Barn quilts are mostly not on barns … Who knew?

Around the Nation

A column by Tom Van Dusen

As a veteran agriculture and rural life reporter, I don’t know how I missed the barn quilt phenomenon bordering on cult. Imported from Ohio, it took root in Ontario at least a decade ago.

It was on a weekend trip to Prince Edward County fronting Lake Ontario below Belleville that it suddenly occurred to me: “What are these paintings that look like quilt blocks all over everything?”

I mean everything! The concept was originally about decorating barns with overgrown quilt pieces in different sizes as a tourist attraction but then they spread to churches, parks, private homes, and billboards.

Everywhere you look in PE County now, your eyes are likely to land on another quilt painting. Arrrgh! I jest… they’re all very attractive. There are even mapped barn-quilt trails to lead you to the paintings, describe the patterns and explain what they represent.

One of the latest communities to sign on to the phenom is Ottawa’s rural Osgoode Ward. Coordinated by Osgoode Township Museum, there was an announcement in this very news service, and somehow I missed it, leaving me in the dark about this project continuing through Sept. 30 and barn quilts in general. It was like being struck by lightning when it all finally got through to me.

Van Dusen photo, Nation Valley News

At this juncture, I must apologize for not getting any photos of barn quilts on actual barns. By the time I shook the cobwebs free, I was headed home and could only capture a quilt in front of a church, one at a café beside a flower pot man, and the grand prize… a full quilt painted on curved wood in a Bloomfield park. I hope this at least partly satisfies your uncontrollable urge to view barn quilts.

We headed into the county Saturday morning, crossing on the free Glenora ferry, after an overnighter in Kingston Friday where crowds were milling, couples were posing, family picture-taking was de rigueur, cafés were spilling out onto the sidewalk. There was a solid clutch of people, some masked, most not; in the street, social distancing was simply not in the mix.

COVID? What COVID? Not quite, but the partiers weren’t being deterred by the pandemic, which seems to have lost a good chunk of its fear factor. Not only is COVID not anywhere near as scary as when it blew onto the scene in March, it’s getting downright boring.

Sure, we still pay a little attention to the daily COVID count but with about the same level of interest as we check the weather. The feeling I got people watching from a prominent patio is that most Ontarians now are prepared to just grin and bear it.

As we were seated outside, masks weren’t necessary; we were asked to wear one if we entered the bar to use the facilities. Otherwise, it was close to a typical night out with like-minded people enjoying good food and adult beverages.

We reserved at six-floor Confederation Place, one of those hotels on the strip that seem to have been around forever, but it’s only been 30 to 40 years. In my mind we paid too much at $190 taxes-in but they had us under the gun for late booking on a long weekend.

At $250 a night, we also paid too much in PE County for a room in the Picton Harbour Inn, a very picturesque location. Yes, I understand you’ve got to pay for the ambiance along with the bed, especially during C-19 times when everybody wants to visit the charming county so close to home.

As for COVID precautions, we were asked to mask up when in the hotel office and when ordering at the outdoor patio. The rest of the time, masks were in the pocket or purse. At Huff Estates Winery, we put on the masks to enter then quickly abandoned them for tastings and delicious pizza made right on the spot. The bill for two: $85… but hey, on a mini vacay frugal practices are discarded like yesterday’s mask, right! And let’s not forget barn-quilt viewing was free!

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