A fashion trend for sheds, once upon a time. Featuring: pink.

Pink and grey barn

An ordinary-looking barn, right? But what I find not so ordinary about it is the colour scheme: grey with pink trim. It was kind of a thing in our rural area, back in the day – and now that I am living in that area once again, I can’t help but wonder: why pink?

Memory can be a fickle thing, they say. There are so many things that we think we remember that may in fact be quite wrong. (Here is a very interesting article from The New Yorker on the subject.) Have you ever got together with family members or old friends and, in reminiscing about the things that happened in the old days, discovered that various people in the group had quite different versions of some of those events? Or that they’ll all remember something vividly and you – who apparently were there as well – have no recollection of it at all?

I say all that by way of introduction because I’m about to tell you my very first memory of Queensborough, from when I had just turned four years old. But is it a real memory? I think so, but…

Maybe you’ll laugh when you hear what it is: a grey shed with pink trim, with a pink swing set in front of it.

The shed and swing set were at a house right near the Manse, and in my memory my family – Dad, Mum, me, my younger sister, Melanie, and my baby brother, John – drove by that house as we made our way to our new home (the Manse) in Dad’s 1956 Chev for the very first time, in July 1964. Dad, newly ordained a United Church of Canada minister, was about to take up duties as minister of the Queensborough Pastoral Charge.

I remember it so vividly because of the swing set; I was convinced that it meant that the house’s yard was a public playground, like the one where I had played on the swings so often near my maternal grandparents’ home in the Leaside neighbourhood of Toronto. That is where we had been living before moving to Queensborough, while my father finished his studies in divinity school at the University of Toronto‘s Emmanuel College.

The day we arrived in Queensborough we had probably driven all the way from Toronto, or possibly from the Sedgwick family farm up in Haliburton County; either way, it was a long car ride for a four-year-old, and you can imagine how appealing a swing set looked at the end of it. And a pink swing set at that! Perfect for a little girl!

It was all my parents could do to keep me from dashing the 50 yards or so over there and jumping onto the swings at the house of people we didn’t even know. (We very soon found out they were the Gordon family, and their daughter, Connie, became a good childhood friend of mine.) Presumably Mum and Dad put me to work instead, carrying some things from the car into the big brick house that was to be our home for the next 11 years. (And that is now home again, after my husband, Raymond, and I bought it three years ago.)

The Gordons’ house is now the home of our neighbours and friends Chuck and Ruth, and the pink swing set is long gone. The shed/garage is still there, but it is no longer covered in grey insulbrick with pink trim. But, people, that shed colour-scheme trend that dates from sometime around the middle of the last century still shows up in this area, and every time I see it, I am reminded of that first sunny July day in Queensborough, so very long ago.

Every weekday on my drive to and from work I pass not one but two such buildings. One is the small barn that you can see in the photo atop this post: the other is a garage between the hamlet of White Lake and the hamlet of Ivanhoe, along Highway 62:

Pink and grey garage

I finally stopped and got photos of them both yesterday. Because – well, who knows how long there’ll still be traces of that interesting midcentury colour scheme for barns, sheds and garages?

I mean, I get the grey insulbrick. Grey is a pretty traditional colour for garages and sheds, right? But what, people, what on earth is, or was, with the pink trim? I mean, I love it – but why would the men (inevitably men) who built and/or covered those barns and sheds in siding, and painted the trim, have chosen pink? It seems like such an odd thing to have happened over and over and over again. I’m thinking there must have been some sort of marketing campaign or something: “Pink is the perfect colour to set off your brand-new grey insulbrick siding!”

I have trouble imagining the farmers of central Hastings County going for such a marketing push. But how else to explain it? People, do you have any ideas?

This funny little colour thing is a happy circumstance for me – because it reminds me of a sunny day long ago, when all the world was young, and there was a shed with pink trim with a pink swing set in front of it. But I sure am curious to know how all those pink-trimmed sheds came about.

12 thoughts on “A fashion trend for sheds, once upon a time. Featuring: pink.

  1. Wow. The subject of memory is so interesting. Thanks to the link to the article. You must have many quirky moments with memory, living in the Manse; I would imagine the triggers are pretty constant and powerful.
    As far as the pink paint, the paint being on sale seems pretty probable. I was wondering if it had to do with the same reason that red barns are red. Farmers had access to red ochre in the soil and sometimes had a milk surplus; they made red milk paint. Maybe there is some mineral locally which gives the paint a pink hue?
    Or…..could it be that some long ago farmer was channeling his inner feminine side and his desire to be a decorator and he could only express his hidden artistic side by painting the odd bit of trim pink?

    The more I think about it – the paint was on sale.

    • The paint-on-sale theory is probably it – but I love the alternate theory you’ve run up the flagpole about the farmers struggling to express their inner decorator with a splash of unexpected colour! The mineral theory is intriguing too, because this area is so incredibly rich in minerals, including some very obscure ones. But the great age of mineral exploration locally (late 19th century) would have predated the pink trim on these garages and barns by about half a century, I think.

  2. Jane’s coment triggered a memory! In the old days, i.e. before my time, many barns in the eldorado area were painted with a reddish paint made from Whey (lots of that around then) and hematite dust from the mine which was at the corner of Hwy 62 and Hematite Road in Madoc Twp. There was a large open pit at this corner. It ran all the way to the east side of Hwy 62 and there used to be a bridge over it for the road!

    • There are still several barns around here (Essex County and Chatham-Kent), that still bear traces of the old paint. It looks like the paint must have really penetrated the wood. I’m sure even more remain in the country north of Belleville!
      My husband LOVES taking pictures of old barns and many weekends, I find myself tagging along on the search for the perfect old barn. For lack of anything else to do, I’ve gotten into the habit of taking barn pictures too. I used to post some on Flickr but gotten out of that habit. Time to start again.
      “Hematite Road” – how evocative! Wonderful!

      • One of these times I’m going to do a post on local barns, Jane. There are some great old ones around here, as well as some that are slowly collapsing rather spectacularly. And then there is the modern version, those semicircular tarp affairs that I believe are called Coveralls. Not nearly as nice to look at!

    • Hey, that’s good stuff! I had never heard of this mine before, though I’ve mentally remarked on the unusual name of Hematite Road every time I’ve driven by it. I wonder if there are any remains of the mine still there. With a highway overpass as well – wow!

  3. I’m a bit of a barn newbie, but I’ve been told by the expert (my husband) that the “falling-down” ones are the only ones worth bothering with. He was actually born and bred in a rural community, Cottam ON, and played in his grandparents’ hay mow as a child so I guess this qualifies him as the specialist in rural matters.

    • Well, as another person who played in the hay mow as a child (up at my family’s farm in Haliburton County), I understand your husband’s admiration for those glorious (and sometimes decrepit) old barns. I think he’d like some of the specimens here in the Queensborough area – you folks should come visit!

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