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Family fundraising effort aims to restore historic cordwood barn

The Old Garden River Road building is a favourite among animal lovers and photographers
Local community members Paula Cypas Antunes and Pedro Antunes are organizing a fundraiser to save a 72-year-old barn on Old Garden River Road.

The barn is a symbol for the everyday life of Sault farm workers, which is often overlooked in discussions on city heritage by the history of the steel industry, say Paula and Pedro.

“The barn . . . speaks to an under-represented history which is that of the lives of the common citizens,” said Paula in an interview with SooToday. “Farms used to surround the industrial core. And many produced food to support the labourers who worked in industry as well as the horses that were used prior to and during the industrial revolution.”

Antunes is the daughter of Marilyn and Peter Cypas, who own the barn. She was born and raised on the property, where she did farm work. She has since moved out and regularly visits with her husband to help maintain the property. 

She went on to say, “from a broader perspective, the barn speaks to the diversity of talent and labourers that the Sault attracted.” 

The barn exists as it stands today thanks to the labour of architects, dairy farmers, cattle farmers and horse-keepers. Saving the barn would add reservation engineers to the list.

The barn was constructed in 1948 and was originally used to house dairy cattle. It was built of cordwood and sits on a concrete foundation. After decades of exposure to harsh Northern Ontario winters, the concrete is now deteriorating and needs costly repairs. 

The Antunes are hoping to collect a total of $71,500. According to their Go Fund Me page, “the barn . . . needs the engineering drawings and permit  ($4,500), a foundation and cord walls ($40,000), a new roof ($17,000) and new upper side walls ($10,000).”

All of the funding received will go toward restoration, less 2.9 per cent collected by Go Fund Me’s administrative fee. Community members can opt instead to offer supplies for the restoration or donate their professional labour. 

The process of renewing the building is twofold: “The first stage of restoration will focus on replacing the barn roof,” noted Paula. “The second stage will require additional time to acquire the engineering drawings and building permit required to lift the barn, pour a proper foundation, and rebuild the barn walls.”

“All work will be done by local contractors.”

Restoring the barn poses unique challenges due to its cordwood walls. Cordwood is a Scandinavian building method where logs are placed horizontally and kept together with mortar. The design is eye-catching yet uncommon in Sault Ste. Marie. 

“To save the barn from deteriorating beyond repair, the entire upper portion of the barn needs to be lifted up and a foundation needs to be put in,” said Antunes. “Because of the uncommon cordwall design, there are extra challenges associated with design and restoration.”

“This barn needs professionals who are willing to take on this unusual construction project”

The Cypas family has already started looking for tradespeople and getting quotes.

“Ideally, the roof repair would be done this fall or early spring (with the time being set in part to accommodate any limitations related to COVID-19). The second phase in particular will depend on the availability of funds and would ideally take place next summer,” said Paula.

The Cypas purchased the barn in 1971. 

“We have used the barn to keep livestock and forage crops ever since purchasing the property 49 years ago from a retiring dairy farmer,” said Marylin Cypas.

Since then, the barn has become a part of the city’s personality. According to the fundraiser website, it enjoys daily visits of animal lovers and photographers. It has also been featured in the 2020 Great Lakes Honda calendar and a photography project called Canadian Mosaic. 

“We enjoy having people stop by to take photos of the barn because we feel that the people of our community appreciate its unique style,” said Cypas. 

“Lots of people stop by every day. People are always respectful and many ask permission to take photos.  Every day when people come, the donkey comes running to see if maybe she might get a treat out of the visit”.

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Mike Hermida

About the Author: Mike Hermida

Mike Hermida is a Sault-based freelance writer at SooToday and a Law and Legal Studies student at Carleton University
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