I don’t think I mentioned that my last year at the Willowbank School of the Restoration Arts is just six weeks of classes, and a placement. The placement I pursued and am delighted to have secured is with the Brown Homestead in St. Catherines, Ontario. It’s a home that was built c. 1802, making it the oldest house in the city. I’m not going to go on at length about it because although it is an amazing place, you can read about it firsthand by following the link.

This last week, my co-worker Holly and I were investigating the ceiling of a room that is currently undergoing renovation. The easiest way was from above so we removed the wood floor in the room above. While we had the floorboards so accessible, we made some repairs to the most damaged boards.

We’re not sure how old the floor is, because it’s in a loft that housed migrant workers in days past. Given the use of the room, the materials were not the highest quality and the room was likely not maintained to the same standards as the parts of the house in which the owners lived.

The floorboard wood was in good condition, but the tongue-and-groove boards themselves were only loosely fit together, and quite dirty.

Have a look for yourself:

What you see here is the edge of a floorboard with the tongue visible. The left side has been cleaned, but the right is the condition in which we found it. The gap between the floorboards was packed with a century or two of dried and hardened detritus. We have no idea what it is but we certainly took the precaution of wearing masks while cleaning it. I think it’s mostly dirt tracked in on the inhabitant’s shoes, but we also found signs of pests, probably squirrels, so there could easily be faeces and who knows what else in there. We didn’t want to inhale any of that!

To our great surprise, after very lightly sanding the areas we repaired, we saw the wood underneath the dirty grey surface was an almost cheery yellow/orange colour. It looked so unlike the colour of wood that we initially thought we’d revealed a layer of paint. Closer examination revealed that it was indeed bare wood.

We’re going to try to wash a board with linseed oil soap to see if we can bring that colour out in a less destructive way.

It struck me as I was cleaning the board that I held history in my hands. While it wasn’t as grand as a Fabergé egg, it was more real. The deposits between the boards were created by regular people going about their business. I suspect that the boards were installed at least a century ago. So a century of crud was packed between the boards, dried out and hardened. The people who brought that dirt into the room were just like us, but in a different time, long past.