Barrels of fun

Staff ~ Transcontinental Media
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Back in the days when most goods were shipped by barrel, coopering or barrel-making was a skilled trade and coopersmen were in high demand.

Many Newfoundland fish merchants had their own cooperage in order to produce a constant supply of barrels for shipping fish, such as the Lester-Garland family in Trinity.

Back in the days when most goods were shipped by barrel, coopering or barrel-making was a skilled trade and coopersmen were in high demand.

Many Newfoundland fish merchants had their own cooperage in order to produce a constant supply of barrels for shipping fish, such as the Lester-Garland family in Trinity.

Of course, as the need to ship goods in barrels decreased, cooperages gradually disappeared.

Since 2003, the Trinity Historical Society has been working to rebuild the cooperage on the former Lester-Garland mercantile property, and in 2004 the society applied for funding to provide coopering training to a local resident.

The aptly named Lester Cooper traveled to Ross Farms, N.S., and was training in barrel-making thanks to a grant from the Department of Tourism, Culture and Recreation's Cultural Economic Development Program.

But reconstruction of the cooperage in Trinity is a slower process than the historical society expected, and Cooper's new barrel-making skills will have to wait - he's working as a supervisor at the Trinity Museum until the project is complete.

It took two years alone for the necessary applications to be made, tweaked, resubmitted and approved. By the time funding was granted, summer season was underway and it was decided to delay the archaeology work on the site until the fall. In October 2006, Roy Skanes led a team of two field assistants in the completion of a dig on the site of the old building, where they found remains of the footings and the hearth.

With winter approaching, the reconstruction was delayed until spring 2007, when four men began erecting the 2 1/2-storey building next to the archeology site. The plans were based on old paintings, charts, diagrams and photographs of the old cooperage.

Construction was completed in 12 weeks. The first floor will be used for demonstrations in barrel-making and will include a display of cooper's tools. The second floor will be used to prepare merchandise for sale.

Phase 3 of the project is the interpretation plan for the building. Jane Severs Interpretative Planning won the contract to design the informative panels that will interpret the history of the coopering trade.

The cooperage will officially open in May or June, said historical society project coordinator Jim Miller.

"It will begin at first producing on a small scale a selection of items such as barrels and flower boxes," he said. "As with the Green Family Forge (in Trinity), the start-up will be slow with the making of product. However, the society eventually hopes to turn this site, its second living history museum, into another success story.

"The society is currently looking for functional tools for the cooperage," Miller added.

Anyone with any cooper's tools for sale, or if anyone has any to donate, contact the historical society at (709) 464-3599 or e-mail info@trinityhistoricalsociety.com.

Funds for the cooperage were also provided by the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency and the provincial Rural Development Department's Regional/Sectoral Diversification Fund.

Organizations: Trinity Historical Society, Department of Tourism, Trinity Museum Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency Rural Development Department Sectoral Diversification Fund

Geographic location: Trinity, Newfoundland, Ross Farms

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