Nova Scotia

Last 19th century barn in Old Town Lunenburg faces demolition

In the late nineteenth century, there were a number of barns in Old Town Lunenburg. With the exception of one, none have stayed standing at the UNESCO heritage site. Now that last remaining barn could be put out to pasture.

Contractor says there is no other option than to tear it down

A meeting in Lunenburg will consider the fate of the last 19th-century barn standing in the UNESCO heritage area of town. (Bill Plaskett)

The last remaining 19th-century barn standing in Old Town Lunenburg, N.S., could soon be torn down at the UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The fate of what's known as the Anderson barn is on the agenda of Tuesday's town council meeting, where the public will be asked to weigh the building's rich history against its poor condition while hearing a proposal for demolition.

The history of the Anderson barn dates back to the 1870s, says Lunenburg heritage officer Bill Plaskett. Back then, the gable-roofed barn stretched 15 metres and overlooked gardens and pasture on a 12-hectare farm handed down from local blacksmith and farmer George Anderson to his sons.

Architecture has changed 

Plaskett says while still recognizable today as the Anderson barn, its original architectural character is much changed. 

The now board- and batten-clad building has suffered from lack of maintenance in recent years. Original wooden barn doors have been replaced with a modern roll-up, metal garage door. Old beams wear rot and bear burn marks from a fire from years ago. The roof is in poor condition, its foundation and retaining wall are failing and there are other issues as well. 

Barn has 'lived its life expectancy'

Lunenburg Heritage Homes consultant Robin Joost says the barn is riddled with post-beetle damage and its original turn-of-the-century timbers are too compromised for anything other than cosmetic use.

"I'm a heritage carpenter. I've saved many, many buildings in this town, and always try to save everything that I can, but, in this case, it makes me sad but there's really nothing one can do."

Joost submitted the application to demolish the barn two months ago on behalf of Lunenburg Heritage Homes, the company that purchased the parcel of property on which the barn sits. 

A contractor says it would require replacing every beam in the 1870s Anderson Barn for it to meet modern building codes. (Bill Plaskett)

At first the company planned to repurpose the barn to build residential units, which Joost says are much needed in the town. But to do that the barn needed to be brought up to modern building codes. 

Joost says once it became apparent that there was no chance of that happening, it left Lunenburg Heritage Homes with no other option than to tear the barn down.

There are few 300-year-old houses in Canada and Joost says part of the reason is 'the elements, without modern construction, just win." 

Joost says Lunenburg Heritage Homes intends to replace the barn with a historically accurate multi-unit residential dwelling. Any salvageable pre-1940 elements from the barn will be retreated and reintegrated cosmetically into the new building.

Barn's future to be mulled at town council

Plaskett says one alternative to demolition is that Lunenburg Heritage Homes could continue to use the barn for business-related storage and workshop space. 

He says the Anderson building is not a known tourist destination and has no noteworthy agricultural significance to signify it as a local landmark. 

The Lunenburg Heritage Society says there are other 19th-century barns within the Town, but not within the UNESCO heritage area.  There are several on Tannery Road, the road that runs along the opposite side of the harbour from Old Town. 

Town of Lunenburg Mayor Rachel Bailey says some people in the community have voiced concern for the fate of the barn.

"The points are being made that it's a one-of-a-kind kind of building within the heritage district." 

She says the Lunenburg Old Town Heritage Conservation District plan specifies that when considering an application for demolition of a pre-1940 building, council must consider the advice of the Heritage Advisory Committee and Lunenburg Heritage Society and must hold a public meeting.

That meeting will take place at council on Tuesday, Aug. 23, at 5:15 p.m.