By Sue Tiffin
“To you it might be a barn, but to us, it was home.”
These are the parting words Cindy-Jo Nesbitt left the community in a social media post about the Misty River Farm barn on Deep Bay Road in Minden. The well-known barn, standing as an icon on Deep Bay Road for decades, collapsed after a severe windstorm caused widespread damage throughout the province on Dec. 11.
Wendy Connelly, whose family has owned the property the barn was on since her dad Sinc Nesbitt purchased it from Herb Cox in 1962, received a message the morning after the storm that something had happened at the farm. She and her husband Barry drove to the property her nephew Scott now owns.
“Even just coming down the road from Minden, it was always that big dome, that’s exactly what you saw,” she said of the renowned barn. “I’m sure everybody’s attention was along there looking at it, because it’s the only barn really left until you get to Roy Kernohan’s. The first one going down the road was taken down – they took it down themselves – quite a few years ago. But that one always just seemed to stick out in the field there because there were no trees or anything around it.”
Approaching the farm, Connelly realized the barn had fallen.
“I said to Barry, oh my gosh, because it was just flat,” said Connelly. “It was unbelievable, really. All of a sudden everything’s going through your head about memories, it was … I was trying not to be emotional.”
Walking around the barn, Connelly could see the extent of the damage – thankful there were no animals in it at the time.
“The walls were just – the wall next to the Minden side was laying flat on the ground,” she said. “A cement block just laying flat on the ground. And the one over next to the farm was just leaning way out, ready to fall over. It just looked like it had taken that great big domed roof and just lifted it up and smashed it right back down on the foundation. It was flat, but it was right back down. There was no debris out in the fields or anything, it was just all right there where the barn was … In where the horses used to be in these box stalls, there is nothing in there, not a piece of debris, nothing. It was unbelievable.”
Though Connelly said people have told her the barn might be 80 or 90 years old, she said she doesn’t think that’s the case, and instead thinks the barn might have been built between 1955 and 1960, based on its style.
After her dad purchased the property, Connelly’s grandparents stayed at the farmhouse that winter caring for cattle. Connelly, her parents and brother moved on Halloween day from Carnarvon to a house that replaced the farmhouse in 1963.
“Now Dad did put an addition on [the barn] because it was built for cattle of course,” she said. “We did have cattle originally but my Dad hated cattle. We had them for awhile and then he just sold them.”
Sinc, a former reeve of Stanhope and Minden, councillor of Anson, Hindon and Minden, warden of Haliburton County and the person for which the S.G. Nesbitt Memorial Arena is named, was interested not in cattle, but in horses.
“We had all these show horses and, at one time there were barns up at the back as well, we built wooden stalls and barns up there too, because we had too darn many horses quite a few times,” laughed Connelly.
In 1961, Sinc purchased his first Belgian mare, Conqueror’s Silver Lady, for only $1,000 – Connelly noting, “who knows what they’re worth now, hundreds of thousands probably.”
That was the beginning of a Belgian breeding line that had a reputation for the best breeding and show stock in Canada – at one point the Nesbitts were breeding 20 to 25 mares a year. They attended horse pulls and fairs across the continent, Connelly joining to go to Detroit, Kentucky and, for the Canadian Centennial, out west to Brandon, Manitoba. The 1988 champion Misty River Ben was the only draft horse to earn a spot in the Hall of Fame at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington. The horses and the barn were captured in numerous photographs and paintings.
“Everybody used to stop there and take pictures because the bush behind it in the autumn was absolutely stunning,” said Connelly. “Mom and I used to walk down through the hayfield and take a picture of the barn or the house, the colours, it was just beautiful there.”
Besides the family’s warm-hearted memories of the barn, there is also a tragic one: Sinc died of a heart attack on July 27, 2000 while in the barn harnessing a horse to take out to the back field. He loved doing work, being with his family, caring for his horses and sitting to tell stories in the barn. Now they’re both gone.
“It’s the same thing, when they took the big barn out on the highway, across from Ridgewood, everybody was devastated with that, too,” said Connelly. “It was a landmark. And I think going down Deep Bay Road, that barn was a landmark. You’re just expecting to see it. My cousin said, I can’t imagine driving down Deep Bay Road, it just won’t be the same at all.”