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Doors Open offers glimpse into historic agricultural locations

There were three stops in Bradford West Gwillimbury on the Simcoe County tour

Instead of organizing its own Doors Open event, this year the Bradford West Gwillimbury Heritage Committee joined the new Simcoe County initiative, helping to create a county-wide Doors Open tour.

Doors Open Ontario is a provincial heritage program that asks participating communities to throw open the doors to historical sites and unique facilities normally closed to the public or only accessible by paying a fee. For one day, participating sites are open to the public at no charge — sharing important and interesting history and heritage with visitors.

There were 54 sites across Simcoe County that were part of this year’s self-directed tour on Sept. 29. Bradford West Gwillimbury had three locations, focusing on the town’s agricultural heritage.

Dingo Farms, the Harrison family farm, was one of the stops. Visitors were greeted by Otis, the farm’s mascot — a ram whose markings give him a permanent smile — and by a warming fire, organic cider and Liberty apples from Avalon Orchards, and a chance to talk with the farm operators.

“It’s been steady,” said Denise Harrison. “People are just asking some really great questions about history, about what we do, about what the equipment is for.”

She noted that the farm’s new Barn Quilt — a brightly-coloured quilt square displayed on the side of a wooden barn — has added to the interest. “It’s really catching on.”

Dreamwinds Equine Assisted Learning Centre on Line 10 also opened its doors to the public for Doors Open. Visitors were invited to participate in a learning experience that involved a blindfold — and a horse.

“This is a trust exercise,” explained Program Facilitator Jennifer Viitala, “where the leader of the horse is blindfolded, and the other team member needs to lead the person… It’s also about communications.”

The exercise not only highlights how team members communicate, but how they can improve their skills. “It humbles people right away,” said Viitala, noting it shines a light on gaps in communication, while ensuring everyone can participate.

Unlike some team-building exercises that require a level of physical achievement and ability, “as long as you can walk, you can do this,” she said. “It promotes inclusiveness. It gives everyone a chance to participate.”

The final BWG stop was the historic Fairview Barn. Built circa 1900 by the Roberts family, it is now owned by John and Christina Hambly, of Gwillimdale Farms.

The Roberts family first purchased the property for 325£ in 1845, raising cattle, pigs and grain. In 1898-99, they built the magnificent stone foundations for Fairview Barn, then moved the south barn from its original location onto the site, and built the north barn.

Located on the 11th Line, Fairview had fallen into disrepair. Beginning in 2014, the Hamblys started an extensive restoration project.

“We fell in love with the structure,” said Christina Hambly. It’s been a labour of love to restore the stone foundation, and lovingly repair the post and beam barn.

The site not only offered a tour of the historic barn, but a look at Gwillimdale’s Black Angus cattle, and the farm’s sustainable farming practices — planting cover crops of radishes to help tired farmland recover, rebuilding nitrogen levels while preventing erosion.

“It’s very important to give back to the soil,” said Christina Hambly, noting that if the land grows a vegetable crop one year, it will be seeded to a cover crop the next, to help the land recover.

In all, she said, “we’ve done a lot of work. We’re proud of it” — and happy to share with the public during Doors Open Simcoe County.

Miriam King

About the Author: Miriam King

Miriam King is a journalist and photographer with Bradford Today, covering news and events in Bradford West Gwillimbury and Innisfil.
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