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Dalhousie Agricultural Campus home to new Barley Arch

Posted by Stephanie Rogers on May 8, 2018 in Alumni & Friends, News
The Barley Arch under construction by Ruben Irons.
The Barley Arch under construction by Ruben Irons.

By Emma Geldart

At Dalhousie University Faculty of Agriculture, barley is more than just a grain. It symbolizes excellence in academics, leadership, research and innovation. It’s an emblem of hands-on learning, new friendships and partnerships. It represents a beautiful campus where you can make a difference. As Dalhousie University celebrates its 200th year, the Faculty of Agriculture is excited to unveil a new symbolic barley addition to its campus- the Barley Arch.

“The Barley Arch is symbolic on so many different fronts, especially this year – our 200th anniversary,” explains Dean David Gray. “The shape of the arch mimics the sunrise in our 200th logo while the leaves of barley represent the integrity and commitment of what it means to be an Aggie,” he adds. “Having sold our 1000th ring this year, the tradition continues to grow as will the Faculty of Agriculture as we proudly enter the dawn of our third century together with the broader Dalhousie community.”

The Barley Arch is a 10-foot tall arch that frames the entrance to the Alumni Gardens, just off of the MacRae Library parking lot. The arch, which mirrors the design of the ever-popular Barley Ring, was unveiled as part of Convocation celebrations. The beautiful hand-crafted arch is a gift to campus from the Agricultural Campus Alumni Association.

“With Dalhousie University celebrating its 200th year, it was important for the Agricultural Campus Alumni Association to do something to celebrate the occasion, but would also resonate within our Agricultural Campus,” says Audrie Jo McConkey, chair of the Agricultural Campus Alumni Association. “The construction of a barley arch is so fitting. Most evident, it mirrors our Barley Ring, but it also has a similar shape to the Dal 200th logo. The location of the new arch means it will be viewed and enjoyed by students, staff, alumni and visitors to campus. The Alumni Association is so proud to support this exciting project.”

The Dalhousie Agricultural Students’ Association (DASA) also contributed to the new arch. Traditionally, DASA presents a gift to campus in the name of the graduating class. This year, that contribution has gone toward supporting the design, construction and installation of the Barley Arch.

"The Class of 2018 is honored to be a part of the Barley Arch project,” says Mollie Pickard, Class of 2018 Life President. “It is exciting to contribute to this symbolic new piece of campus that will be enjoyed by students, faculty and staff for years to come."

The significant addition to campus has been custom made by Ruben Irons, an artist blacksmith from Pictou, NS who has been creating and sculpting for over 20 years. Ruben also constructed the arch framing the main entrance to the Alumni Gardens, a generous gift from the Class of ’54 in 2009.

As Ruben added the finishing touches to the arch, he reflected on the design and construction of the barley arch, which was no simple task. The first step was creating the design and discussing the details with Dal AC representatives.

“Once the project was proposed the first step was letting it roll around in my head for a while, imagining different ideas,” Ruben explained

Once Ruben had an idea for the design, he met with Darwin Carr, Botanical Garden Manager and Alisha Johnson, Alumni Relations Officer, to pitch the idea and coordinate the finer details. Once the design was agreed upon, Ruben heads back to the shop and gathers materials, lights the forge and picks up his tools.

“I cut out all the leaves and pieces for the arch first,” he says. “I then hammer all the leaves hot on the anvil. Once everything is forged I weld it all together and grind it smooth. The last step is having it all sandblasted and painted.”

In total, Ruben spent approximately 150 hours working on the barley arch.

The arch arrived on campus in multiple pieces, the arch itself in one piece with the leaves arriving as six separate pieces. The arch was welded to the footers and then the leaves screwed onto the arch. The result is a beautiful 10-foot, handcrafted design welcoming visitors to the Alumni Gardens.    

“The most challenging part of this project was imagining the arch in its place and determining the proper size so that it will feel natural from many different vantage points,” Ruben says. “I also had to figure out how to honor the design of the Barley Ring without copying every detail. This was such a rewarding process for me from start to finish.”