The Mowat Monument on the Move

The Boat Roofed House Monument Inscription:

   “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 1960’s. 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.

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Mowat’s book “The Farfarers: Before the Norse” published in 1998, a non-fictional book was the inspiration for the Boat House Monument. His thesis was that even before the Vikings, North America was discovered and settled by Europeans originating from Orkney, an archipelago off the north/west coast of Scotland. These sailors would have been in search of seal skin and walrus. After many generations using Iceland and Greenland as ‘stepping stones’ they reached the western shores of Newfoundland.

Another of Farley’s books, “The Boat Who Would’nt Float” seems to fit the theme of this post very well! The story is about his tiring of life ashore, so he decided to find a sturdy boat in Newfoundland and would “roam the salt sea over, free as a bird”. What he found was “The worst boat in the world.   She leaked like a sieve and her engine only worked when she felt like it. On her maiden voyage, with the engine stuck in reverse, she backed out of the harbor under full sail. And she sank regularly!” However Mowat, his rag- tag crew (and his wife) did coax the old boat from Newfoundland to Lake Ontario.

This post is not so much about Farley Mowat (1921-2014) “The Port Hope Icon” but the move of Farley’s largest and most unique monument by the same team of wallers who constructed the original. David Pamenter, is the chairman of a committee of 12 people putting the events together culminating in the move of this monument. He was quoted in the Northumberland News, “People think of Farley Mowat as a story-teller and he was but all his stories have a message. He was not just telling stories for the fun of it. They all had a message and they were generally about some type of ecological issue”. One of Farley’s many quotes was “I write every day. I’m always in the process of writing my last book…until the next one!”

The Boat Roofed House replica is approximately half the size of the originals used by “The Farfarers”. Originally intended to be built on public property, but the town council of the day did not support the concept as “they felt it didn’t fit in with the heritage attributes of the town”.   The 2oldguyswalking blog site does not get involved in religion or politics, so I will carry on here without comment. In 2006 it was decided to build the monument on private property owned by Farley’s long- time friend Stephen Smith at 20 Catherine Street, Port Hope. The monument was built in three days and many town residents went down to watch the progress and listen to jazz musicians playing for their entertainment. Mowat fully supported the building of the monument and attended the opening in 2006. He died in 2014, two years too early to appreciate his monuments prominent new location in his adopted home town of Port Hope.

The monument was slowly becoming a major tourist attraction, but it was located on a small street hidden away even from most Port Hoper’s. It is amazing that tour buses regularly found and maneuvered this short, hilly street to get to it. As the private property was recently sold it has become necessary find a new location for the massive monument.

Port Hope’s mayor, Bob Sanderson and town council were very supportive when approached by Stephan Smith for a public space to re-locate the Boat Roofed House. After public consultation the Eastside Ganaraska Park bordering Mill Street was selected. The monument can now be seen from the second floor of the Port Hope Library, from library space dedicated to Farley Mowat.

The week of Monday, October 3 to Sunday October 9, 2016 was scheduled for the great move.   On October 3, the planning for the massive move began. The master stone waller John Shaw-Rimmington and crew including dry stone waller Norman Haddow from Scotland, spent some time mapping and labelling the stones to be sure they could precisely re-assemble them at the new site.

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Stone wallers comic relief

A dry stone or ‘dry stack’ is a wall constructed from stones without the use of mortar. As with any drystone construction, the structural integrity comes from the compression force of the rocks and the precise interlocking of the stones. Note: the interior of this structure is filled with stones. This is not necessarily for structure support but for liability insurance to keep the inquisitive out of it. Wall construction, artwork, buildings, bridges and other structures have used this interesting technic that will last for centuries. Look for many other examples of dry stone walling in and around Port Hope.

Amazingly, this Boat Roofed Structure utilizes about 30 tons of random quarried ‘chocolate’ limestone quarried from near Madoc, Ontario and supplied by Upper Canada Minerals. The boat itself is a 25 foot ‘double-ender’ life boat salvaged from a retired freighter, and was lifted by crane and moved to the new site on the first day. For the next few days, a crew of seven stone ‘wallers’ from Scotland, the United States and Canada worked on re-assembling the base of the structure at its new location. Local residents billeted the crew members and local businesses generously offered to supply meals. The Town of Port Hope has donated the land, some staff and equipment to help in the monument move. The moving committee set a fund raising goal of $20,000 to cover the costs of bringing in the stone ‘wallers’ and not only met it, surpassed it.

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Midweek progress

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On Saturday, October 8, a “wheel barrow parade” of residents and officials symbolically moving stones from Catherine St. to the new site and led by pipers delighted the crowd gathered for day long activities at the town park. With many kid’s activities, a live owl and other birds of prey show presented by the Ontario Falconry Centre, various author readings at the library and the unveiling of the Farley Mowat bronze bust donated by the family rounded out the day.

Sunday, October 9 featured a Farley Mowat display and refreshments in the library and was followed by the re-dedication of the Boat Roofed House at 3 p.m.

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The2oldguyswalking would like to thank the stone wallers for their time answering our questions and posing for pictures as we checked in on their progress every day of the week for this post.

Regards, Ranger.

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