Where it began
Barn Quilts started in Ohio. The book “Barn Quilts and the American Quilt Trail Movement” tells the whole story. Donna Sue Groves loved quilts and she loved barns. When she and her Mother moved to Adams County, Ohio, she got the idea of brightening up the plain tobacco barn on their property. A few years later her creative idea turned into an economic development and tourism project implemented in 2001.
Canada would like to take this opportunity to thank Donna Sue Groves for her vision in starting the barn quilt trail movement in North America.
Temiskaming Ontario 2007
In 2007, Bev Maille, Marg Villneff, and Eleanor Katana in Temiskaming, Ontario were inspired by a barn quilt article in Country Woman magazine. They spearheaded a barn quilt project as part of the International Plowing Match planned for Earlton in 2009 and painted 200 quilt squares. From north of Englehart to Latchford and from Belle Vallee to Elk Lake, barn quilts were installed on barns and historic landmarks in time for the International Plowing Match 2009.
Wardsville Ontario 2009
Denise Corneil’s mother, Eileen, returned from a trip to the U.S. with a barn quilt brochure. Denise was looking for a special idea for the village of Wardsville’s 2010 Bicentennial. She had been working with the village of 300 people on a revitalization project. Everyone was intrigued by the barn quilt idea and the project started with stitching a story quilt commemorating Wardsville’s founders, Mr. and Mrs. George Ward, local characters who played a role in the War of 1812. Each of the 30 blocks was painted by a large team of volunteers and installed in and around the village.
Middlesex, Elgin, Oxford, Norfolk, Brant Counties 2011
Denise wasn’t happy with only 30 beautiful barn quilts in her small village. She was determined to fill the entire Thames River watershed, from Woodstock to the Lake St. Clair, with barn quilts. So she enlisted her friend Mary Simpson to hunt down funders.
In 2011-2012, the Sand Plains Community Development Fund invested in trails across these five counties in south central Ontario. This regional project was initiated by the Elgin Norfolk Oxford Association of Curators, Archivists and Directors. More than 100 quilts on five trails were created.
In Middlesex, Brant and Norfolk Counties, the trails celebrate key events related to the War of 1812. In Elgin County, the trail follows the historic Talbot Trail. Oxford County barn quilts tell the stories of settlement, community building and rural life.
Mary Gladwin, one of the organizers said, “It was such an amazing project. Our members decided immediately to promote barn quilts and encourage other cultural-heritage organizations to get involved in the movement.”
The Sand Plains Community Development Fund was a federal investment fund administered by the Ontario Association of Community Futures Development Corporations. The fund targeted community-based initiatives that attracted people and investment.
Ontario Barn Quilt Trails 2013
So now there were barn quilt trails crisscrossing across southwestern Ontario. But Denise was not satisfied. She knew that more and more communities would create barn quilt projects and she wanted to curate all of the major trails in Ontario on one website. And she wanted to provide advice and encouragement for the communities just starting out.
Diana Jedig, a well known community economic development professional, jumped on board. She helped whip a team and proposal together that impressed the Ontario Trillium Foundation, who liked the idea of promoting barn quilt trails across Ontario as a way to tell community stories.
The team included David Jonah, from New Brunswick, who helped the team think creatively. Mike O’Hara worked tirelessly on a this website and supported the project for years after the funding ended. Melissa Schenk and her MS2 Productions team filmed the great How To videos with all the tips and tricks.
The project also provided seed money to get more trails started and provided infrastructure for continuing on without huge expenditures of fundraising efforts and administration.
And so barn quilt trails spread across Ontario as well as the United States of America. Books were written. Films were produced. Conferences and parties were organized. And people just kept painting and telling their stories. At barnquilttrails.ca, a new volunteer showed up just as the website was wearing out and Sebastien from Quebec City gave it a complete overhaul in WordPress, which made it easier for volunteers to maintain.
This year we are supporting South Bruce and Osgoode Township with some words of encouragement. New projects like using the barnquittrails.ca logo as it helps provide some street cred when they are building support for a new project.
Denise never gives up. She is retired now and busy with a million things but she and her old buddy, Mary, keep the website going as best they can. They are thrilled when a new project has the time and energy left after completing a barn quilt trail to send in a set of beautiful pictures of their barn quilts that can be uploaded to the map of Ontario.