Men sneaking to the garden shed to steal a few minutes of alone time is nothing new, but in Lanark County and elsewhere in Canada, they're seeking refuge there in increasing numbers.

Before your mind drifts to the "man cave" stereotype — some kind of sporting event on the television, a game of poker on the table, griping about "the ol' ball and chain," and a growing stack of empty beer cans in the corner — this is a different kind of gathering.

"The idea is to create places that are welcoming, inclusive spaces for guys to get together and to work on projects together, to hang out, to socialize," says Ramsey Hart, executive director of The Table Community Food Centre, and the force behind Perth's men's shed.

Men's sheds don't have rules per se, but Hart says they tend to be dry events, and that what goes on is healthier than stereotypical male get-togethers.

At this point you might be thinking, don't men have a whole bunch of male-dominated spaces and clubs and events for themselves? If you are, Hart urges you to think again.

"Outside of the hockey rink or the golf course, I don't know of any," he says. "I'm more familiar with women getting more organized to do those kinds of things [book clubs, stitching, knitting] together than men, outside of hockey or the occasional poker game or something."

And a lot of men get most of their socializing time at work, which isn't always healthy.

"My dad was a workaholic, really, so I think he got most of his camaraderie through work mates. And that's one of the really important roles in many sheds: most of their social interaction and their engagement and their sense of meaning and their sense of identity is being totally tied up with their work, then that all stops when you retire. And so, a lot of sheds are really grounded in that support."

Peter McCracken Perth Men's Shed Lanark County Sept 2016

Peter McCracken, a cabinetmaker and member of the men's shed in Perth, says working alone can be isolating. (Hallie Cotnam/CBC)

Out of isolation

So, what do they do?

The first event was held in a member's workshop, where they learned to turn wooden pens with a lathe. The man leading the class had been doing it for years, spending hours and hours alone in his isolated rural workshop.

At the group session, it was "neat" for him to be in a leadership and teaching position, Hart says.

Peter McCracken, a member who makes cabinets, sympathizes.

"It's difficult to find community being out here on my own. ... I really like to learn how things work and learning from other guys in other trades and other pasts and other interests," he says.

"It just seemed like a really interesting place for guys to hang out and have community. I think it can be difficult to find community, and guys can easily tend to isolate themselves."

Have women been complaining that they don't feel welcome?

"I haven't had too many complaints, yet. More I've had women say, 'How can I get my husband involved?'" Hart says.

"Honestly, that's been the more common response that I've gotten. We're not getting around and trash-talking women, we're not complaining. ... I haven't heard anybody complain about their partner, wife, girlfriend. It's not that kind of an environment."

Interested?

The website Men's Sheds Canada keeps a list of Canadian sheds and also provides tips about starting them. So far there are sheds in Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, and Quebec, according to the site.

In Ontario there are two, both in Lanark County:

Hackberry Men's Shed in Carleton Place, Ont.: They have biweekly breakfast meetings and biweekly planning meetings, and recently made two wooden benches that convert into picnic tables for Lanark Community Programs. Contact Vic Maltby.

Perth Men's Shed in Perth, Ont.: They have monthly breakfast meetings at The Table. Activities have included assisting with the construction of the Tay River Pathway boardwalk, constructing cold frames for The Table and an outhouse for the Perth Community Allotment Garden. Contact Ramsey Hart by email, or by phone at 613-267-6428, ext. 8.