Dry stone wall builders gather on Amherst Island for annual festival
It was a symphony of hammers and chisels on Amherst Island this weekend for the annual Dry Stone Festival, where dozens of dry stone wall builders converged from around the world.
It’s a unique skill to build the dry stone barrier. From the ground up, builders will make a foundation, then work together to make a wall that can last for generations.
“By doing that, you create a barrier to keep your animals inside so that it’s functional,” says Jacob Murray, organizer of the event.
Building the wall takes a lot of work. Using field stones that you can find on a farmer’s field, they gather the rocks, then chip the rock into a shape that will fit in the wall. Although it is hard work, those who do it have a passion for the skill and creations they end up with.
“There’s such a creativity and a personality that can be put into the art of walling,” says David Wilson. The 56-year-old travelled to the festival all the way from Edinburgh, Scotland, and has been building dry stone walls for more than 30 years. He started working as an artist and realized after travelling around the world how stone could be used in his art.
“It’s a very flexible material; you can be very creative with it,” Wilson says. “Within my kind of projects, I will do gateways or features and I’ll include different techniques.”
The international collection of wall builders spent most of the weekend assembling a huge community wall. They used more than 150 tonnes of different types of rocks for the project.
“Boulders and limestone mixed together. This was all stones that were cleared by our ancestors,” Murray says.
Louise Price made the trek from Belfast, Ireland. She’s been walling in the country for years and is part of the dry stone festival there. The passion, she says, comes from the cultural identity that can be associated with the trade.
“I just connected with the material, I think, and the people,” Price said. “The whole stories around the walls, making the walls, building them together.”
Price says one thing that is memorable for everyone involved is that you not only build walls, but long-lasting friendships as well.
“It’s good for your soul, good for your heart, good for your community,” she said. “It makes good neighbours.”
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