Perth Courier Article, by Gena Davis

(Home Improvement Guide, October 3, 2001)

Don Hanam's passion for stone masonry completes a circle begun by his father.

The Perth-area man's father worked as a hard-rock miner in northwestern Quebec. He made it clear he did not want his children to follow his path into the mines.

"The fact that I'm above ground working with rock, I get a kick out of that," Mr. Hanam said.

He had not considered stonework when he planned his eventual career.

"Originally, I was on my way to college," he explained. "Conservation was in my blood, and so was theatre at that time."

In 1979, however, Mr. Hanam arrived in Perth and fell in love - with the stone buildings so abundant in the town.

"I was absolutely astounded," he said. "I was blown away.

"It's something very precious that they have here."

He said the stone buildings which local people may take for granted is, in fact, part of a narrow corridor not duplicated in the rest of Canada. The corridor runs from Quebec City through Kingston to mid-central Ontario.

"I'm originally from northwestern Quebec and we didn't have stone buildings up there," Mr. Hanam explained.

Once he discovered his passion for stonework, he decided to learn more. "I wanted to know who did it and how they did it," he said.

He apprenticed for seven years with a master mason who had emigrated from Germany, where he had followed the official apprenticeship program. Mr. Hanam laments Canada's lack of such a system, which still exists throughout Europe.

"There's gotten to be more (training) with (Algonquin College)," he added.

"There used to be very few trained in doing stonework."

He said the college, with its stonemasonry program, has taken the right step toward offering the proper training. However, Canada must still import master stone masons from Europe because the apprenticeship and journeyman programs do not exist here.

"That's a big mistake," Mr. Hanam stressed. "It's a tough go to try and figure out how to do some stuff.

"A lot of it you had to learn by the seat of your pants."

Mr. Hanam has run his own custom stonework business in the Perth area since he finished his apprenticeship. He works with natural stone, refurbishing or restoring existing buildings and new stone construction.

Many old stone buildings need some maintenance to keep up their appearance. Mr. Hanam said they need repointing after many years, although upkeep is not as extensive as some people may think.

"There is a whole plethora of stone buildings (in Perth) that will stand the test of time," he noted. "People that own the stone houses love the stone houses."

He said owners appreciate the castle-like quality of their houses, as well as the sturdiness of the stone. As a restorer, he views the buildings the same way.

"I'm keeping something alive that is very precious," he said. "I know that it will stand the test of time long after I'm gone.

"I love it so much that it's just a joy to know I've done something to help keep it going."

Most of his business these days involves decorative work, such as walkways, garden stones and the surroundings for a fireplace.

"It's more the decorative work that people go for, such as veneering," he said. "Instead of brick, they'll veneer (a building) with stone."

Mr. Hanam said he will do anything which involves natural stone. While he uses the few operational quarries in areas such as Aylmer and Kingston to find materials, he tries to take stone from the natural environment as well.

"If people (who are customers) have any property at all, I try to use the stone on the property," he explained. "You can usually get it from along the fence lines."

He said old foundations also offer up plenty of possibilities for natural stone. He normally uses granite, limestone or sandstone for his work, depending on the needs and wishes of his customers.

"We'll discuss it," he said. "I show them different styles and different stones."

Most of the work is done on site. While Mr. Hanam and his assistants do use power tools, "most of the work is still done with hammer and chisels," he said.

Mr. Hanam has done restoration on buildings such as the Thomas Wright building, the bandshell at Stewart Park and the home formerly known as "the bat house" at the Tay Canal.

He said he has not lost his passion for working with stone.

"I haven't fallen out of love with it," he said.

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