Building on a dream

KaministiquiaBack in the day, some homesteaders in rural areas of Northern Ontario and Minnesota built homes of hand hewn logs. The motivation was, for the most part, practical: a warm dry place to call home—not too big and not too fancy. Often, the log homes were chinked with moss, mud or hair from cows and horses. Barns and outbuildings were made with rough lumber from portable sawmills, and over time, exposure to weather aged the lumber to a beautiful grey to black barn board.  

An old log home built in the 1920s with lumber cladding. | BRENDA RIKKONEN

Today, vintage logs and barn board is in high demand to make shabby chic décor. An old barn window can be given a new life as a mirror; and weathered lumber is used to make photo frames, coffee tables and even feature walls. 

Katherine and Rick Kerley had property in Kaministiquia, a rural community west of Thunder Bay. They wanted to build a house that wouldn’t just be accented in barn board—the couple wanted to build their entire home from repurposed, vintage materials. They began to collect supplies, such as lumber from old buildings that could be re-planed and hardwood flooring from their local community centre that was being refurbished. Then they heard of a neighbour in their community who was planning to demolish an old homestead built in the 1920s that was on his property. The young couple asked if they could go and pull any useable lumber off the building before the home was taken down and the owner agreed. When the couple took off the lumber cladding, they saw the beautiful condition of the pine logs and workmanship of the dovetailed ends, so they went back to the owner and asked permission to take the logs. 

Logs assembled and addition being built. | RICK & KATHERINE KERLEY

Slowly and methodically, the couple stripped the home of the siding, roof, plumbing, electrical and interior walls. Then they got down to the logs. They labeled the logs using metal prospecting stamps, as they were told by people with past experience that anything like a grease pencil may wear off. They also made a map of the design and the location of all the logs. When they put the logs back together, the process was much like building with the children’s toy, Canadian Logs or Lincoln Logs. 

The Kerley’s property also had an old homestead on it, but the logs were too deteriorated to be of use. So they took down the old building but used the foundation for an addition to the newly located log home. Even though the addition was made of vintage materials or wood produced by local sawyers, it has all the modern conveniences, including in-floor heating. To accommodate the addition, the roof line was changed from the original log home. 

Finally, in 1997, after two years of moving logs, stock piling materials, and with a lot of help from friends, their new home was done. The Kerley’s had honoured the spirit and hard work of the original homebuilders by putting together their dream home with tenacity, resourcefulness, and by accepting knowledge and help from friends.

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By Kathy Toivonen