enough to rebuild a firm base we began rebuilding the wall using the same boulders laid always into the wall . We could easily reach for hearting  for fitting and pinning behind the boulders . There was always lots of different material directly in front of us at waist level .

The finished repair is more obvious because it is semi coursed and looks newer because many of the stones are placed differently do not always show their darkened weathered faces .

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Wide Walls !

We are in Renfrew County for the next two weeks. There is a sizeable network of dry stone walls throughout this farming community here in Ontario.  The ones we are repairing here are 100 years old. They are 8 foot wide 'consumption walls' ! They go on for thousands of meters on this property alone . Originally built with thick outer shells of glacial boulders the first year ( all the size of pumpkins)  they are then filled to the brim with the stones gathered from the fields for years and years after. These walls are still in surprisingly good shape, except where trees have fallen on them or where ski-mobilers have taken them apart in order to get through .

Friday, September 5, 2014

A 'Real' Garden 'Completes' A 'Pretend' Ruin

It's not always clear when you are building a pretend dry stone ruin like this one in Beaverton Ontario when it is actually completed.

I designed this with the client and my crew and I built it about six years ago.

Any well built dry stone folly might take hundreds of years before it's considered 'finished' - that is, actually come to ruin. 

Happily however, after a garden is planted and has grown up and around (and inside the enclosure) there is a definite sense of 'closure'.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Floating Fantasy

Many of us have this fascination with stone ruins. 

Sometimes as wallers we might even get an opportunity to build something that looks like a small section of a stone castle or a part of an old stone church. 

While that doesn't happen very often, all of us have a chance to let our imagination go floating off whenever we are at the beach. We can spend many happy hours building things that look like whole castles - all in miniature. 

This is a fantasy castle I created last week on a boulder that was sticking out of the lake near our dock at the cottage.

I'd love to be a tiny person living on this tiny island and build even smaller miniature castles on the shore!