Scottish master craftsman looks around at other wallers work to generate world wide interest in the ancient art of gathering rocks into field boundaries and beautiful features in stone.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Roctober Canada 6

One of the wallers involved with the construction of the Cabanne at the Thanksgiving Festival was John Scott. He also won a prize for the best dry stone wall built by professionals. I asked him to send me photos for the blog along with some details about the work
Here is a copy of the main section of his very interesting email.
"As promised, here are some photos of the wall built in Burritt's Rapids which is about a half hour south of Ottawa, Ontario. Burritt's (1790) is the site of one of the first mills on the Rideau River which became the Rideau Canal...a strategic military shortcut between Kingston and Ottawa at a time (1833) when the USA was a threat. The Canal was built by Colonel John By who had the wisdom to import stonemasons from Scotland to quarry, cut and lay some very fine stonework in absolute wilderness, and trick a very diverse river to flow two ways. During this time the river saw much settlement...first as small clusters of farms, then mills then busy towns and military settlements. This stone house was built round 1834 on a high bank of sandy clay not far from Clowes, one of the first limestone quarries in the area but now long grown over. The original documents are lost, but it is reasonable to assume that scotish canal stonemasons built this and many of the many other houses in the area. The home owners asked me to build a wall to block out the busy road (and related tire noise) but not to block the beautiful meadow on the other side....they didn't want an imposing structure. We estimated the height of the wall by sighting through the owners eye to just cut out the road, plus two inches. There was an existing hedge which had grown very tall and wild. They had violently torn it out so we had to remove loose soil to 12 inches and replace with aggregate. Since we had to move so much soil anyway, we decided to alter some landscape to convince spring runoff around the wall and into a ravine. We also decided to create a simple pathway to the front door. The stone used is a dolomitic limestone and reasonably hard, featuring the odd trilobite fossil and calicte cluster, and ranges from a blue/grey to brown, in beds from 1" to 12". There was also a nice stash of granite glacial boulders that had been salvaged from a barn that burned before 1970. At that time the boulders had been pushed into a pile and left to gather moss. The wall is 160 feet long and split by a driveway and gate. Although the elevation slopes by 2', the copings are level....the difference was made up by using the gigantic footing stones at the tall end so that the copes could be uniform. The wall is battered, including all cheekends, except the gated ends which are plumb. The gate is cedar and reflects the shape of the arch above the main door of the house, and we used similar shaped stone to cap the cheekends. The hardware was made by a blacksmith who works for Parks Canada at Jones Falls...a historic site that marks the watershed of the canal and features an impressive sandstone dam. The hinge pintels connect to a 24" flat arm that hooks downwards into a slot shisel cut into the walling stone. A wreglet chisel cut into the above stone keeps the arm from moving sideways. The latch bolt slides into a femal receptor which also reaches and hooks into the walling stone. These inventions were created at a Tim Hortons in classic Canadian style! I did not build this wall alone. Jason Macrae was granted a month's leave to work with me and proved to be a solid waller. Mike Bonk also helped as the winter made an early appearance. These two gentlemen receive high praise! The owners, Ian and Nina Donald, were also key. Nina gathered and delivered hearting every day. I thank them for their hard work and trust. "

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Roctober in Canada 5

The outstanding feature at the Thanksgiving Festival at Cornish Hollow was this Cabanne. It was constructed without any support inside . The roof was made by adding diminishing circles of rocks in a cantilever style. The final building was fantastic. It looked and felt like something really special from medieval Europe. I suspect there is nothing else quite like it in Canada.

One has to admire John Shaw-Rimmington and his team of master craftsmen for their skill and hard work. Over a thousand visitors came during the festival and experienced a magnificent three days of entertainment.

To read all about it and the very varied activities going on in North America visit

Monday, October 27, 2008

Rocktober Canada 4

One of the students on the course, Sean Donnelly, returned to his property and rebuilt a long section of retaining wall. The photos show a before and after where he has added a neat set of steps.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Rocktober in Canada 3

During the Thanksgiving Dry Stone Festival at Cornish Hollow in Ontario I was involved in teaching a group of students . They were constructing a wall typical of those found in Scotland with upright coping stones.Although some of the participants were experienced mortar masons most had done little dry stone work before and together they produced a very solid, long lasting and beautiful stretch of wall. Congratulations to all , Bob Wiskera, Margaret Abernathy, Phil Abernathy, Richard Portelance, Cameron Leseur, Sean Donnelly, Neil Innes, Vivian Walsworth, Sandra Pillar, Myriam Lefebvre, John Scott and Marguerite Long.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Rocktober in Canada 2

One of the fine craftsmen I met up with this October was Dean McLellan. He was faced with a daunting task of building a wall with granite rocks and boulders which had been rolled about by the North American ice sheet and advancing and retreating glaciers. Dean had the skill to create a beautiful structure from material that many good wallers would have been struggling with. The photos show the starting pile of stone and the finished result. Well done Dean!

Rocktober in Canada

In June 2006 I posted The Cheese Wedge on this blog. It was designed by John Shaw-Rimmington and built by him and some of his professionals in the Niagara Parks Botanic gardens. This year I was privileged to join John in building the follow up feature,The Veg Wedge, along with several of the horticultural students at the gardens.

What a great combination of fun and hard work it was. Many thanks to Darrell, Greg, Nadine, Justine, Josh, Blair, Blane, Luke (and his Dad) Laura, Lawrence, Ellen, Mat and any others that I have missed or misspelt. The concept designed by John and Evan Oxland will be planted in the spring with climbing vegetables. Next year it will be added to the blog again to show the 9 foot structure in its full glory.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Garden wall

These photos were sent to me by David Bourne showing work he has done in his garden in the North of Scotland, a retaining wall with steps and a picnic area. This is a good example of what can be achieved by anyone with a real feeling for rocks. With little formal training David has demonstrated what can be done by ordinary folk . He has made his bit of the planet look cared for. Good luck to him and everyone else who realises what a difference dry stone walling can make, then does something about it.