Historic Sask. barn reopens after restoration

The Bell Barn, the last surviving structure from Saskatchewan's first corporate farm venture, reopens Saturday as an interpretative centre
The barn, seen here in 1884,was used as a stable for Maj. William Bell's corporate farm. ((McCord Museum Collection))

The Bell Barn, the last surviving structure from Saskatchewan's first corporate farm venture, reopens Saturday as an interpretative centre.

The barn is on land near Indian Head, Sask., about 70 kilometres east of Regina.

In the 1880s, it was part of a corporate farming venture led by Maj. William Bell, at the time newly arrived from Ontario. With the backing of investors, Bell spent $250,000 acquiring around 55,000 acres of land and setting up the farm.

According to accounts from the Bell Barn Historical Society, the original operation was massive, with hundreds of support buildings. Those included rooms for tenant farmers and a round stable for the farm horses: the Bell Barn, named for its creator.

"He came here in 1882, before the railway even came through, and he developed this corporate farm," Jerry Willerth, from the historic society, told CBC News.

"He was well ahead of his time," Willerth added, noting the scale of the original farm was unprecedented in its day. "There was nothing here when he came and he developed a 55,000-acre farm when everybody else was settling on one quarter [160 acres]."

While the farm had promise, other events interceded. The society notes that frost and drought in the years following the farm's creation put a strain on harvest yields.

By 1889 the corporation was dissolved. In time, most of the buildings fell into disuse and disrepair. By the 1990s, the round barn was the last surviving structure linked to the original venture and it too was crumbling.

Efforts to save the structure took root in 2006, when the historical society was formed and began fundraising.

The Bell Barn, fully restored, opens as an interpretive centre Saturday. The building on the right is a replica of one of the houses for tenants of the corporate farm. (Courtesy Dan Loran)

In 2008 the building was dismantled, then rebuilt using as many of the original stones as were available.

Willerth says the enormity of that task today leaves him awed by what was accomplished over a century ago.

"We had modern methods and modern machinery," Willerth said. "He had nothing.

"Where we can pick up stones by the truckloads, he had to pick up stones one by one and bring them over here."

The official opening was set for 1 p.m. on Saturday.

In addition to touring the restored barn, visitors can learn about the history of the farm and see a number of antique farming items on display.