Stoneworks: Building on tradition
Andre Lemieux was drawn into a career as a mason by the beauty of dry stone walling, an ancient way of building with stone that is steeped in traditional principles that craftspeople follow to this day.
“One of my colleagues described it one time to me as ‘the intelligent placement of stones to create structure’ and that really distills it,” said Lemieux. “It’s not just putting rocks on top of rocks.” There are principles to be followed to ensure stability, supported by gravity and friction, due to the way the stones make contact at the core of the structure.
“I’m drawing on centuries of trial-and-error that form these principles that I follow,” said Lemieux.
“You can build pretty much anything using dry stone walling techniques that you could build with mortared stonework.”
Stonemasonry and dry stone walling each have their own traditions. Lemieux says stonemasonry is more of an architectural building technique and dry stone walling is more of an agrarian utilitarian craft.
Lemieux began a career as a stonemason 15 years ago in Ottawa and joined a large restoration company working on federal buildings, doing stone cutting and traditional mortared stonemasonry work. During that time he would volunteer to work on dry stone walling sites in order to gain experience. He also travelled to Europe three times to volunteer with master dry stone wallers in places like Ireland, Whales and the United Kingdom.
Lemieux said the ancient craft was developed all over Europe and Japan, really anywhere that stone is prevalent in the landscape.
“It’s a really old building technique. Using stones without mortar to build things goes really far back. There are examples in Scotland that are older than the pyramids,” said Lemieux.
More modern examples include walls built of stones cleared from farm fields, designed to contain livestock and to keep other animals out, and windbreaks to stop erosion.
Traditionally, the technique developed as a way of utilizing the material that was at hand.
“It’s a really green building technique for that very reason,” said Lemieux.
The lack of mortar also helps to reduce the trade’s carbon footprint and means it makes for stable retaining walls because no hydrostatic pressure builds up behind it.
“In England it’s still much more of an agrarian skill, as opposed to here.”
Lemieux said settlers clearing land locally had an abundance of lumber at hand so they would have taken the easier route of building a wooden fence but there are rare examples of stone walls bordering local pastures.
In terms of his own custom work as a dry stone waller, Lemieux says it runs the gamut.
Through his business, ADL Stonework, he is commissioned to create artistic landscape features on country estate properties, such as bridges, or retaining walls, even a stone room built on the site of an old quarry using Credit Valley sandstone, the famous stone used to build Queen’s Park.
“I really love using native stone from the property I’m working on,” said Lemieux. “Walls that are built using local stone just fit so beautifully in the landscape.”
As a part of a fairly small community of dry stone wallers, Lemieux said he often works solo, using hand tools almost exclusively, and commissions may take him far afield. When needed, he said he calls on his colleagues for bigger jobs.
“We all lean on each other because there’s only a handful of people who do this full-time around here, in the whole province really,” said Lemieux.
Having a stonecutting background as well, Lemieux said he can combine various elements to do letter cutting and create architectural elements. To see his full portfolio, visit adlstonework.com.