A barn is the most iconic symbol of the prairie farm. Some might argue that it’s the grain elevator or a tractor that is the best symbol but I believe that nothing says “farm country” like the traditional barn. They were often built in a hurry by neighbours helping neighbours at barn raising parties. That’s not what most people would consider to be a party but these were pioneers and they weren’t like most people. Times were tough for the pioneers who came to Canada to homestead. They often came with their families and had little more than the clothes that they were wearing. These people had to help, and be helped, by their neighbours. Their first house, for lack of a better name, was typically no more than a hole in the ground called a sod house. It later became a root cellar. While the family roughed out a living in that sod house they stockpiled logs from clearing the land. Those logs would eventually be used to build a log cabin type house. However before building a “real” house they had to focus on making the land productive so that they could eat and meet the requirements of the homesteading agreement. This meant clearing and ploughing the land, putting in crops or building a fence to keep cattle. They also had to deal with unfamiliar weather, languages and laws in their new country. If they did manage to turn the prairie or parkland into a viable farm and they lived on the land for two years the homesteader could apply to take ownership of the property. It was a gamble and hard work but with family, friends, skills, hard work and more than a little luck they could transform themselves into landowners. That was their dream.
I am going to feature a barn in this blog because it was built for a homesteader. The barn featured here is located just north of Edmonton. Alberta, and is still owned by the family that originally homesteaded there. I’m not going to give out the exact location to protect the privacy of the family that lives here
Omer Fluet moved from Massachusetts in 1906 to homestead in Alberta. He moved up gradually from the sod house, to a log cabin to a two story lumber house. Omer commissioned another expatriate American to build a huge barn. This would be a very expensive barn but Omer Fluet owned a lumber mill so that helped keep the costs in down. The builder was known as “Rusty Roberts Builder”. Rusty is believed to have built a number of nearby barns as there are others in the area that are huge and have a similar look to them. He was a master at construction and even signed his work on the inside of those cupolas. I don’t know if Rusty Roberts Builder also constructed one or more of the houses on this land but it’s possible.
The barn appears extremely well built and obviously was developed from a detailed plan. Steinraths said the structure is in a style more common to barns in Wisconsin.Les Dunford of the Western Producer
Time and nature takes a toll on all structures and this huge and expertly built barn is no exception. The current owners, being Omer Fluet’s daughter Sonja Steinraths and her son, Kristoff, realized that the old barn was detreating after all these years. It was now or never so they decided to restore the old barn. This is no small task. They located a master roofer and decided on what else needed to be brought up to modern standards such as the electrical and mechanicals. The roof alone cost as much as a small house so this was no small endeavour. They even painted it in the colours that it was back in 1932. This is no museum piece. The barn is an important and functional part of the farm just like it always was. It’s a hybrid of sorts being that it looks very much like it did in 1932 but where necessary it’s been changed to meet the needs of a 21st century farmer. Some windows are larger so that they can let in more light. Sonja spoke extensively about the work that was done to barn and generously allowed me to photograph it from any angle I wished, inside and out. Kristoff spoke more about his current projects with finding better seeds for crops that are more suitable for farming with the unpredictable Alberta weather.
It sounded to me that this barn will get a lot of use, just as it should. It’s not a tourist attraction, it’s a barn, well maybe it’s a little of both. Now lets have a look at some images of this magnificent barn.
In gathering information for this blog I spoke to the the current landowner and daughter of Omer Fluet, Sonja Steinraths and her son, Kristoff who will be the third generation to live and farm here. I also spoke to Rebecca Carr who is familiar with the family. Rebecca helped to fill in the blanks after my conversation with Sonja. Rebecca was also very helpful in providing directions in the general area to this barn and other places of photographic and historical interest. Both Sonja and Rebecca had a wealth of information about the local area and history. They were both extremely helpful. When I met Sonja at the farm she welcomed me so warmly I seriously thought she mistook me for someone else. She is an example of the rural neighbourliness we often hear about. Finally I also consulted a 2017 edition of the newsletter called The Western Producer, which also published an article about this barn. Click on their name to be taken to the edition’s website.