Haunting photos of abandoned buildings tell disappearing story of the Townships
‘There's definitely an eeriness’ says photographer Joel Barter
On a cold, quiet Monday in Bury, Que., no one ventured out on the country roads except for Joel Barter.
Driving slowly on the outskirts of town, his eyes remained trained on the side of the road.
Since he was a child, Barter has been fascinated by the abandoned buildings that are common in his part of the townships.
Collapsed roofs, moldering wood, peeling paint— these are the details he lovingly captures with whatever camera he has on hand.
"A lot of these buildings will be gone in a year or two," says Barter. "I just figure it's cool to capture them in their natural essence before they're gone forever."
He points out a barn where the roof has collapsed over the winter, leaving an mid-19th century weathervane jutting crookedly into the sky.
Barter says this part of the townships is full of empty houses, sheds, sugar shacks, and barns.
That's what comes with a shrinking population, he notes
"[Bury] had its heydey, it's come and gone. People are trying to preserve it cause that's kind of all we have left."
A new audience
On the internet, Barter's found a new audience for his photos.
He posts his photos to a community Facebook group, called People from the Eastern Townships in Quebec.
"You get your people who imagine what could have happened, then you've got your people for whom it stirs up old memories," he says.
"I post a picture and people will say, 'Oh, I got married in that house! I danced in that barn!'"
Barter says he especially likes it when old friends or neighbours are able to reacquaint themselves in the comments section of one of his pictures.
Exploring the area and spotting abandoned houses is a family affair for Barter.
"I've gone with my grandfather. I went with my Dad. I brought my daughter... so it's a fourth generation thing going on here," he says.
When he was young, his grandfather would pick him up on weekend mornings to go for long, rambling drives around their town, exploring every nook and cranny.
He also does research to figure out where abandoned houses might be located.
"I've gone into the archives, and I have those maps from the 1830s," he says. "I go to the lots and check to see if anything is still standing."
Barter says he feels mixed emotions about the abandoned buildings he documents.
"There's definitely the eeriness because it's abandoned… and there's still the cool factors like, oh this is really neat and I get to go explore it."