Among American poet Robert Frost’s best known lines is one about how “good fences make good neighbors.” As a homeowner I have discovered that this can be true. And I’ve pretty much always had good neighbours.
Driving the back roads of Renfrew County, traveling along the Opeongo Line, we got distracted by a sign that read “historic fence.” Just what is a historic fence? We had to make the turn, drive down the road and see for ourselves.
After all, when you think of historic fences there are certain things that come to mind: the Great Wall of China, Hadrian’s Wall, the Berlin Wall and Trump’s Wall (though that one may turn out to be mythical). What could be historic about a fence in the middle of nowhere, so far from civilization that there was no cellular phone service on any of our phones from three different providers?
I wasn’t expecting much, figuring it to be just something of local curiosity. But there was a brass plaque beside the fence, placed there by the Province of Ontario, giving its history. Turns out someone had thought it important to preserve this example of 19th century fence-making.
It is quite different from the modern fence just a couple of kilometres up the road. In comparison the newer, machine-made version, looks slapped together and inconsequential. The handmade fence has withstood almost 150 years – four feet high, six feet across.
There was no need for such an elaborate, almost fortress-like, fence in rural Ontario in 1870. But farmers had to do something with the stones that littered their land if they wanted to cultivate it. To say it was rocky ground is probably an understatement. What they had been promised in Scotland and Germany was free land of their own. That was the incentive to make the long trip to Canada. This land though was not hospitable. It amazes me that those early settlers persevered.
Indeed, the family of the man who built the wall did eventually give up farming. They turned the land back over to the province. Nothing can grow there, or at least nothing of crop value. However, they tried for almost a century before giving up. Germans tend to be tenacious.
At some point someone decided to preserve this fence as an example of the way things used to be done, as a tribute to those early settlers who built this province through hard work and enduring hardships with only s faint hope of prosperity.
It’s a worthy tribute. Problem is, back here in the wilds, nobody ever sees it.