Carving a new niche for the tool that built Bytown

Carving a new niche for the tool that built Bytown

They were the tools of the lumber trade that put Ottawa and the Valley on the map, but even before the turn of the 20th century, they were obsolete.

Hallie Cotnam/CBC

So why are broad axes once again making their mark at Carleton University circa 2019?

It's all thank the late Dr. Joseph Foohey, who practised medicine in Pembroke, Ont., decades ago.

Adam Weigert, Carleton University

Foohey started bidding on old tools at auctions after noticing they were being bought up by American antique pickers, only to be taken out of the region to decorate bars and restaurants down south.

After Foohey died in 2016, his family wanted to honour his interest in local history and education by donating the tools to local museums and Algonquin College. Now his legacy is forming the backbone of a graduate thesis.

Adam Weigert, Carleton University Immersive Media Studio (CIMS)

Carleton master's student Adam Weigert first saw the Foohey collection of broad axes while taking a summer course in timber framing at Algonquin.

It was unfathomable. So many axes. - Adam Weigert

"It was unfathomable. So many axes. So many broad axes. So many Canadian broad axes in one place. Having them in your hands is a unique experience," Weigert recalled of the first time he laid eyes on the trove.

As part of his master's of applied science in civil engineering degree, Weigert creates digital 3D models of the broad axes, using the immersive media studio at Carleton known as CIMS. He's also creating models of the markings each axe makes on timber, with the help of heritage tool expert Corey Pool.

Hallie Cotnam/CBC

Pool is a restoration carpenter, a log cabin builder and an animator at the Cumberland Heritage Village Museum. He's collaborating with Weigert by demonstrating how broad axes are used so the technique can be preserved as well.

"So the broad axe to me…is a reflection of our cultural heritage. To understand them further is to understand ourselves further. It only takes one generation to lose hundreds or thousands of years of knowledge." 

Pool acknowledges Weigert's work might seem pretty niche, but says it has value, as do the heritage carpentry program at Algonquin and the living history work he does at the Cumberland Heritage Village Museum.

Our skills, our stories, our rituals - Corey Pool

"These are all small incremental pieces that maybe seem strange or abstract or obscure, but they're all these little bits of preserving or conserving cultural heritage, whether it's tangible built heritage or intangible cultural heritage … our skills, our stories, our rituals."

Hallie Cotnam/CBC

Weigert and Pool recently presented their work at an Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) forum. NSERC is supporting Weigert's work through its collaborative research and training experience program.