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8-Point Star Barn Quilt, Vernon Farm, Simcoe County
8-Point Star Barn Quilt, Vernon Farm, Simcoe County

Looking for day trips during Covid lockdowns has proven to be a bit of a challenge. With the need to remain isolated from others, few facilities open and the fact that it’s winter, it’s been difficult to find something creative and safe to do. But here’s some good news: Henk and I recently discovered something that is both a ‘destination’ and an activity that ticks all the boxes and becomes a bit of a scavenger hunt for anyone with a car: following one of Ontario’s many rural Barn Quilt Trails!

What is a “Barn Quilt”, Anyways?

HEX_SIGNS_State_Route_29,Emmaus,_Lehigh_County,_PA
Hex Signs from a mid-1800s Pennsylvania Dutch barn *Photo public domain

Simply put, barn quilts are exterior painted decorations on barns that take their inspiration from fabric quilt patterns. Most are 8 feet square, and use patterns and colours that can be historic, symbolic, modern, or purely imaginative. And although barn decoration is nothing new (it’s been going on since the 1800s with the use of painted or metal barn stars and graphics known as ‘hex signs’), this specific type of decoration has really taken off recently in rural areas across North America. Barn quilts have become a source of creative inspiration for communities, with individuals and volunteers creating and displaying these colourful squares as a way to celebrate rural life, bring neighbours together and welcome visitors.

How Did the Barn Quilt Initiative Start?

Donna Sue Groves barn quilt
Donna Sue Groves started the modern day Barn Quilt trend using her mother’s quilt square design on her old tobacco barn

The recent Barn Quilt initiative can be traced back 20 years to one woman in Ohio, Donna Sue Groves, who married her love for quilts with her love for barns. To brighten up her plain tobacco barn in Adams County Ohio, in her words the “ugliest barn she’d ever seen”, Groves decided to display a painted quilt square, inspired by a design from her mother, a long time quiltmaker. The square went up onto the barn and people in the community noticed.
Before long, Groves’ barn quilt led to more quilts for more barns belonging to more neighbours and ultimately, what started as a personal project for her evolved into a tourism development initiative for the area in 2001.

From there, it just took off.

Barn Quilt Trails

Custom Pinwheel Barn Quilt at Dolinar Farm
Custom Pinwheel Barn Quilt at Dolinar Farm, Simcoe County

Barn quilts have become so popular, in fact, that seeking them out has become a fun pastime, something that Henk and I discovered when we drove north of Toronto into Simcoe County, hot on the trail of a half dozen or so barn quilts. And by ‘trail’, I am being quite literal: many communities have actually mapped out routes that visitors can follow to see these quilts. From humble beginnings in Ohio, these Barn Quilt Trails have since been established in more than half of the United States and six provinces in Canada. (see links at the bottom of this post)

Cookstown Antique Market Barn Quilt
“Sunflower” Cookstown Antique Market Barn Quilt

The Perfect Social Distance Activity

Following a Barn Quilt Trail is a great excuse to get out the city and explore the countryside. Finding your way along quiet gravel roads in search of the next quilt on your map is a way to give your drive a purpose, while enjoying the journey as much as the destination.

"Crossing Ohio" Barn Quilt, Lumsden Farm Simcoe County
“Crossing Ohio” Barn Quilt, Lumsden Farm Simcoe County

And since you are in your own car, there’s no need to worry about crowds or interacting with other people. In fact, one of the rules of displaying these barn quilts is that the quilt must be visible from the road, and not require visitors to go onto the property or farm in order to admire them or photograph them. Making this the perfect ‘Covid-compliant’ activity!

"Thistle" P Wardlaw Farm Barn Quilt
“Thistle” P Wardlaw Farm Barn Quilt, Simcoe County

TIP: Please be respectful of the property owners when you go in search of their barn quilts and stay off their farms and driveways. And if you do stop to take photos from the side of the road, be sure to do it safely.

A Four-Season Activity for Everyone

"Mother's Choice" Barn Quilt, Black Farm, Simcoe County
“Mother’s Choice” Barn Quilt, Black Farm, Simcoe County

The beauty of barn quilt ‘hunting’ is that it’s a great excuse to go for a drive in the country during any season, too. Winter, summer, spring or fall, the quilts are always there and you can enjoy the scenery as it changes throughout the year, from pristine, snow-covered fields in the winter to sky-high sunflower farms bordered by trees in their full autumn colours.

Simcoe County Barn Quilt Trail

Hewson Barn Quilt and Pony
Hewson’s Custom-designed Barn Quilt

Henk’s sister Petra lives on a farm in Simcoe County about 45 minutes north of Toronto, and it was she who first alerted us to the abundance of barn quilts in her area. So one afternoon we decided to go exploring, cameras in hand, to capture some of these quilts.

Hewson Custom Barn Quilt
Hewson’s custom Barn Quilt design references indigenous symbols, the 4 compass points and the 4H Club

One look at the Simcoe Country Barn Quilt Trail map, however, and we realized we had not allowed nearly enough time to see anywhere close to all of these quilts! The reason for this is because this particular trail was organized for Canada’s 150th birthday celebration, with the goal to display 150 quilts to commemorate that milestone year (2019). They achieved their goal, so if you are planning to see more than a dozen or so quilts, you should definitely plan on multiple visits. This of course, is good news, because it means there’s always more to discover and a different trail to follow.

TIP: There’s a website for other Barn Quilt trails in Ontario, that offer maps to help visitors on their scavenger hunts. Check out barnquilttrails.ca to help you map your own route! You might also want to print these out, too, in case you don’t have cell service in some areas.

Celtic Knot Borland Farm Barn Quilt
“Celtic Knot”, Borland Farm Barn Quilt, Simcoe County

Barn Quilt Trails: a Rural Scavenger Hunt That’s Trending

Let’s face it: we all need a little bit of fun and colour in our lives right about now. So why not hit up a Barn Quilt Trail for a rural scavenger hunt that is stress-free and lets you explore new parts of your own backyard. Keep your eyes open for places other than barns, too….barn quilts are showing up in different sizes on gates, fences and sheds, too.
(Looks like Covid isn’t the only thing that’s gone viral!)

Too soon?

BARN QUILT TRAILS IN CANADA:

ONTARIO:
barnquilttrails.ca (17 trails in Southern and Eastern Ontario, Muskoka area and Nippissing)
Simcoe County

MANITOBA
Interlake Region
Kelwood

NOVA SCOTIA
Stewiacke Valley Barn Quilt Trail

BRITISH COLUMBIA
North Okanagan Shushwap Barn Quilt Trail

NEW BRUNSWICK
Kings Country Barn Quilt Trails

PEI
Prince Edward Island Quilt Trail

Pinterest_Barn Quilt Trails Ontario
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