Saskatoon StarPhoenix Review - Legacy of Stone

Reviewed by: Ted Hainworth

Stone, as any farmer will tell you, is a pain in the lowe back -- sometimes lower. But, far beyond being an agricultural nuisance, stone is a stalwart building block of Saskatchewan's culture.

Aboriginal history was painted and etched on rock walls. Stone medicine wheels mark sacred sites. Then, as Europeans pushed their way into a new land, stone took on a few form and structure. 

Legacy of Stone speaks for Saskatchewan's pioneers through three essential elements in their lives: Where they lived, where they worked, and where they worshipped.

This is a gem of a book, priceless in both appearance and substance. Meticulously researched and illustrated with contemporary and archival photographs, it is truly a history of Saskatchewan -- written in stone. As such, it is as much about the people who populated these buildings as of the buildings themselves.

Saskatchewan boasts anywhere from 500 to 1,000 stone buildings, most constructed in the 19th and early 20th centuries during the period of intense immigration and settlement. The use of stone as a building material only declined as lumber because available on newly constructed rail lines.

Legacy of Stone tells the stories of a representative 50 stone buildings that exist today in widely varying stages of restoration and disrepair. Happily, however, a great many of them have weathered the winters quite well.

Even so, "continues to deteriorate" is a phrase that resonates throughout much of the book, often as it applies to churches, barns and public buildings that have fallen into disuse. While stone may seem immutable to a large extent, when held together by mortar, it becomes subject to the proverbial ravages of time.

Residential structures have fared much better, especially those in urban settings. These stone houses have been rehabilitated - distinct from renovated - coming into the hands of loving new owners who have brought them back to their former glory.

Consider a Saskatoon example: the Bruce Residence on Temperance Street, which traces its lineage to land owned by the Temperance Society, a former mayor and a respected surgeon and horse breeder. It then entered a period of decline, until 2000, when Ward and Annette Stebner came on the scene and began a program of research and restoration that restored just about every original detail.

However, passionate as they are about the house, Ward is cautious about the ownership of the artifact. "We're only custodians," he says, speaking perhaps for many of those who have taken on the task of preserving - and appreciatin - these structures. Annette adds: "We're all temporary. The house will still be here long after we're gone. We're looking after it so that others can enjoy it as much as we do."

While each of the 50 structures comes with a story of the builder and early residents, none is more poignant and sad than the story of the chapel as the Saskatchewan Hospital in North Battleford. The mortuary chapel in the hospital for the insane was built by Emil Schoen, a German bricklayer who was admitted to the hospital in 1921 at the age of 35, and remained a patient until he died in 1970. He was buried from the chapel.

Legacy of Stone benefits from an historian's perspective - Korvemaker spent 25 years with the Heritage Branch of Saskatchewan Culture, Youth and Recreation; and a writer's craftsmanship - Hryniuk is the co-author of a couple of histories, A Tower of Attraction: An Illustrated History of Government House and Regina: A City of Beautiful Houses. Easton is a professional photographer and editor for the Regina Photo Club. 

Legacy of Stone is a book that should be in every Saskatchewan library. Doubtless it will be featured prominently in next year's Saskatchewan Book Awards.

Readers who marvel at the workmanship displayed in Legacy of Stone might enjoy a primer on the craft, presented by stonemason Charles McRaven (Storey Publishing, $26.95). Stonework, softcover manual, explains a range of basic techniques and construction principles. 

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