Ancestral Roofs

"In Praise of Older Buildings"

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

If wishes were houses...

There's a lot of interest in mail-order houses. I was doing some research on early catalogues recently for an article in a local arts newspaper. This all started when I rediscovered a facsimile edition of the 1910 Eaton's catalogue on my bookshelf, and spent an enjoyable few hours looking at merchandise that has long disappeared from our lives...automobile coats and bicycle skirts, cuspidors, mangles and two-horse harness. And houses.

I remembered a visit to several south Saskatchewan communities while we exploring 'the Big Muddy' from our base in the Coronach municipal campground few years ago. A local guide pointed out the house at the upper left - a weathered husk of a house, standing in a field of harvest-ready wheat. The house, going back into the earth, to nurture future crops? Our guide explained that this was an Eaton's mail-order house - whether local legend or not, the idea was new to me, and I was hooked.

Most sources suggest that the mail-order house, available from around 1910 to 1930, was a prairie phenomenon, necessary because of the shortage of timber for house lumber. Makes sense, looking at the countryside surrounding these little buildings. There were a number of companies: Eaton's and Aladdin were the two main ones. Lumber was shipped from B.C., and everything else needed to build a home - windows, hardware, nails, paper, optional plumbing and heating kits - arrived by boxcar from Winnipeg. Plans and material for barns, school-houses and other buildings were also available. Plans were available for those who had local access to building materials. Lots of homes in the East may have been built from the catalogue plans - that would be interesting to know.

I have come across some interesting websites in my research, created by community heritage associations or ranches. They contain all sorts of interesting images and stories. A visitor to this blog is looking for news of Eaton's houses in western Ontario - I am doing the same in eastern Ontario. Let me know what you know about mail-order homes!

The photo of the faded little yellow house with the red roof was taken near Sceptre, Saskatchewan, on a tour to find the Great Sand Hills. The little school-house photo is from a historic tour we took in South Saskatchewan, out of Coronach. My heart tells me they came in a kit from one of the mail-order companies. More houses with stories to tell.

1 comment:

  1. Thinking back to the institution that was Eaton's in the early 1900s, it's not such a stretch to imagine a mail-order house. How fascinating! I'll look forward to a sequel.