Swing beam


of Niagara

I’ve finished my self-published book entitled; “Swing Beam Barns of Niagara: Stories of 50 barns built in Ontario circa 1819 to 1884”. It is fitting that the book is now available in 2019, 200 years after the first barn is believed to have been built. Swing beam barns were built for growing, threshing and storing wheat, the big crop of the day in 1800s Upper Canada, then Canada West, then Ontario. I’d love to visit and entertain you and your group with a presentation about some of these stories and the things I’ve unearthed.

If you’d like to learn more about my book, purchase a copy, or have me speak to your group about the book, please send me a message through my CONTACT form. Thanks so much for your interest! 

About The Book

No, swing beams didn’t “swing”. They were huge horizontal beams crossing the width of a barn about 7 feet (2.1 m) above the floor. They provided a large, clear-span work area that permitted a team of horses to walk underneath and “swing” back around under the swing beam after being unhitched from a wagon after it was hauled into the barn. Some barns had a team of horses “swing” around underneath the beam in a merry-go-round method, threshing wheat under the feet, or with a device that did it. Only end posts supported the swing beam. Swing beams were always the thickest and widest beams in the barn, although perhaps not the longest. They were uniform in cross-section throughout the entire beam, or sometimes tapered so they were thicker in mid-span where the stresses on the beam were greatest. Swing beams researched ranged in length from 20 to 36 ft (6 to 11 m) and with cross-sections ranging from 100 in2 (650 cm2) to a ginormous one of 375 in2 (2400 cm2) at its thickest mid-point! In Niagara, almost all swing beams were constructed from white pines that grew to massive heights and girths, some starting to grow in the middle of the 17th century. Swing beams were unique to North America. A couple of barns in my book have two swing beams.

What’s inside

Here is some information from the inside dust cover of the book.

‘This barn book is different from others. Hugh Fraser creates a unique glimpse into our rural past through the stories of 50 swing beam barns still standing today. He writes using “a teaspoon of history sprinkled with a pinch of a tale” to recreate the era when the barns were constructed.

Charming and imaginative fictional vignettes introduce each barn profile. The vignettes reflect events at the time these magnificent old barns were built. Characters witness history as it unfolds: at the world’s first ice hockey game, or as ships pass through the first Welland Canal. The vignettes also reflect broader social themes such as the impact of cutting down vast forests and recollections of past wars.

Each barn profile closes with a section titled, “So, What Really Happened?” Here Fraser’s research into history, Land Registry records and family records & genealogies complete the barn’s story for the reader.

Individual barn profiles contain architectural details and structural diagrams, and unique features are shown in Fraser’s photographs, drawings and 3D views throughout the book.

More general topics include: what is a swing beam? structural components of swing beam barns; challenges of dating barns; design changes through early, mid and late eras of swing beam barn construction; Niagara before settlers built swing beam barns and the history of the Ontario wheat industry.

This book will appeal to a wide range of readers. Whether you choose to browse through the book, or are a barn enthusiast or history buff engaged completely from beginning to end, the history of these barns will enchant.’



Photos and Schematics

About the author.

Here’s a little about me, the author, also from the book’s dust cover.

‘Hugh Fraser’s love of old-fashioned farm ways started when he grew up on not one, but two Quebec dairy farms—his Fraser family farm until age 11, and then his adopted Bulow family farm. Hugh’s upbringing fostered his love of family history and he considers himself lucky as to how things in his life have unfolded.

As a teen, Hugh spent part of each summer helping at his grandmother’s farm. They still used real horse-power to bring in the hay for their dairy cattle. Hugh drove a team of work horses before driving a car!

Hugh’s career as an agricultural engineer for the Ontario government gave him the opportunity to visit well over a thousand farms, many with old barns. He can recall the layout and unique features of every barn he has ever visited. He is also adept at explaining technical things in a fun way to non-technical audiences.

The owner of the consulting firm OTB Farm Solutions, he specializes in issues facing farmers within the urban shadow.

Hugh and Judith live in St. Catharines, Ontario and have three married children and two grandsons.’