An historic Qualicum Bay barn now has a room with an unwanted view, after a thief or thieves stripped one wall of the World War II-era structure of its weathered boards earlier this month.
“My dad built that barn 75 years ago,” said Lillian Olivant of Burnaby, who now owns the structure and leases the property on which it sits to an area farmer. “It’s so iconic. That barn’s always been there. People used to take pictures of it all the time.”
The barn apparently fell victim to a hot building trend, in which weathered and distressed wood from salvage buildings is used to build furniture, wall paneling and trendy bars and restaurants.
“I get people here looking for it all the time,” said Bernie Muller of Demxx Deconstruction in Coombs. “You’ll have guys in Vancouver who pay $7 a square foot for those slabs. It’s probably more valuable than drugs.”
The boards removed appear to have been rough-cut 1×12 or 1×10 siding slabs. They were taken from a lean-to annex attached to the lofted main barn.
Additional wood was stripped from a nearby chicken coop on the same property.
Nancy and Dewey Rotley, who have lived across Island Highway from the barn for the last 12 years, believe the theft took place around
11 p.m. on Sept. 7.
“(Dewey) was just going to bed when he heard wood being cut or stacked,” Nancy Rotley said. “But we have another neighbour who does a lot of projects, and he just assumed it was somebody in his workshop, working late.
“We got up the next day and he said, ‘Oh, it looks like they’re taking the barn down.'”
When Olivant was told bu her tenant Gary McDonald of the theft, she notified Oceanside RCMP. She said she doesn’t hold out much hope of getting the wood back or the barn restored, unless a prospective buyer blows the whistle on the seller.
A house built by Bob Olivant on the property in the 1940s was torn down five years ago, Lillian said, and the wood thief may have thought the barn was an abandoned structure.
McDonald, who had a piece of equipment stored in the barn annex, told Olivant no additional theft or damage took place beyond removal of the lumber. A gate fronting onto the highway was left open, though part of the fencing along the frontage is missing.
“It wouldn’t be hard for anybody to get in there,” said Rotley, who said the barn has occasionally been used as an overnight camp by “hard-living folks” moving through the region.
Muller, a buyer and veteran salvage operator at Demxx, said the company gets most of its weathered lumber from a seller from Alberta. He believes whoever struck Olivant’s barn may have been planning his own project or may have had a buyer lined up.
“They’re probably thinking it’s abandoned and the barn has no value (to the owner), Muller said. “But whoever’s buying this stuff for reclaimed furniture may be participating in a theft. Legitimate buyers want to see the source. Check your sources, and don’t buy off anybody unless they have pictures. It could be stolen.”
Olivant said she was contacted by a man several years ago who claimed her barn was leaning, and who offered to haul off the old wood for her. She declined after being assured by her tenant that the barn was structurally sound.
“I’m saddened,” Olivant said. “It means a lot because dad built it. He loved his land and took pride in it.”