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The Heart of the Farm

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larger_abbott.jpgWell known Townships writer and filmmaker Louise Abbott has teamed up with her partner Niels Jensen to produce what will certainly be considered a fine addition to any library of Eastern Townships source material. Their book, titled The Heart of the Farm: A History of Barns and Fences in the Eastern Townships of Quebec, features text by Abbott and photography by Abbott and Jensen.

The Heart of the Farm has the look and feel of a coffee table book. It is a solid, 300 page-plus tome, with a gorgeous dust jacket featuring a round barn. The book is replete with illustrations, both archival and contemporary, of barns, fences and scenes of rural life in the Eastern Townships. The illustrations are beautiful, be they large-size full-colour images of entire barns, close-ups of rafters, tree knees, dovetails or tenons, or action shots of men and horses hauling timber or craftsmen working on a timber frame.

But this book is more than a book of beautiful photographs. Its creators have thoroughly researched the different building styles and techniques employed by farmers in the region from the earliest days of settlement to the twentieth century. They shed light on the agricultural trends that have influenced farmers through the years in their choices of barn and fence construction. And they weave their findings together with discussions with living, breathing Eastern Townshippers.

The Heart of the Farm includes chapters on everything from the timber framing techniques favoured by the Loyalists and other early settlers, to colonial English barns, to the round barns of the early 1900s. Other chapters focus on farm fencing techniques, silos, gambrel roofs, painted barns, cupolas and weather vanes. The illustrations complement the text, making this book a very pleasant read.

Reached at her home in Tomifobia, Abbott explained her fascination with the barns of the Townships as extending back to the years her family lived on the historic Roswell Farm in Austin. As an adult, she says, her quest to document rural life began on a trip to the Hebrides in Scotland. She came to realize that she knew very little about her own Eastern Townships. She began to explore the area, and fortuitous meetings with Heather Darch, curator of the Missisquoi Museum, and Frances Walbridge, owner of the Walbridge barn in Mystic, piqued her interest further, and led to several projects. She has been writing about and photographing the region’s rural lifestyle ever since. She has also written books focusing on isolated minorities living on Quebec’s Lower North Shore, in Labrador and in Newfoundland.

For his part, Neils Jensen is no stranger to wood and woodworking techniques, and his interest in barn and fence construction is understandable. By trade, he is a master furniture designer and cabinetmaker. He makes his living in Tomifobia.

The Heart of the Farm (306 pages, hard-cover) is published by Price-Patterson. It is illustrated with colour and black and white photographs, maps and diagrams, and contains an index and source list. It is available at good bookstores throughout Quebec. Retail price: $49.95.