The Community Building


Wow, has it really been almost four months? Since The Last Peg, we’ve been busy building walls. Often up to our elbows in mud. Sneaking off for the odd bike ride with the dogs. And, pretty much all the time, marvelling at the amazing community we call home.


One of the first things that struck me when I arrived in Smithers was the small town, community spirit that emerges when there is a job to be done, be it removing downed trees, shovelling driveways, or feeding friends with a new baby. Building our home has been no exception.


In April, Claire Challen with Peak Training Bootcamps organized a bootcamp around our straw bale building. What a fantastic idea—putting all that expended energy to good use! In freezing rain, we had more than a half-dozen people come out and move our bales under the roof, just as the tarp they’d been stored under all winter was about to give out.


We’ve also hosted several work bees and, although I always fear we’ll wear out our welcome, I’m continually amazed at the dedication of friends who arrive to help out. I’m no expert, but here are a few observations I’ve made on the subtle art of a successful work bee:


First, it helps if whatever work is being done is somewhat novel, such as demolishing a house, raising a timber frame or, let’s say, stacking straw bales. Extra points if there’s an educational component.


Secondly, make it fun. The primary purpose should be bringing people together. That usually involves a healthy supply of food and beer. Emphasis on work party.


Next, focus your efforts on tasks that can’t be completed alone. Many hands make light work, as they say, and organizing so the work gets done in the shortest amount of time is the best approach. Then you can move onto the beer.


Our first four work bees involved hoisting timbers into place: something that would have taken a crew of eight for only an hour or two. Massive 8×10” hemlock beams, ones that Nick and I can’t lift alone, were lifted like feathers with a dozen pairs of friends’ hands holding them.


In late April, we were ready to start stacking straw bales. With a crew of friends, half our house was done in a single day. We had people dedicated to splitting bales to the right length, stacking bales, and pounding stakes to hold them in place. It all happened so quickly, I began to wonder why everyone doesn’t do straw bale construction. (Then we started plastering. More on that in a future blog.)


Alas, free labour does come with a price. It comes with a beer tab and hectic preparation and, often, a few dents and dings in your walls. It comes with memories of the time so-and-so backed their car into a timber or someone else botched a staining job. A one-day work bee can put you ahead a week, something you need to keep in mind when you spend the next day fixing mistakes made during the mayhem.


A straw bale house is full of beautiful imperfections and having your friends involved just makes it more so. Work bees also come with laughter, friendship and bringing together good people for a common cause. These days, it’s one of the few opportunities we have to socialize.

Traditionally, people came together for a work bee because they had to; it was what they did to build homes, plough fields, to survive. Today, we have the option of relying to heavy machinery. We think the old fashioned way still works best.


Following our first work bee, as friends dug into their burgers, I attempted to thank them. As my voice shook and stuck in my throat, the wave of emotion surprised even me: It’s an amazing thing to work for months preparing, only to have an army of friends arrive and begin heaving your house into place.


Once our house is finished, we’ll be clearing our social schedule for the next several years to make ourselves available for friends’ projects. You know where to find us.

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October 31, 2017

November 8, 2012

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