Monday, July 11, 2011

O Quebec III: The Dodecagonal Barn

Watercolor by Hallie Cohen

Canada was briefly the home of the great futuristic thinker Buckminster Fuller, made famous for, among other things, the Geodesic Dome. The Eastern Townships of Lower Quebec, right over the border from Vermont, are backwaters compared to major centers like Toronto and Montreal, famed for McGill University and the great Canadian-Jewish comic novelist Mordecai Richler. In short, the Eastern Townships aren’t usually thought of as hotspots of futuristic thinking. But when you travel to the town of Saint-Ignace-de-Stanbridge, you will find the dodecagonal barn, built by a railroad engineer named Alexander Walbridge in 1882. The barn originally featured a hydraulic-powered turntable on which horses could unload hay without having to go through the laborious process of backing up. The barn, which has been turned into a museum, was also innovative in the ways it dealt with heat and light. Walbridge was influenced by other “progressive thinkers” of his time like Elliot Steward and Orson S. Fowler, who had built polygonal barns. The sleepy environs of the townships, with mail boxes that read La Voix de L’Est and villages with names like Bedford and Dunham, pointing to the area’s mixture of French and English heritage, provided the roots for the progressive thinking about environment and energy that would emerge from visionaries like Fuller almost a century later. 

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