Honing Heritage Skills
By Brendan Hodgson
Following recent upgrades to the Stores Building at the Sault Canal, the attached single-story Blacksmith Shop also needed new windows. To save costs, stay true to original features, and hone heritage skills, the Asset team staff opted to build the custom windows over the winter months.
As the Sault Ste. Marie Canal National Historic Site works toward redesigning its visitor experience and flow through the historic core, the Stores Building and Blacksmith Shop will feature more prominently. The goal for the new windows was to replicate what was there originally, so we studied old photos and windows in adjacent buildings and came up with a basic design concept.
We considered buying windows, but vinyl windows would stick out like a sore thumb in a historic setting, and it would have affected the experience for anyone with any historical background. We asked ourselves: why pay a premium for custom-built windows, when we have the tools and skills to do so in-house?!
So, Gary Fahrer and I started this project in November 2019, while also juggling other projects and site responsibilities. The windows entered our shop as 3”x10” rough cut pine lumber, and we cut and milled those pieces to the required dimensions. Barry Guzzo, a veteran Parks Canada employee and skilled carpenter, pointed us in the right direction and helped us through some of our problems, which made us realize that the knowledge of this type of work was being shared from one generation to another. Just like we’ll be able to share our skills and knowledge with future team members, too.
By the time Parks Canada suspended its services and closed its facilities in March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we had made five 12-pane windows, complete with frames and trim, but they still needed to be glazed, primed, and painted. Gary took the frames home and worked on completing those tasks, so they are now ready to be reinstalled in the Blacksmith Shop.
We also took a closer look the doors in the Blacksmith Shop and realized they needed to be rebuilt! So we began working on new doors as well, matching the style to the original doors while considering adaptations for improved accessibility.
It is such a pleasure to be part of something which will add to the function and aesthetics of a building for years to come. Although most people won’t realize it, it contributes to the historic experience and feel of the site! As the custodians of these buildings, these types of projects give us a greater sense of connection to the assets. How could they not, when we get to spend so much time working so intricately with them?!
NOTE: The above picture was taken prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.