Heritage Happenings

Submitted by Margaret Cunningham

If dry stone walls could tell stories, they would have many to share.

Since the 1600s, these wisely built dry stone walls have been a major feature of the rural British Isles landscape. Protecting their herds, cattlemen cleared the land stones for better grazing and crop growing. The stones were piled up around the property boundaries to contain the livestock. Their wall building involved no cement and was much more than the simple piling of selected stones in a line. Through a feat of amazing engineering with the construction assistance of whole teams of professional wall builders, a more solid construction and a weighty two-layer design and functionality endures.

Dry stone walls are found around the world and span a variety of civilizations. From Iceland to Norway, from France to Zimbabwe where the ruined city of Great Zimbabwe was predominantly made from dry stone, from Australia to Peru, where the Incas built Machu Picchu in dry stone construction, this method of construction has withstood the test of time. Multiple uses from bridges, barriers to enclosures, dry stone has been very popular in high winds and earthquake regions due to the walls’ flexibility. When the wind blows and the ground shakes, the stones move inwards towards each other and do not collapse.

Closer to home in Kawartha Lakes, a spectacular example of a Scottish dry stone wall stretches for over a kilometre along both sides of Balsam Lake Drive. Despite need for occasional repair, the wall still stands intact today. In the 1870s, George Laidlaw, owner of 4000 acres on the shores of Balsam Lake, brought over stone masons from Scotland to construct the walls to fence in his Highland cattle and sheep and define the borders of his property. The raw material, mostly limestone and granite left by the receding of glaciers was sourced locally and moved about with horse-drawn stone boats. Today Fort Cottage, the family homestead is a living time capsule of the Laidlaw and Corby dynasty set on the south shore of Balsam Lake.

To learn more about the Laidlaw legacy, take part in The Dry Stone Wall Experience which includes an introduction to the history and the ‘art’ of dry stone walls, a story-walk along the Balsam Lake Dry Stone Walls and a hands-on exploration of Fort Cottage, with original furnishings, tools and household artifacts that are still in working order – and try out generation old games and activities. As part of the experience, enjoy instruction, demonstration and practice in the art of dry stone wall building with John Shaw Rimmington, a master in this ancient art and story-teller, sample local food exquisitely prepared by Quaker Oaks Farm and a traditional sheep herding demonstration on site. Next experience date is May 25-26. To inquire and book, please contact TravelPlus, Lindsay at janet.brock@travelplus.ca or call 705-324-9181.