Log by log: Canatara Cabin reconstruction effort underway

·3 min read

Lambton Heritage Museum is seeking the public’s help in putting the Canatara Cabin back together again.

The historic cabin, with roots tracing back to the 1830s, currently sits in pieces at the Grand Bend museum. But this state is meant to be temporary, and fans of the cabin are on a push to reconstruct the log structure. Along with the museum, they made their case during an online presentation to the public earlier this month.

It's a fortunate turn of events for the cabin. The dismantling of the original log structure was nearly permanent, if Sarnia City Council had their way. It had stood in Canatara Park since 1971 after being donated to the city by the family of former Alderman Lorne Hay.

But after 50 years it was clear extensive – and expensive – restoration was needed to repair wear and tear. The bill was estimated at $100,000.

It was a hotly debated topic at council near the end of 2019. Councillors were split over whether to restore the cabin or start from scratch and rebuild it with new logs. The rebuild option was selected initially, and Mayor Mike Bradley split the tie in favour of the rebuild on a later vote to reconsider the decision.

“This was a very sad hour for us, we had long faces and were wondering just what the heck was going to happen,” says Roger Hay, Lorne’s son.

Hay was part of the Save the Canatara Cabin Committee, formed to try and save the original structure. But it seemed time had run out for the storied building in its current state.

Another twist awaited the cabin’s long history though. “Out of the blue, we were contacted by the County of Lambton, and they were expressing an interest in the log cabin,” says Hay. “It was wonderful!”

“Since we have a longstanding tradition of welcoming historic buildings to our museum site, the museum was a natural fit,” says Dana Thorne, museum curator. It’s the museum’s oldest building, and first log structure.

The journey was anything but easy. Construction crews worked for weeks carefully dismantling each log and marking them so it could be put together exactly as before. The roof was transported on its own, and even needed an oak tree at the museum to be winched aside so it could fit. Finally in December last year, all parts of the cabin arrived at their new home.

“What’s really important today is not tearing things down, but conserving them,” says Sandi Spaulding. Spaulding is the daughter of Maud Hanna, a Sarnia philanthropist who once owned the cabin and donated the land that would become Canatara Park.

Spaulding emphasizes “putting the Canatara Cabin back together again, so it can stand as a legacy from us to future generations of Canadians… The Canatara Cabin made it through one pandemic 100 years ago, and now, once funding is completed, it will be restored and make it through this one.”

Thorne, Hay, Spaulding and other supporters of the cabin are putting the word out through handbills and other messages to local businesses, service groups and individuals as they work toward the $100,000 goal of cabin restoration. They’re currently around $20,000.

Anyone interested in supporting the reconstruction effort can donate through the Lambton Heritage Museum website.

Alex Kurial, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Independent