25th Trillium Award

Five Explorer Questions with Jon Radojkovic

Share |
Barns of the Queen's Bush

Open Book Explorer is happy to interview Jon Radojkovic about his popular book Barns of the Queen?s Bush (Brucedale Press). In the book, Jon documents and photographs the long history of farms and heritage barns in the area highlighting how history is not only about structures but about the people and communities who helped build them.

Open Book:

How did Barns of the Queen?s Bush come about?

Jon Radojkovic:

I had been involved in building and repairing timber frames, which are how all heritage barns were constructed, for about 15 years. I realized that some of the best examples of traditional timber frame workmanship were all around us in rural Ontario, in the form of the ubiquitous barn. These buildings are among our oldest, mostly original heritage buildings in Ontario, and they are disappearing quickly.

My book is also about the people who are associated with the barns and farming the land; their stories and memories. I think one of the most exciting parts of putting the book together was finding archival photos of barns in our Grey and Bruce County archives, and then going out to see if the barn was still there 100 years after that photo was taken! It was always a thrill, to come around a bend in the road and see if that barn was still standing.


What sort of research was involved, and how long did it take you to compile all the material you needed?


I had the idea to show each barn as it looked when it was built or soon after, so I headed off to the Archives department in Grey and Bruce Counties. There I assembled some historical photos of barns, along with their locations and began driving to those sites to see if I could find them. That was certainly the most thrilling part, looking at a 100 year old photo and comparing that with the barn as it appeared today. Of course many of the barns were gone. My other method was to just drive down back roads in the hope of finding interesting looking barns. Fortunately many farmers still had old photos tucked away in a drawer, which I was also able to use.

But it wasn?t just about the architecture of the barns. I also wanted to know the stories of people who used those barns. I tracked people down in retirement homes, local township history books, and from families still living on the farms several generations later.
Another aspect of my book was to have local artist Mary Tripp MacCarl make pen and ink drawings of different aspects of barns, such as barn raisings, the profile of each unique timber frame and archival tools used for building barns.

As a photo journalist with a local daily newspaper, I shot all the photographs, as well as writing the stories, and with the driving, writing, and drawings and archival photo arrangements, it took me about 2 1/2 years to complete.


Are all the barns still standing today?


Unfortunately and not surprisingly, not all the barns are still standing. Out of the twenty-three I wrote about, eight have been taken down or destroyed. Today's industrial style of farming often leaves the old barn redundant. They are being torn down by the hundreds to make way for larger agricultural industrial-looking buildings, usually built from inferior building materials. One year pigs may be bringing in a good price and the next beef cattle, so buildings are more temporary, to make way for new economics.


Did you make any new discoveries with your research (new, unexpected details or stories)?


Yes! Every barn is different from the next one, in the layout, type of trees used, environmental setting, field stone foundations, type of granary inside, the list goes on and on. It was exciting to find out something new in each one. In one case, a barn near Meaford, I had an old photo showing a far away shot of the barn with a horse harnessed to it, standing in the middle of a field. I hunted down relatives of the original owners who told me that the horse was in fact moving the barn! There were log rollers under the base of the barn, and the horse slowly, over a couple of days, moved the barn about a kilometer to its new location.


What is the importance for you of documenting history in this region?


Barns are symbols of the community co-operation that took place when settlers came to this area and other parts of Ontario. Each barn was not built by a contractor the farmer hired, but with the assistance of his neighbours, relatives and on raising day, by the whole community. When I see barns falling down or being torn down, it?s almost like the farmer is being disrespectful to the community that helped to build that huge structure.

Historically, these are some of the first buildings constructed that represent the beginnings of white settlement to this region. Even though our history only goes back a little more than a century, compared to Europe?s centuries, in the future, they will be regarded as historically valuable as many of the ancient buildings in Europe are today.

For the past ten years, Jon Radojkovic has freelanced as a photographer and journalist with the Owen Sound daily newspaper, The Sun Times, and local weeklies such as The Chesley Enterprise and The Markdale Standard, and the monthly Mosaic. Barns of the Queen's Bush is his first book.
Jon and his family live on a farm in Sullivan Township, northeast of Chesley, Ontario.

For more information about Barn?s of the Queen?s Bush please visit the Brucedale Press.

Post new comment

  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.

More information about formatting options

By submitting this form, you accept the Mollom privacy policy.

Advanced Search

Humber Writer's School Ad

University of Guelph Creative Writing

Humber Scapa

Kingston Writer's Festival

Humber Literary Review