In Farley Mowat's book the Farfarers a seafaring people from the British Isles are depicted as having sailed over a thousand years ago to Arctic Canada in fragile skin covered double-ender boats in search of walrus skins. After a long season of hunting along the coastal regions of Labrador, Newfoundland and parts of northern Quebec, many of these Pre-Viking adventurers had to endure a long winter before returning home across the Atlantic.
What does all this have to do with Dry Stone Walling? There are some very intriguing archaeological stone structures that have been discovered in the areas where these early visitors to Canada hunted, which suggest that they may have supported their upside-down boats on curved dry stone walls, living in these 'boat-roofed houses' until they could sail back home in the spring. If this is so, these structures point to a heritage of dry stone walling here in Canada much earlier than anyone had imagined.
Members of the DSWAC and the DSWA of the UK reconstructed one of these ancient longboat houses during the Northumberland Dry Stone Wall Festival at the 20 Catherine Street site, three blocks from Hill and Dale Bed & Breakfast, Port Hope, where other dry stone walling festivals have been held.
Here in Ontario, places like Amherst Island, Prince Edward County, Balsam Lake, Caledon, and Queenston, have many fine examples of walls that have a proud, though for the most part, still undocumented history surrounding their construction. Many newer Canadian garden features, made of dry laid natural stone, point back to this heritage of dry stone walling, whether it be a past of clearing fields here in Canada or the memories of miles and miles of beautiful tightly stacked walls built longer ago, back across the Atlantic.
We used nearly 30 tons of random quarried chocolate limestone from the Madoc area ( generously supplied by Upper Canada Minerals) to simulate the stone that was collected and stacked together in order to build these early boat-shaped structures found in remote parts of Canada. The rocks we chose represented the type of sedimentary rocks found in Newfoundland, limestones formed between the Precambrian and the Palaeozoic period of Newfoundland's geological history which would have been gathered by these early 'Farfarers' to build structures (such as cairns and beacons) for marking important locations as well as (black-houses and boat-roofed houses) for protective dwellings.
The men and women, who came Canadian Thanksgiving 2006 to build this structure, had all been invited by the Dry Stone Walling Across Canada to demonstrate their expertise as wallers and to celebrate the art of dry stone walling as it has now begun its resurgence in North America. Coming from Scotland, the United States, and many parts of Canada, they were all challenged to work together and use their imagination to complete this rather unusual dry stone installation during the three days of this 3rd Northumberland Dry Stone Wall Festival. From Scotland, Norman Haddow, Master Craftsman, headed up the project and passed on much of his expertise with big stones to those who were working with him.
On the Monday afternoon of the Festival, after the boat shaped walls had been completed to the specific dimensions of the hull, the 25 foot double-ender boat that DSWAC and Port Hope community members had prepared, was carefully lifted onto its new dry stone stone base.
On Saturday afternoon, October 28th at 3pm there was a special presentation and an unveiling of the plaque commemorating the completion of the dry stone representation of the boat-roofed house Farley describes in his book The Farfarers. This unusual dry stone structure will be a landmark and a point of interest for those visiting Port Hope, both in its value as an example of early dry stone walling in North America and as a monument honouring Port Hope as Farley Mowat's home. Farley and Claire Mowat will be there as well as other prominent dignitaries. In a way, this dry stone boat-roofed house installation not only synthesizes the long history of building with stone in Canada, but it also looks back over the career of Farley Mowat and stands as a monument to the many wonderful books he has written. While the Boat That Wouldn't Float (written by Farley in the 1980's), stands as an earlier bookmark to a long career of successful writing, this structure, taken from an idea in Farley’s later writings, stands as a ‘bookmark in stone’ for his continued output in the new millennium. Seen in its new skin, creatively speaking, this structure may be just a different kind of 'boat that wouldn't float' !
Afterwards Stephen Smith ( whose property the monument was built on) spoke a few words and then Farley was invited to read the inscription on the plaque.
'Eight hundred years before Columbus sailed to the New World, seafaring walrus hunters and traders from Great Britain’s Northern Isles are believed to have landed in north eastern Canada, even before the Vikings arrived.
Venturing far from their homes, the adventurers sailed double-ended, open boats sheathed in walrus hides. As winter swept a hostile, treeless land, they flipped their light, translucent vessels on to dry stone foundations and used them as snug, boat-roofed houses.
This small-scale replica was inspired by archaeologist Thomas Lee’s excavations in Ungava, northern Quebec in the 1960s. It celebrates Canadian author and Port Hope resident Farley Mowat, who told the story of this long-forgotten people in The Farfarers.'
--Port Hope Friends of Farley Mowat, 2006