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Race on to complete repairs by Heritage Festival

Posted on June 16, 2022 by Maple Creek
Water works: Kodie Francis keeps the bricks moist before repointing.

The stonemason masterminding repairs of the Jasper Centre hopes to complete the latest stage of the work by the July 9 Heritage Festival.
Charlie Pirie said meeting the deadline presented one of the biggest challenges of the project.
It is why he is putting in very long hours at the site, Monday to Saturday. He arrives between 6.15am and 6.30am, starts work at 7am, and can finish as late as 10.30pm.
“There is a deadline ahead of us, but I’m not going to compromise quality of work for a deadline,” he told the News-Times on Saturday. “So, if it takes me a few days longer, then so be it.
“However, I am shooting for that deadline, which is why I was here until 10pm last night, and 10.30pm the night before.”
The project involves repairing bricks and mortar on the Jasper Cultural & Historical Centre façade, including the pediment bearing the building’s construction date: 1910.
By repointing brick joints, installing a new cement cap, and replacing bricks, Pirie hopes to protect the two-storey building from the damaging effects of moisture. The idea is to extend the life of the former Jasper Street School.
This is the fourth stage of ongoing repairs carried out as money becomes available to the Jasper board.
Balgonie-based Pirie, who lives on Jasper Street with his wife, Susan, while working in Maple Creek, has been involved in each stage.
The first stage was in 2014. Two years later, the second stage got under way, the work echoing what he is doing today.
“We did the other end similar to this in 2016 and we actually recouped bricks from the other end,” he said. “We knew we were eventually going to need bricks for this end because we knew there were a lot of broken bricks on the front of this building.”
In the third stage, the northwest corner was fixed. Is the fourth stage the final one? Unfortunately, no. There is no expiry date to TLC.
“There are going to be ongoing repairs to the cap of this plinth course because on the southside there is a lot of cracking.”
Pirie is used to giving structures an extended life, devoting time and energy to many buildings around town, including The Armouries.
He has also worked on numerous heritage projects across the country, including The Library of Parliament, The Governor Generals Residence (Rideau Hall), Saskatchewan Legislative Building, and the Victoria Memorial Museum Building.
Reportedly, he picks his projects based on people and the stories associated with them.
On Saturday afternoon, he invited The News-Times to scale the 40ft scaffolding at the front of the centre and photograph some of the work in progress. Working with him were Kodie Francis, and her son, William.
While Kodie helped Pirie with repointing brick joints, William took care of mixing mortar at a station at the base of the building. Buckets of mortar were then hauled up by ropes to the fifth and final level of the scaffolding.
Erecting the scaffolding was a major undertaking. It had to be done with precision to contend with Maple Creek’s notoriously sporadic winds.
“We started this stage of the repair project in April, but began building the scaffolding on 9 or 10 of May,” said Pirie. “Two us did it: Austin Francis and myself. It took nine or ten days to put all the pieces together.”
Kodie helped with putting the tarp on.
“I was told come help with the tarps, if you’re not afraid of heights,” she laughed.
A fear of heights can be a drawback in Pirie’s profession.
“I had one guy who came along and thought he would be interested in working for us, so Austin took him up to two levels below us, and the poor guy was trembling. He was just petrified, we never saw him again.”
Asked whether he ever felt anxiety of heights, Pirie replied: “There is little story to that. In my younger days, I lived on a dairy farm. I was 9 years old and my mother had to talk me down from the top of a 60ft silo. I discovered at the top of the silo I could listen to airplanes with my little walkie-talkie I could listen to the airplanes. So, yeah. You could say I don’t have that much fear of heights, although there are still heights that bother me if the scaffolding isn’t solid. If you build it right, and here we have got everything braced to the nines, you should be okay.”
Pirie said the most structurally significant part of the project is keeping water out of the building.
“A year like this when we are getting more moisture, everybody says ‘it’s always dry in Maple Creek’, the flood should have taught them not always. It’s that once in however many years that does the damage to most buildings.”
Pirie said repointing can pose some tricky challenges.
“In the repointing there is a lot of vertical joints down in here that are really hard to access because they are recessed, so it makes it more interesting. It is interesting enough just pointing these, but it’s more interesting doing those.”
The one day off Pirie grants himself is Sunday. Come Monday he will be back at the site at 6.30am.
So, the next time you drive past the Jasper Centre at night, think of Pirie. He will probably be behind the tarp, applying his skills to preserving Maple Creek’s heritage.

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