Article by Donna Bennett/Photo by Steve Dagg

As refreshing as a summer breeze and as colourful as a brilliant autumn day, recorded at the Westben Barn, the June 5 digital concert features the ever-colourful Good Lovelies. Originally from Cobourg, they perform amidst one of the most wonderful Northumberland days in memory.

Good Lovelies. Photo by Steve Dagg

These three guitar-wielding songwriters Caroline Brooks, Kerri Ough, Susan Passmore have goose-bump-raising three-part harmony. With nine critically acclaimed releases, a number one single, a JUNO Award, and a devoted fanbase blanketing the globe, the roots-pop combo are among Canada’s brightest musical lights.

Welcome to Westben’s Digital Concerts at The Barn!

It is the magic of Concerts at The Barn – straight from The Barn – but without audiences. Digital Concerts at The Barn series is an exciting array of guest artists creatively united with the natural beauty of The Barn presenting engaging, online concert experiences. Watch as nature and music come alive in each other’s company. Hear the birds sing along with the music!

Concerts will be premiered each month on Westben’s YouTube Channel and Westben’s interactive Digital Venue, a new website that features an interactive representation of the Westben farm where you can let your curiosity roam free.

You can even visit The Milk Shed refreshed by the latest Dare to Share cooking videos. On premiere days, you can enhance your experience with “Westben To Go” where your favourite Trent Hills chefs are ready with scrumptious food for you to take out! To round it off, look for opportunities to join the artists before or after the premiere on Instagram and Facebook Live. And don’t miss the behind-the-scenes photos and stories, and podcasts where Artistic Director Brian Finley sits down with the artists. Enjoy the podcasts and concerts from the comfort of your own home on YouTube or Westben’s Digital Venue.  It’s a totally new experience, and it’s totally Westben.

Learn about the history of the West School

West School. Image by Kelly Stacy

Now that we have moved our Box Office into West School, I have also been collecting stories from past students. I’m finding it really interesting to learn about the history of the West family and the West School.  It’s so cool to feel that Westben is all in one area.

I’d like to collect more stories of past students of this one-room schoolhouse but also from those who had family reunions, card parties and more there.

We’ve started chatting on the My Hometown Facebook page, too.  It’s interesting that all the students talk about the Friday homemade soup, baseball games with other one-room schools including the cod liver pills they had to take.

As the Westben team settles in at West School, setting up the Box Office, storing musical instruments, Cookie Choir rhythm sticks, choir music, Samson costumes, Christmas Carol props, (and lots more), it is amazing to simply sit down in the school and just listen.  It is as if the walls are beaming with tales and memories.  Since 1890 (until 1967), this little brick building was a one-room schoolhouse for area children.  It has also been a gathering hall for family reunions, Women’s Institute meetings, New Year’s Eve parties, Folk concerts, fitness classes and more.

Cozette Barnum, the last teacher at the school (and Westben volunteer), would have all the children make decorations and prepare their songs, skits, poetry for months in advance. Cozette would be at the piano and the children, so well-rehearsed, would perform the whole show on their own.  Friday was cod liver oil pill day, and some would gather around the heating vent and just happen to let the pills drop down through the grate.

Bill Curle’s niece Catherine told me that he would ride his small horse to the school from his family farm and after reaching the school, the horse to return home all on his own.  The Women’s Institute bought the school after the rural schools were closed and among maintaining their excellent community work, also hosted very popular Christmas concerts.  Ken Layton and Jeanette Sanderson acquired the building in 2013 and kept the school brimming with musical concerts and community gatherings, including some wonderful New Year’s Eve parties.

Westben would like to honour the heritage of this lovely schoolhouse and continue the legacy of education and collaboration with nature.  We hope to continue to gather people together to make music, tell stories, have laughter, and inspire creativity (but I think we’ll skip the cod liver oil).

Mary West donated her 96-acre property to the Nature Conservancy of Canada

This land is located across the road from the school, beside the West’s cemetery and continues south to County Road 35.  It includes an old hardwood forest, three pine tree plantations, wetlands, and meadows.  The Conservancy has a plan to restore this property to its natural state. Since Westben’s inception, nature has been an important partner in the musical experience at The Barn.  The doors were designed to open on three sides to let nature become part of the performance.  We are hoping to take it a step further by offering hands-on music and nature experiences in the Mary West property, the Westben grounds, and at the schoolhouse for all ages.  It is wonderful that the schoolhouse is surrounded by agricultural lands and a vibrant farming community. Agriculture is an important part of the culture of Trent Hills.

I invite you to join us in continuing the legacy by contributing to the Schoolhouse Fundraising Campaign.  Buy a brick for $100, join the attendance board and ring the Schoolhouse Bell.  All donations of $25 or more are tax-deductible and greatly appreciated. 

If you were a student at West School or attended events there, we would love to hear from you.  Share your stories and photos so we can gather the history of this magical place and keep it alive for the generations to come.

Please email donna@westben.ca or call the Box Office 705 653 5508.  Tune in for our next Digital Concert at The Barn with the folk trio The Good Lovelies on Saturday, June 5 at 8 pm.

Visit https://www.westben.ca/ for details. Participate in Westben To Go and order takeout from a local restaurant and enjoy the concert at home.

Donna Bennett is Westben’s Marketing & Advancement Director

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