Re-birth of Historic Downtown Brussels…

Change is in the Air……

“Brussels Four Winds Barn – Wedding, Market and Events Centre”

Over the years, the Village of Brussels has made strides to revitalize its historic downtown. With support from the Municipality of Huron East, local community and business groups and numerous student-lead programs lead by the Universities of Guelph and Waterloo, this quaint rural Ontario village is finally starting to show signs of a come-back.

This can be seen in the attractive streetscape and wall murals lining its downtown, the re-birth of the Brussels Public School, the renovation of its cherished Carnegie Library, and the development of walking trails that wind along its tree-lined streets and scenic waterfront.

The latest undertaking is the construction of the Brussels Four Winds Wedding and Event Barn: a visionary, re-purposing project that will incorporate a vintage barn within a multi-functional site hosting community events, weddings, celebrations, bakery and year-round farmers’ market, while providing a venue for the collection of unique shops.

The talk of ‘barn re-purposing’ may beg the question: Does a barn cease to be a barn when it no longer shelters livestock, when haylofts are empty, or when its threshing floor is silent? Perhaps. 
Nevertheless, this structure’s massive, hand-hewn, rock-elm timbers have made the journey to their new home, and will receive a renewed lease on life.Its arrival to downtown Brussels begins another chapter in this local heritage barn’s history.

Built by Alexander Stewart in 1862, the 57’ by 80’ “Wheeler Barn,” as it is known locally, has withstood severe weather, and many years of heavy use, while faithfully serving generations of Stewart and Wheeler homestead families for over 150 years. Once a vital structure, it was now standing unused; it was deteriorating, a testament to the agricultural history of the region, and to an industry much changed.
Enter…..Bryan Morton. While chatting with local property owner and businesswoman Barbara Terpstra, the retired farmer contemplated the notion of moving an old barn to downtown Brussels—and the rest is soon to be history.

Herman Terpstra donated the barn, and skilled Mennonite work crews led by Cleeson and Abram Martin were marshalled. Locals pitched in to arrange food for workers, and Bryan Morton and Project Coordinator Herb Jacobs numbered, catalogued and tagged each piece of timber. The barn was disassembled, new foundations poured, and the former Wheeler Barn was transported piece by piece to its new location, adjacent to the historic Brussels Carnegie Library. 
Its reconstruction has been exciting to watch, and the merging of past and future has indeed been heartwarming to all.This “old-new bank barn” will integrate modern insulation, lighting, and renovations with original barn board, granite stonework, foundation rubble stone, and items such as a vintage curry comb box and a working windmill. The structure will even feature a piece of concrete reading “S.W. 1922” recognizing Stanley Wheeler, who took over the farm from his father in 1919, a tradition handed down by many homesteaders over the years.
Weather vanes will adorn the top of four cupolas perched on the British Columbia red cedar shingled roof of the Four Winds centre, aptly named given that it is sure to draw visitors and shoppers from all directions. This new structure’s design complements the existing Carnegie Library in material and architectural detail, and will not interfere with sight lines to the building’s impressive façade and roofline.

The Four Winds development is a perfect fit for the soon-to-be-implemented Brussels Community Improvement Plan, which will facilitate restoration of historic storefronts along its main street.

Refurbishment of 19th century structures has proven to be an important aspect of archi-tourism, together with renewed economic development. As respected heritage restoration specialist, Dr. Christopher Cooper maintains, “Quaint never goes out of style!” 

 “I have a great fondness for timber-frame barns, and they are rapidly disappearing, being torn down or falling down,” says Bryan Morton. “When I was farming, I was too busy to participate in the community, but it is now time to give back. Providing Brussels with one of my favourite pieces of function and form, just seemed in order.”

 The “Wheeler Barn” therefore remains a barn, but a barn with a new purpose.

To be continued……

For more information contact: Jan Hawley, Economic Development Officer – Municipality of Huron East 519.527.0160

Written for the Municipality of Huron East in collaboration with: Carolyn Parks Mintz, Kylie Hendriks, & Jan Hawley

Photography & Conceptual Drawings prepared by: Lynne Moreland – Westcoast Photography, Dr. Christopher Cooper, Edifice Guild & Atelier and Herb Jacobs, Brussels Four Winds Project Coordinator