How Wardsville Honoured Its Past

Apple Tree

How do you honour your community’s heritage and needleworkers in one fell swoop?  By painting giant quilt block patterns 8-feet square on local timberframe barns.

In 2009, the small village of Wardsville starting thinking about how they would celebrate 200 years of existence. Denise Corneil had caught sight of the rural “barn quilt” phenonomen and was inspired by the Temiskaming Barn Quilt Trail created for a plowing match in northern Ontario. She instantly had a vision. “Let’s design a quilt that tells our community’s story and then paint the quilt blocks on barns!”  The community was puzzled but game.

The Temiskaming project was inspired by a magazine article about barn quilts.  This rural folk art craze started with Donna Sue Groves who wanted to honour her mother and five generations of quilters.  Donna Sue envisioned a painting on the family barn in Adams County, Ohio in 2001.

Ten years later barn quilts have spread across 29 states and into Canada. Over 2000 quilts are part of organized trails. Dozens more are scattered throughout the countryside.

Wardsville’s new quilt project needed inspiration. Local historian, Ken Willis, told them a story.

In 1810, the British Government asked Mr, and Mrs. George Ward to establish a stopping point for travellers along a nasty section of Longwoods Road between Thamesville and Delaware.  The path was impassible most of the year. Travel was “slow, laborious, and perilous”.  Travellers sometimes got lost and died in the Carolinian jungle.

George and Margaret and their young family built Ward’s Landing on the Thames River, supplying provisions and fresh horses to the military. Two years later war broke out.  On March 6, 1814, the Battle of the Longwoods raged two miles east of his homestead. The family suffered many trials and tribulations.  Accused of treason by the British, George Ward went to his grave in 1837 still trying to clear his name.

Wow.  Who knew? The designers poured over patterns, selecting quilt blocks and colours. They invited everyone to lend a hand.  Many experienced and non-experienced quilters visited the quilt frame at Beattie Haven Retirement Home to put in a stitch or two.

When it was unveiled at the United Church May 14th, 2010, the crowd gasped in awe. The next day, the quilt was rolled up and entered in the 2010 International Plowing Match Quilting Competition. The  quilt took second prize – Group category.

Meanwhile, the painting got underway. People started enlarging the 8-inch square designs to 8 feet by 8 feet. Others started applying the masking tape. Everyone learned the cross-hatch technique.  Grade 5/6 Mosa Central public school students learned about their local history and geometry while painting “Old Country Church”.  Twelve students from Glencoe District High School created 2 beautiful blocks in the shop. Everyone got involved.

Four weeks later, thirty blocks were sealed and dry, ready to be displayed at the Bicentennial party on Father’s Day.  The fire department created a gallery in the ball park.  The public showed up and interpreters told the story. For the rest of the summer, night after night, carpenters installed the barn quilts on heritage barns and special places.

Several months later, the community is enjoying its new-found notoriety.  The community has rebranded itself!  No longer the forlorn village, Wardsville has a future!  A film production company has purchased the heritage community hall for their home and studio.  An artist is turning his one-acre heritage school yard into an outdoor art gallery.  After living years in Australia, a local women has returned to build her dream home with the love of her life.  Volunteers are tackling their next project, a park make-over.

Travellers take Longwoods Road instead of the 401 for the fun of spying a new quilt block.  Van loads of quilting enthusiasts stop to talk to the locals.

The Commemoration of the War of 1812 – 1814 begins next June.  Plans are afoot for an “arts corridor” 125 kilometres long: a boulevard to honour the women and children who suffered during that strange war 200 years ago.  A quilt trail to celebrate 200 years of peace.     Quilts to honour needleworkers.


Mary Simpson, June 2011

This project was funded by Heritage Canada

  1. Jane von der Recke

    Just to let you know that our Aughrim Women’s Institute has planned to do the driving tour of the quilts this September. We try to learn new things as we plan our meetings for the year and what a wonderful way to do it! Looking forward to the tour. Jane von der Recke , president Aughrim WI.

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