Brigus forge makes metal gear
Local historical society reopens property with first blacksmith in 41 years
When John Pinkston of Brigus was young, he would smell a familiar odor coming from his grandfather’s blacksmith forge.
The building that housed the forge was built in 1889, and John’s grandfather, John Charles Pinkston, looked after it until his death in 1947, at which point his sons Robert and Douglas ( father of John Pinkston) took over the forge. Douglas Pinkston continued using it until he retired in 1976. It hasn’t been used ever since. That is, until now.
“I was out here yesterday and they had the fire going and the wind was in, and I could smell the fire,” John Pinkston told The Compass last Thursday, taking John Pinkston’s dad, the late Douglas Pinkston, was the last blacksmith to use Pinkston’s Forge in 1976. John says the smell coming from the forge today brings back a lot of memories. a break from painting a fence on a sunny day. “Brought back a lot of memories, because as a boy, we used to live in this house right here, so I’d always be pumping the bellows for dad, especially on Saturdays and stuff.”
“We want to do that by giving people something from our past. There aren’t too many blacksmiths around now.”
— David Collins
A few years ago, John Pinkston donated Pinkston’s Forge to the Brigus Historical and Conservation Society. Towards the end of 2014, the society arranged to move the forge from Pinkston’s property to land located next to the John N. Leamon Museum (also known as Ye Old Stone Barn).
Now, with support from the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, the Department of Tourism, Culture, Industry and Innovation and the Radcliffle Foundation, the society has a trained blacksmith working until the middle of October.
“The main thrust of what we’re trying to do is improve the visitor experience to our town,” David Collins, past-president of the historical society, told The Compass. “We want to do that by giving people something from our past. There aren’t too many blacksmiths around now. There are a few, but there aren’t too many, and there aren’t too many forges around.”
According to Collins, Pinkston’s Forge is one of only two operating in the province, with the other located in Trinity.
“We’re quite proud to offer this working forge to the public and have a first-hand view of a blacksmith — John Bungay — hand forging items that we intend to offer for sale to the public as well.”
The property itself underwent extensive renovations. The forge’s chimney was rebuilt and a new double-action bellows (the device that pumps air into the chimney) and windows were installed, and the annex where the bellows is set up had to be rebuilt as well.
“We took pictures, catalogued everything before we moved, and then we put everything back in the original position based on all the pictures that we had before we moved it,” said Collins.
For Bungay, a native of Valleyfield, working at the forge amounts to a dream of sorts.
While living in Ontario a few years ago, he took a course on basic tool making from a master blacksmith. Upon his return to Newfoundland, Bungay set up his own hobby forge. He was interested in finding an apprenticeship, and research lead him to the Pinkston’s Forge.
To get him prepared for the job, the historical society enrolled him in an intensive blacksmith program at Fleming College in Haliburton, Ont.
“I came straight out of that into here,” he told The Compass while hammering away at steel later formed into a hook. “Everything kind of lined up perfectly.”
So far, he’s crafted table stands, axe blades, hooks and even engagement rings for his fiancée and himself. This summer he’ll be making trivets, bottle openers, coasters, wall hangers, candleholders, fire pokers, shovels and whatever else people might have in mind. Bungay would also love to get into historical reproduction work.
“It’s only limited by the imagination and the tools and techniques you have available,” he said.
Bungay will have a summer student working with him as an assistant. While Bungay’s contract concludes Oct. 15, there’s a chance Bungay could continue working at the site beyond that date if there’s a demand for product.
Pinkston’s Forge blacksmith John Bungay considers his new gig to be a dream job.
Pinkston’s Forge is located next to the John N. Leamon Museum in Brigus.
An example of John Bungay’s handiwock at Pinkston’s Forge.
The new double-action bellows that pumps air into the chimney.
John Bungay pumps the bellows to increase the heat in the forge.