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October 25, 2013

DAN O’REILLY

A table of demonstration stones and stone cutting tools from Traditional Cut Stone is one of the exhibits on display at the Workers Arts and Heritage Centre in Hamilton, Ont. until Dec. 20.

Heritage trades celebrated in Hamilton

A special exhibition designed to celebrate heritage building trades and demonstrate how they are relevant in the 21st century will be at the Workers Arts and Heritage Centre (WAHC) in Hamilton until Dec. 20.

A combined labour history museum and arts centre based in a restored pre-Confederation customs house, the WAHC has organized the exhibition in partnership with the Ontario Chapter of the Canadian Association of Heritage Professionals.

The exhibition is entitled: Building Our Futures, Preserving Our Pasts: A Celebration of Southern Ontario’s Heritage Building Trades.

On display is a sampling of materials, tools and finished pieces by the participants which include a heritage restoration firm, stonemasons, carpenters, a master plaster and a faux-finish painter. Other exhibits include historic tools from the centre’s own collection and ones on loan from the Westfield Heritage Village in Rockton.

There is also is a photographic montage documenting the restoration of the R. C. Harris Water Plant in Toronto. It was compiled by Taylor Hazell Architects, the architects for the restoration and one of the show’s sponsors.

The participants include Empire Restoration, Shoalts Bros. Construction, Acanthus Heritage Plastering, Lori LeMare Studio, Traditional Cut Stone Ltd. and the centre itself.

Officially opened in mid-September, the exhibition is receiving critical acclaim from the construction industry and the general public, says program coordinator Andrew Lochhead.

“The response has been very positive and people are excited.”

Planning and organizing by a steering committee comprised of representatives of the sponsoring firms and the centre started last spring. Then, two weeks before the official opening, the main gallery in the centre became a mini-construction site as the various exhibitors started building their sets, he says.

A major objective of the show is to illustrate building practices and techniques. For example, as part of an overall display on roofing, carpentry and stonemasonry Empire Restoration has compiled a mix of materials “to show the progression in slate roof construction.”

Nearby is a table of stones and stone carving tools — including ones used by apprentices — provided by Mississauga-based Traditional Cut Stone.

Some displays also include the personal stories of the tradespeople, such as John Doran of Acanthus Heritage Plastering.

The Irish-born master plasterer has worked on several historic Ontario sites and since starting the company in 2011 and his exhibit collection includes a Gothic arch.

Complementing the show will be a series of monthly demonstrations and talks by heritage restoration professionals. Materials conservation specialist Alan Stacey was the October speaker. Dates and times for November and December haven’t been determined, says Lochhead.

For anyone considering taking in the exhibition, the centre itself is worth the visit. Constructed in 1860 to handle trade flowing through Hamilton Harbour, the building was vacant for several years until 1995 when it was purchased by the non-profit WAHC and restored.

It was almost logical that the centre — considered to be the only facility of its kind in Canada — should be in Hamilton, he says.

“This is ground zero for the labour movement,” says Lochhead, noting that it was the first place in Canada where a trades union council was started, as well as being the birthplace of the nine-hour working day movement.

The centre is located at 51 Stuart St. and is open Wednesday to Friday from noon to 4 p.m. and Saturdays 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

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