Bryan Morton is passionate about old barns. In fact, according to family lore, he was almost born in one. More than half a century later, Bryan is combining his love of agricultural history and a desire to give back to his community by building Four Winds Barn smack dab in the rural village of Brussels.
“My mother will say she is sure I was conceived by an apple tree beside a barn,” says Bryan. “She also says that when I about to be born, my father needed to finish milking the cows first and that I was pretty near born in a pail.”
With that kind of farm fairy-tale beginning, it’s maybe no surprise that Bryan embraced the role he was born into. Now a retired cash cropping farmer, he has taken down many bank barns in his day, using the materials for additions on his own Huron County property.
“Barns are a part of my life. I love them. They remind me of cathedrals,” says Bryan, looking up into the rafters of the Four Winds Barn which will be hosting its first wedding celebration in March.
When his daughter, New York Times bestselling author Ann Voskamp, inspired him to think about giving back, it was barns he thought of.
“Farming was a full time job for me and I found I didn’t have time to participate in community before,” explains Bryan. “My children taught me it’s good to give back. I thought what better way to give back to my community than sharing something I have a passion for.”
When he learned that Herman Terpstra had purchased the Wheeler Farm, his vision started to take shape. There was a barn on the property he suspected would be torn down. Bryan approached Herman back in 2014 about his dream to rebuild a barn in Brussels which Herman endorsed by donating the structure. It took years of frustrating paperwork including a heritage impact study, a storm water study, and some persuasive discussion to convince council that a bank barn could enhance the historical heritage of Brussels.
“They just couldn’t see what I saw,” says Bryan. Now that the barn is up, everyone can admire the beautiful structure behind the village library. While time-consuming, it’s acknowledged the paperwork ensures the barn fits within the town’s heritage focus. Also, in this age of liability and safety concerns, a system of engineered safety structures lies under rafters and behind stones to ensure the venue meets public safety requirements.
Originally, bank barns were built by craftsmen without the aid of mechanical tools ... and without the watchful eyes of lawyers, architects and engineers.
Bryan has tremendous admiration for these early builders. “All these old barns were set on stone with no engineer to make reports. And they are still standing!”
The Wheeler Barn is an English High Post bank barn originally built in 1862 by Alexander Stewart. Bryan took great care to recreate the original structure. Before the original barn was taken down with the helps of Mennonites, every beam, purlin, post, and crossbar was tagged and labelled.
Reconstruction began in 2016 with “extra touches” to make it a classy establishment for weddings and community functions.
The craftsmanship is stunning.
“Bryan has a creative and ingenious mind,” says Barb Terpstra, who is Four Winds Barn’s administrator. She’ll also be opening a floral shop in the barn’s stone addition.
He designed a unique round ‘ceiling’ for the silo (pictured, in part, on the cover) and hand cut every shingle from British Columbia Red Cedar to line the inside of the ceiling.
The roof has many layers and it “isn’t going anywhere” laughs Bryan. The first layer is rafters made of Douglas Fir, then Tamarack strapping. Then come the shingles, a sprinkler system, a vapour barrier, one course of three inch urethane, one course of two-inch foam, another course of urethane, then a steel roof to finish it.
Heating tubes were installed in both the main and second floor to keep the facility warm. In summer. cooler air will be provided by geothermal cooling loops.
The people of Brussels have been supportive with many turning out for the barn raising. They also came to raise the windmill with a community rope pull.
“That was a really nice day,” remembers Bryan. “We’ve had a lot of support from people in this town.”
There’s still much work to be done before the first wedding.
The barn needs windows and the floor needs finishing. The interior stone walls need to be mortared in and bathrooms and a commercial kitchen installed.
The silo need its final touches to be a setting for a local wine maker to feature Huron County wines.
“We really want to showcase Huron County,” says Barb. Moving the local farmer’s market into the barn stables is a big part of that, allowing the market to be open year round.
Though not yet finished, the venue already has 30 functions slated for this year and next with another eight wedding requests having just come in.
“September 2019 is fully booked and we’re booking into 2020,” says Barb.
Barb says she’s thrilled to be a part of Bryan’s restoration project. “It’s pretty awesome to be part of the beginning of history...again!”
It’s a feeling many people have. Local carpenters have been keen to work on the project including Doug and Jeremiah Hiller, Dave Rapson and Roger Diegel who were creating the stairs on the day of this interview.
Brussels resident Kathy Stephenson has been hired as the manager of Four Winds Barn.
The rustic appeal of old barns has been a successful marketing tool for other ‘old barn’ venues in the province. Four Winds in banking on that trend by offering this old but new structure as a classy place to party.
It also connects people to their past. “At one time, everyone had an uncle or grandfather that was a farmer,” says Bryan. “This is part of their heritage...part of our whole Huron County heritage.” ◊