Deirdre’s Bio

Deirdre McGahern

I can measure the stages of my life by what I’ve been building. As a toddler, I’m told I was happy for hours plunked down on the dirt at our cottage with a spoon just digging. When I was ten, 3 girl friends and I designed, bottled drove and built a tree fort complete with roof and screened-in windows. Our big goal was to sleep in it when it was done but we never did. I guess the fun was in its making. My alone time as a kid was spent making all kinds of things and that really hasn’t changed. Today I spend most of my time building and when I’m not I make things on a smaller hand held scale–sewing projects, books and one of a kind oddities and gifts.

I grew up in Ottawa and attended Canterbury High School for the Arts, where 2 hours of my day were spent drawing, painting, sculpting, printmaking or doing photography. It was a pivotal time and lead me to Mount Allison University in Sackville New Brunswick where I spent another 4 years making art before graduating  in 2000 with a Fine Arts degree. At Mt.A I became an environmental activist and gravitated towards all things green. Projects took on a new form as I worked with others, often into the night, on various environmental campaigns. One night a friend told me about   straw bale construction and was profoundly struck. I bought the book The New Natural House by David Pearson, signed up for a weekend workshop with Chris Magwood, and slowly but surely began steering my life towards this new/old way of building. It seemed to be where my maker and activist sides met.

First stop was Algonquin College in Perth Ontario where I completed the Construction Carpentry Program in 2004. There I learned to work with wood and how to make things stand-up. Making was taking on a whole new scale and purpose. Immediately following, I moved up the road to Madoc Ontario for the job I’d been hoping for: an internship with Chris Magwood, an endearing and pioneering straw bale builder, author and educator. For six months we worked closely with a team of others while building his mother a house. Towards the end, I headed-up one of Chris’ projects: building the Sustainable Washroom Block at the H.R. Frink Center in Plainfield, Ontario. That was the beginning of Straworks – a start that lead to my first solo project in 2005 to design, project manage and build a Canteen Washroom Facility at Madoc’s new state of the art skateboarding park.

Sixteen years later I still love what I do and feel I build in more ways than one. In the physical sense I build super insulated and environmentally sound homes. This takes building and maintaining relationships with clients and fellow crew members who are sometimes one in the same. I’ve learned this is as important as proper cross bracing–without it things get shaky on the job site and can fall apart. Together we learn from each and build community. I build as a way of create a place, however small, where I want to live. Hope to see you there.