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Walbridge Barn Now a Museum

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--March 9, 2011.

larger_walbridge.opening.2.jpgOver a hundred people were on hand for the official ribbon-cutting last summer at the famous 12-sided Walbridge Barn in Mystic, near Bedford. Classified as a heritage site by the province of Quebec in 2004, the barn was built in 1882 by industrialist and gentleman farmer Alexander Walbridge.

After remaining in the Walbridge family for generations, the unique barn, along with the surrounding property, is now the property of the Walbridge Conservation Area Foundation, which is made up largely of Walbridge descendants and which manages the property. An agreement has been reached, however, with the Missisquoi Historical Society, which is based in Stanbridge East, whereby the historical society will use the barn to display its extensive collection of rarely seen agricultural artifacts.

Members of the Walbridge family, including Frances Walbridge, Alexander Walbridge's granddaughter, were on hand for the grand opening last summer. So too were board members, staff and volunteers of the Missisquoi Historical Society, all of them beaming with pride at their brand new exhibition space.

MHS President Michel Barrette said that the project had been several years in the making. None of it, he said, would have been possible without the foresight and generosity of the Walbridge family, and the foundation they created to manage their illustrious ancestor's legacy. Barrette explained that about three years ago, the foundation and the historical society "approached one another" about collaborating on a project to restore the barn to its former grandeur and put it to an appropriate use.

According to a plaque on the wall of the barn, the restoration cost in excess of a half a million dollars. The lion's share of the funding came from the Ministry of Culture and from various members of the Walbridge family, with significant contributions from other charitable foundations, the MRC, the Municipality of Saint-Ignace-de-Stanbridge (where Mystic is located), and numerous private and corporate donors. The bill for the interior museum exhibition came in around $150,000, about two-thirds of which was funded by the Ministry of Culture, Barrette said. The exhibition and the conversion of the barn to its new vocation were overseen by the Montreal-based firm, Cultura.

larger_walbridge.opening.1.jpg"This is truly a dream come true for all of us," said Barrette of the restored barn with its beautiful exhibition space. That sentiment was echoed by MHS Vice-President François Reid and by Missisquoi Museum staffers Heather Darch, Judy Antle and Pamela Realffe, all of whom were present for the ribbon-cutting.

A stroll around the two levels of the barn reveals an array of fascinating agricultural artifacts large and small, with bilingual interpretive panels and other colourful displays, all with this highly unusual barn as a backdrop. Each of the twelve bays, or mows, within the structure is devoted to a different theme related to the agricultural past of Missisquoi County.

Suspended from the top of the barn's conical ceiling, the original mechanism for rotating a large turntable in the centre of the barn is still in place. The turntable, much like the railroad turntables of days gone by, enabled fully laden wagons to enter the barn and to be rotated to the appropriate storage bay, where they would then be unloaded.

Both the Walbridge Foundation and the Missisquoi Historical Society hope that the Walbridge Barn will become an important regional heritage attraction, which, together with the Missisquoi Museum in Stanbridge East, will help to preserve and promote the history of this part of the Eastern Townships.

The Walbridge Barn will be open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., from the end of May to mid-October. An admission fee of $10.00 will give visitors access to the barn as well as to the Missisquoi Museum's Cornell Mill and Hodge's General Store in Stanbridge East.