4. MOVING HOUSE 17
In North Gower, the term "moving house" once had a more literal meaning than it usually does today. Many village home owners who decided to move to a new location in the area brought their houses with them. The process usually lasted a few weeks and entailed a certain amount of inconvenience, but it must have been worthwhile.
The man who moved many of North Gower's buildings was Jack Baldry [1879 - 1966] who also framed many barns and houses in the area. Mr. Baldry lived in a house next to the 1876 Town Hall on the site of the present library [6579 Main Street], and is well remembered for his colourful language. He also had a reputation as a demanding employer who had been known to hire and fire a man on the same day. This was understandable, given the nature of the work; a careless employee could easily topple a house on its side, with disastrous consequences!
The work appears to have been painstaking and slow. The first step was to raise the house slowly with screw jacks. These came in different sizes and heights and could lift from 5 to 25 tons. Then long square timbers [usually two] would be slipped underneath the house. At the same time, rollers were placed underneath the timbers. A minimum of three rollers would be used for each timber, and perhaps more depending on the size of the building. As the house moved the end roller would be brought to the front of the house and slipped under the timber again. After these preparations the house could be moved, but a source of power was still needed.
This was usually provided by horses, either singly or in pairs. A wooden capstan would be an- chored to the ground some distance from the house and a rope, cable or chain of linked steel rods would be attached to the house from the capstan. The anchoring process was referred to as "burying a deadman". The horse or team would be hitched to the capstan arm or "sweep" and as they walked around the capstan they would step over the cable and winch the house forward. Jack Baldry and his crew would be busy laying a level track of planks and timbers for the rollers to travel over. Often, houses were moved across fields, or in the ditches if they were to go along a road.
If the building was light enough, the capstan method might be abandoned in favour of a straight ahead pull from the horses. The house now at 2359 Church Street [q.v.] was moved in this way, while 6586 Main Street [q.v.] was moved with a capstan. If it could be managed, the straight pull was preferred because it was much quicker and easier; it was most practical in the winter, since the horses could draw much heavier loads on sledges ["sloops"] across snow-covered frozen ground. The Carsonby cheese factory was probably moved down from Manotick on a multiple gang of sloops - see the entry for 1923 Carsonby Road.
Another North Gower building that is known to have been moved is the white frame house that was until recently the Craig farm machinery store [see 2334 Church Street]. Until 1940 this bu!lding, once the home of the tinsmith J. Wesley Matthews, was located back from the street on the bank of Stevens Creek. See also 2357 Roger Stevens Drive, where an old dance pavilion was parked on top of a cheese factory foundation and convened to a bungalow.
Jack Baldry seems to have done most of his moving in the 1920's and 1930's, but the practice of house moving is considerably older. In 1826 John Thomson had his log house moved about one kilometre to where it still stands today at 2223 Lockhead Road, q.v. How he did it is not known but he may have used some kind of timber sled pulled by horses.
The average in-town house move lasted about two weeks but sometimes unexpected snags could arise. In 1933 the Marlborough Township Hall was moved from its original site in lot 9, concession 3 of Marlborough, but became bogged down in the snow before it could reach its new home in Pierce's Corners. The move had to be completed in 1934.
Today it seems that far fewer buildings are moved, apart from mobile homes designed to be portable. Perhaps people now are less attached to their homes or perhaps it makes more financial sense to sell the house and buy elsewhere. In any event it appears that the skills and relatively simple technologies employed by a man like Jack Baldry are no longer needed. The ability to move entire houses with pieces of wood and horses strikes one as a fascinating talent. However, today it sounds like a a technology overtaken by time.
17 This section follows Peter Davidson, 1986. Largely reprinted in "Presence of the Past" for October, 1986.
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