Dry Stone Wall

Topsy Farms wanted a dry stone wall, so we invited Dry Stone Canada to hold its annual festival here on the farm this past September. The plan: to harvest stones from our farmland to build a functional barnyard wall.

Field stones are a staple of modern, urban landscaping. Field stones are a challenge in a field but a useful resource when properly stacked into a wall. The walls keep the animals in thus creating a micro-climate, improving grass yields and redistributing the sun’s heat at night.

Some Amherst Island neighbours sponsored our Jake to attend the first Tir Connell stone festival in Donegal, Ireland in 2014. He wrote the song “Donegal” after that intensely moving experience. He helped organize the 2015 Dry Stone Wall festival on Amherst Island. Jake was again invited back to Ireland in June 2018, to be a part of the ongoing restoration work, and took his sons to share the experience.

Dry Stone Canada needed a site for their 2018 annual Festival, so Topsy took a financial risk and plunged in. For a month, Jake worked by day and by headlights at night, hauling rocks from our fields, using our top tractor and borrowed equipment.

It was tough timing as it was the first month without newly retired head shepherd, Christopher Kennedy. Kyle was stretched to his utmost, managing the flock. Everyone on the farm, even the kids, stepped up and filled in; the teamwork was outstanding.

“A rock is an unemployed stone”

It was hard to believe that 200 tonnes of piled-up rock-chaos could translate to a functional structure. Every stone in the wall came from our farm; gifts from the glaciers or of the limestone bones of our Island. A drystone wall has a place for all sizes and shapes of material – like the wallers themselves – all fit together with loving care.

This festival took a lot of planning and logistical work. Dry Stone Canada were terrific organizers, helping with the fundraising, registering the maximum 12 students for the Stone Carving Workshop and 30 students for the Walling Workshop. They did great prep work.

The Ontario government approved a matching grant through the Great Waterways RT09. McCormick Excavating, an Island business, loaned us unlimited use of a dumper wagon. Battlefield Napanee  donated a skidsteer loader.

The Back Kitchen and The Lodge on Amherst Island were wholehearted supporters. The McMullen family, Andrea Cross and Bonnie Livingstone were magnificent. Lorna WiIlis and an army of local volunteers provided feasts for and accommodated 100 students, wallers and their families. The MacKinnon Brothers Brewing Co. kept the beer flowing.

That infusion of generosity, and enthusiasm buoyed us tremendously.

We greatly appreciated donations from Home Hardwares in Odessa and Napanee, BGM Metalworks, Rankin Construction and Lafarge. Miller Thompson Advocates helped significantly with the food costs. Thanks to Value Sciences Investment Counsel for sponsoring international guests.

Islanders helped with donations of art for sale and money for tee shirts. We are grateful to them and to our local MP, Mike Bossio, Lennox and Addington County and to Lion’s Club, Odessa. Loyalist Township donated ferry and dump tickets.

The Dry Stone Wall Festival Weekend, September 29 – 30 was a gigantic success.

It was opened by an indigenous ceremony, acknowledging we are merely caretakers of the land, and that the “grandmother” and “grandfather” stones were choosing to help.

Students worked with experienced wallers. All felt the joy of international wallers’ reunions; sparks of energy; inspiration and passion for the work; delight as the lichen-covered stones found their perfect fit.

Troubadours entertained. Vendors displayed. Information tents were popular: Dry Stone Canada, The Ontario Sheep Farmers Association, and a ‘thanks to the following’ tent.

A Kid’s Walling Workshop area was safe and extremely popular.

There was even enough energy and expertise overflow to complete a wall at Jake’s and build a 40-foot repair on a 150-year old stone wall at Kyle’s under the supervision of the Queen’s own Dry Stone Waller, Norman Haddow.

Norman stayed a few more days, building a sheep scratching post in the barnyard on a sloppy day, with the help of Jake, Kyle, and a tractor.

The Wool Shed did a roaring business that weekend, with international and local folks appreciating the beauty of wool. 

This International Dry Stone Wall Festival, with Dry Stone Canada, was a joyful success. Topsy Farms now has a beautiful,110-foot, functional barnyard wall – truly a community project. Come visit and see our wall – it was built with love.