Charles Ball Fence After Restoration
Charles Ball Fence rebuilt by the Vancouver Island Blacksmiths Association
(Handout from the Charles Ball fence dedication)
Vancouver Island Blacksmiths Association (VIBA) is a non-profit hobby group of people interested in the art and craft of blacksmithing. Since starting in 1986, an active group of up to 90 members have carried out a busy program of saving, learning and practicing the ancient art of working hot iron. Through the efforts of VIBA members over the years, we now have a well equipped blacksmith's shop. Members come from all walks of life, but are all here to make the "smoke and noise", even if we do get dirty.
VIBA members are encouraged to make use of our forges, anveils, tongs, power hammer, etc. to turn out their own steel tools, projects, architectural and decroative ironwork, and Christmas presents. Many have their own forge at home and some work in the modern trades of steel fabrication and welding, the modern equivalent of the old blacksmith. Several times a year, demonstrators are brought in to show us different blacksmithing techniques.
The working of iron goes back to about 1900 BC. But it was the development of a process of turning iron into steel about 1200 BC that really established "The Iron Age". Most of the processes of smelting, working and using iron were established throughout the world by 200 BC. Since then a lot of development work has refined what was a hit and miss cottage industry into a huge international industry that feeds the requirements of our modern economy. One interesting sidelight is that a blacksmith from ancient Syria, Cyprus or Babylong could come into our Luxton shop and within days, he could be practicing our art and trade. And probably showing us how things were done then, that things have not greatly changed in 3000 years!
The opportunity for Vancouver Island Blacksmiths Association to become involved in the Charles Ball Fence came about when the Old Cemeteries Society (OCS) wanted to upgrade and refurbish the monuments in the hundred year old Ross Bay Cememtery. They asked us to help them to repair the old fence, installed in the early 1900's. Upon examination, parts of the old steelwork were found to be too far corroded to be repairable. Rather than scrap this piece of local history, at the OCS's suggestion, VIBA proposed to build a replica that would look the same as the original fence.
This fence is a good representation of the ornate Victorian style, with lots of scrolls and worked iron details. The original fence was mostly made of steel rather than the more common wrought iron that were used for ornamental work in those days. The standard of workmanship was grand! As amateurs, we had a demanding iron performance in front of us that we were trying to emulate. Even now, there are details on the fence that we have not figured out how they were made back then! While we did our best to replicate the old fence, some of the details look the same but we used modern techniques to achieve the same shapes. The whole job took over two years of VIBA members spare time.
The old fence was in place for over eighty years, so how long will this new fence last? Even with modern marine coating systems, expected life (without ongoing paint maintenance work) would be about the same as the old fence. But now, the Old Cemetery Society is taking an interest in keeping up all the monuments in the Ross Bay Cemetery, so with some paint touch-up every year, it should last a very long time.
We are proud of this beautiful piece of artistic artwork! Seldom does the chance come along, for a group representing an art that was in serious decline, to make such a notable piece, historically significant, technically demanding, and on display for the public. Our VIBA policy encourages us to preserve the artifacts, trade, knowledge, and practice and to educate the community about the past and present activities in blacksmithing. This project is an example of our VIBA commitment to make sure that beautiful artistic iron work, both the pieces and the practice remain in the community view!.
The following pictures include setting up the restored fence at Ross Bay Cemetery and rededication of the fence by the Old Cemetery Society. Attending the rededication were members of the Parker-Ball family, some members of The Vancouver Island Blacksmith's Society, and the general public.