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'The Barn' springs to life in Pemberton's downtown

Pemberton's newest public space showcases traditional timber frame construction



With the construction of a new timber frame barn in its downtown, Pemberton has gained both a beautiful focal point and considerable public gathering space. At 150 feet long and 50 feet wide, The Barn, as it is currently known, is the town's largest community space. It's also a genuine community project, built largely by volunteer labour provided by the Timer Framers Guild, a community of traditional timber frame builders, and the community of Pemberton.

For the last two weeks the site has been a hive of activity with upwards of 60 people measuring, sawing and preparing 60,000 board feet of timber, from 12 inch x 12 inch milled purlins, the longitudinal supports for the roof, to magnificent, five-tonne, 200-year-old fir logs. In all, 660 pieces of lumber were prepped, fabricated into specific sections of the barn, laid out on the ground and hoisted into place. It took close to 20,000 construction hours. And the entire construction process was completed in two weeks.

On May 22 to May 23, the building site, which had been an ad hoc parking lot in the winter months and the home of the Pemberton Farmer's Market in the summer, was the busiest place in town. People lined the street, some with their own lawn chairs, watching in awe as the barn was raised. Kindergarten children pressed up against the fencing trying to get the best views as the cranes swung the enormous pieces of into place. Local government officials and staff looked on with pride.

"It's a great building, it pays homage to the valley's history, both farming and logging," said Daniel Sailland, CAO for the Village of Pemberton.

A community space that reflected the town's heritage had been on the books since 2009, when council adopted the Downtown Enhancement Strategy. Four years later, when the Whistler Backcomb Foundation granted the village $240,000 towards developing such an amenity, the project began to take shape. And when Suzanne Belanger, the VOP's special projects coordinator discovered the Timber Framer's Guild (TFG) would build such a structure for free, things began to really move.

"It was an amazing opportunity, we were able to get a $1 million dollar building for $75,000," said Sailland.

That money will cover the cost of roofing the barn — work that the TFG does not do. What the TFG does is move around North America building community structures such as covered bridges, gazebos and pavilions using traditional timber framing methods. The TFG was established in 1984 to generate interest in a construction style that had fallen out of favour at the turn of the 20th century. All the work they've done has been free, whether working with individual communities or Habitat for Humanity. Many of the guild's 1,400 members use their vacation time to hone their craft while helping communities realize structures that otherwise would be cost prohibitive. TFG chapters exist around the world with members coming from all skill levels, from journeyman carpenters to folks who are simply fans of the style.

"Everyone is welcome in the TFG," said Susan Witter, who has been producing the group's newsletter since 1994. The Bellingham, Washington based writer/editor first became involved with the organization when her husband joined.

"My husband passed away 10 years ago but I keep doing the newsletter because I don't want it to fall by the wayside, I want to be able to hand it off to someone else who really cares."

Another member involved in the TFG for almost 20 years is project manager Randy Churchill. He said that every construction project the group has undertaken has been a positive experience, and Pemberton is no exception.

"The people have been great, they've all been so friendly," said the former college professor.

Churchill is equally positive about the barn itself, among the largest structures the organization has ever built.

"The logs we used came from Mt. Currie and are 200 years old, with a little maintenance, a coat of stain every now and then and a new roof when it's needed, this building will last much longer than those trees have been around."

TFG member, Bruce Lindsay, described the barn this way: "It's a piece of art you can walk in, work in and experience."

Helping to create this piece of art were a number of Pembertonians such as John Tschopp, 68 and Bob Gilmore, 77. The two men spent three-and–a-half weeks milling the timbers for the purlins. And Tschopp's portable mill made it possible to finish the wood a few hundred metres from where the building now stands.

"I've lived in the valley all my life," said Tschopp, "I wanted to give back. And this was a good way to do that."

Local builder, Scott Latimer, echoed Tschopp's sentiments adding, "As a carpenter I thought this would be a really interesting project, so I decided to come out."

One of the beneficiaries of Latimer, Tschopp and Gilmore and countless others' generosity will be the Pemberton Public Market, which has always been subject to the whims of weather. Market organizer Shireen Sumariwalla, is enthusiastic about the possibilities the new space offers.

"It really solidifies the commitment by the VOP and other stakeholder groups who support the market," said Sumariwalla. "It's the best advertising campaign we could never afford!"

In addition to showcasing the popular Wednesday market, the space will also host community events including performances and barn dances. Private functions, such as weddings, will also likely use the space.

While the Farmer's Market kicks off June 18, The Barn officially opens July 16 with a ceremonial ribbon cutting.

For more information about the Timber Framers Guild, visit


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