Located near Kingston Ontario, Amherst Island has one of the most significant concentrations of historic dry stone wall anywhere in Canada. Our recent visit John Shaw-Rimmington and I took to the island was rewarded not only by the quality of the walls we came across, but also by the great care and respect given these rustic walls by the local residents. Under the expert guidance of Bill Hedges, the local groups gather to repair sections in need of attention or to restore areas long since over grown. Bill's newer work matches the existing dry stone walls beautifully with little noticeable repair areas showing; testament to not only his skill but the care he takes ensuring the look of the old walls is kept as true to the original as possible.
An interesting aspect we found with the walls on the island was the lack of a batter. Most of the walls were built almost vertically. Normally this would decrease the longevity of the walls. However, the island has a unique aspect to it lending to this being less of an issue; the bedrock is very close to the surface suggesting less impact from frost. Besides this, the stone itself is unique in that it has an almost sand paper texture giving an extremely abrasive surface. These two items have definitely led to a longer life span for the walls regardless of the vertical batter.
The day we were there, Joyce Haines (now past president of the Amherst Island Women’s Institute who invited originally Bill to come and help train people to rebuild the walls) and several other women, were busy at Pentland Cemetery on Front Road, just east of Stella, rebuilding the walls long since overgrown and starting to fall down. After only a few years, involving several walling sessions, Bill, Joyce and Judith Harrower, along with other local volunteers, had done extensive work already on the west wall bringing it back to its former glory.
Other walls can be found throughout different parts of the island. One section has a beautiful high curve leading to a section with two round pillars as the entrance to the Hitchins’ farm. A long stretch of older wall along the road side near the farm can be found quite easily as well as an enclosed area near one house just west of Stella. There the trees have encroached on the walls causing most of the damage. Still, not bad for walls over 140 years old!
It was such a pleasure to find a community that not only appreciated the beauty of the walls but were concerned enough to preserve the history and technique as well. Keep up the great work and we only hope you pass along your passion to future generations.