Ross Smith is a long-serving volunteer at Sunnybrook Farm Museum (photo by Lana Michelin, Advocate staff).

Red Deer’s ingenious Sunnybrook Farm volunteers rise to another challenge

The dedicated crew are rebuilding a much-photographed pioneer wagon

Jack-of-all-trades Sunnybrook Farm volunteers are firing up their tablesaw to rebuild the wooden wagon from the Sounds the Alarm sculpture beside Red Deer’s downtown library.

No written instructions are required for this seasoned crew who, on Thursday, transported the weather-rotted wagon to the farm to begin their two-week project.

Recreating a pioneer wagon falls as much within their scope of talents as refurbishing a century-old plough, installing a petting zoo, building a garage and general store, or even restoring the one-room school house — the next major farm project set to begin this summer.

Whenever a hand is needed around Red Deer’s interpretive farm museum — whether with baking pies, repairing a 1920s tractor, demonstrating butter churning, or mowing acres of grass — executive-director Ian Warwick can can rely on about 85 male and female volunteers, who are mostly retirees.

Warwick admitted activities would grind to a halt without these talented individuals, who devote more than 9,000 hours a year — the equivalent of about five-full-time jobs — to doing whatever needs to be done.

The farm, billed as being “like grandma and grandpa’s!” teaches about Alberta’s rural roots with summer-time demonstrations in blacksmithing, milking and baking bread.

Most importantly, it shows city kids that their food does not come from a grocery store, said Ross Smith, one of the longest-serving volunteers. “They learn eggs come from hens, pork comes from pigs…”

Smith has been at the farm museum since retiring from his agriculture inspection job in 1997. “My wife says I spend every day of the week here, but I like to help out,” he said. Raised on a farm in Ontario, Smith knows his way around equipment — like the old ploughs he’s helped restore by rebuilding worn parts.

“People talk about this as being ‘antique’ — but I used all that stuff!” he said, with a chuckle.

Smith has also helped prepare animal pens for the incoming livestock petting zoo and done general repairs and maintenance. One of the perks is getting to chum around with fellow volunteers, and meet visitors of all ages. “You never know what kids are going to say,” he added.

Wayne Blenkhorn, who’s leading the wagon rebuilding project, has helped refurbish most of the farm buildings and displays since 2010. The civil engineer admitted he had a lot of trouble staying retired since leaving his job in the military — until he began volunteering at the farm museum (and in the winter, with the Christmas Bureau).

“I like the camaraderie” and sense of purpose volunteering provides, explained the Nova Scotia native, who’s carefully measuring planks and drill holes so an exact replica can be made of the wagon that’s being “pulled” by the bronze sculptural horses in downtown Red Deer.

The only difference is that thicker new planks are being used this time, so the wagon will be able to sustain a few more years of weathering before being replaced next time around. Blenkhorn expects it will be attached to the sculpture in the second week in May.


Sunnybrook Farm volunteer Wayne Blenkhorn is leading the wagon replacement project (photo by Lana Michelin, Advocate staff).

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