Over the past week, the Waldheim House at the Mennonite Heritage Village has been getting a brand new thatched roof.
MHV Curator Andrea Dyck says the Waldheim house was originally built in 1876, making it their oldest building. She notes the previous roof was tin with barley straw on it which has been covered in moss and mold for quite a few years now. She notes on top of being an eyesore and clearly not authentic, it has been letting in moisture in which has been damaging the building itself.
Dyck says the MHV has been dreaming of putting in a historically accurate thatched roof for many years but they can be fairly expensive. She notes with the help of the Canada 150 Community Infrastructure Program and some generous local donors, they were finally able to start the project.
"This is a unique project for us but also generally in the area, I am not aware of any professionally thatched roofs. The material that they are thatching with is called Phragmites Reed, it is a common reed found in any kind of a marshy area. This particular reed comes from the west side of Dauphin Lake so it is as local as we can get it."
Dyck notes she never thought she would ever be this excited about a thatching project. She says with an old building like the Waldheim house it was very important to make large changes before the building deteriorated too much to be saved. She says Myron Hiebert from Walls That Speak was hired to renovate and prepare the building to make sure it was structurally sound and historically accurate and then they brought in Colin McGhee, a master thatcher.
"We have hired a master thatcher. He is from Virginia. There are not many people who do this as you can imagine, it is a bit of a niche market so we were lucky enough to come into contact with him and for him to take the job on. It is very exciting for us because we have been dreaming about this for almost ten years and then been actively planning and working on the project for at least two."
Colin McGhee says he began a traditional five-year apprenticeship in thatching when he was 16 years old in the south of England. He notes many of the jobs he works on are very expensive homes, museums, and Irish pubs. He adds thatched roofs are very durable.
"If they are done properly they will last 50 to 60 years with regular maintenance. Every eight to ten years you will redress the roof, brush it down to get the decayed thatch off and then it is good to go again. Most of the jobs we do are new builds, brand new construction, it is nice to work on an old building like this, you get the old timbers instead of plywood, it is a nice job to do."
McGhee says they usually work with reeds that are shipped in from Turkey, so it was neat to work on this house and use reeds that were cut locally.
Dyck says the plan is to finish the project on July 1st so that everyone who is at the Museum for Canada Day can watch the final steps.