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This article was published 12/2/2018 (709 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
NEAR GARSON — The pain lingered long after the flames went out.
When Robert and Tammy Belanger awoke to find their 1946-era barn — which they had moved from a neighbour’s property and turned into a wedding and event venue — ablaze, eight years’ work was going up in smoke.
"When it burnt, it was the most devastating thing that’s ever happened to us," Tammy says. "To see the barn burning, and all the antiques we had in it and all the love and hard work we put into it, it was like losing a member of the family."
Today, it isn’t the memory of that awful night in December 2016 that forces Robert to fight back a tear. It’s the response from family, friends, customers and suppliers.
"To me," Tammy says, "when it happened, it was, ‘Well, this was a nice experience, but I guess that was it,’ but then, the couples that were married at our place, suppliers, even the guy who delivered our propane were crying about it.
"That gave us the strength to say, ‘We can do it again.’"
Hawthorn Estates reopens March 10, after 11 months of construction. In the place of the old barn stands a new, timber-framed replacement, complete with kitchen, bride’s room, a groom’s loft and two outdoor wedding venues, one of which is covered in case of rain.
Supporting the structure are massive posts, beams and purlins made from Engelmann spruce sourced from logging routes on British Columbia rivers.
Some 30 years ago, back in the old log-burling days, logging companies used these trees — some as long as 50 feet — as "boomsticks" to corral the logs being floated down rivers.
When those days ended, those boomsticks sunk. Companies are now reclaiming the wood from river bottoms, seasoning it for four years to dry it out and cutting huge timbers for use in timber-frame construction. At Hawthorn, craftspeople retained the traditional timber-frame techniques, which use meticulously cut and chiselled mortices, tenons, scarf joints and hardwood dowels to fasten the structural pieces together.
No screws or nails are used in the frame.
The result is a massive space that demands strict attention to scale and proportion, such as in the massive six-by-six posts in the railings, a huge stone fireplace at one end and an oversized armoire bound for the groom’s loft.
Attention to detail and a careful combination of materials — from the rebar for the railings to reclaimed wood fronting the bar or extending up from the fireplace — gives the barn a rustic, been-here-forever look.
Even the layout of the roof structure has a name: Colorado American horse barn. It sits 40 feet above the floor.
Combined, the space is approximately 6,000 sq. ft. and Robert anticipates an occupancy permit allowing up to 200 guests.
Hawthorn rents out the space and provides bartenders, but customers supply their own liquor permits and arrange for their own catering. While most venues will incorporate the space rental into the per-person rate for food, Robert says the final total is in line with what customers would pay at a golf course or hotel.
"We know what our competition is charging. We know we’re competitive."
While the first barn was insured, "it wasn’t enough. Everybody thinks they have enough insurance, but, really, they don’t," Robert says. "It’s taken us a lot of money to get where we are."
Bookings started the day the Belangers announced they were rebuilding.
"People moved their wedding dates — their wedding dates! — a whole year from 2017 to 2018 just so they could have their wedding here," Tammy says.
Robert says a couple of years after launching the wedding venue, they branched out to include corporate events. The new barn is wired for audio-visual and will have a large screen that will roll out over the fireplace. That fireplace, by the way, is decorative. "We’ve had enough flames here," Tammy says.
The Belangers weren’t always in the event-venue business. Robert was a conservation officer, while Tammy was an interior designer and buyer for a major furniture chain. One winter day in 2006, they moved the original 1946 barn from the neighbour’s property across the road, saving it from demolition and from decay.
"We got it at just the right time," Robert said. "If we’d waited any longer, it would have collapsed.
"It took the movers three days to prep and then about five minutes to move it. We filled the ditches with snow, because snow was free, and it just moved right over."
Eight years of work restoring the structure later, thoughts turned to what to do with the place. "This was just when the whole Pinterest, kitschy thing was starting to take off," Robert says, "so we thought, ‘Why not a wedding venue?’"
The Belangers kick off the second incarnation of Hawthorn Estates with an open house March 10 and 11. The venue is located about five kilometres north of Highway 44 at Garson. RSVPs are requested: www.hawthornestates.ca
Copy Editor, Autos Reporter
Kelly Taylor is a Winnipeg Free Press copy editor and award-winning automotive journalist. He's been a member of the Automobile Journalists' Association of Canada since 2001.