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Museum (KW) Home and Hearth

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Home and Hearth

When the early settlers arrived in rural Upper Canada, their first concern was shelter from the weather. They built cabins out of the resources that were readily available: wood, stone and mud bricks. Insulation in these types of structures would have been very poor and keeping warm during cold weather would have been challenging.

 Drawing of the interior of an early settlers cabin
Drawing of the interior of an early settlers cabin

The first type of heating source for the early settlers in the home was the fireplace, which was also used for cooking. Fireplaces would have been originally made of stone in early cabins as it could be found just lying on the ground. Wood was the primary fuel source, as it was abundant in Upper Canada at this time and a byproduct of settlers clearing their land. As time went on and brick became more available, it was the material of choice for fireplaces and exterior home construction. Brick was easier to work with than stone and provided a better and more consistent insulation. 

Family at home around the heating stove, 1905C
Family at home around the heating stove, 1905C

By the 1860s, the cast iron stoves began to be used to supplement fireplace heating. Stoves were easy to install in existing homes, were more efficient in providing heat, were safer than fireplaces due to the fire being enclosed, and provided an easier cooking experience. Stove pipes could be run through multiple rooms in the house to provide radiant heat to the whole home with just one stove. Some wealthier homeowners had stoves put into multiple rooms to provide more consistent and controllable heating. 

Drawing James Stewart Mfg. Co. wood stove “The Hustler”, 1920
Drawing James Stewart Mfg. Co. wood stove “The Hustler”, 1920

In the late 1800s, radiator heating began to come into fashion and used hot water or steam from a boiler.  The water or steam was heated by the boiler and would rise through a series of pipes to a cast iron radiator in each room in the house. The heat would transfer from the water or steam to the cast iron and then into the air, heating the room. This was more efficient than stove pipes or multiple stoves for heating and provided more consistent heat throughout the house from only one boiler.  

James Stewart Mfg. Co. “Good Cheer” furnace, 1910
James Stewart Mfg. Co. “Good Cheer” furnace, 1910

In the early 1900s the furnace started to make its way into homes. An early furnace was like a large cast iron stove that was placed in the home’s basement. It heated air which would then rise through pipes (ducts) and come out through grates into each room. Unlike the stove, the heated air was released directly into the room, providing faster and more efficient heating than stove pipes or radiators. The furnace could be modified to use wood, coal, oil, propane or natural gas. By the mid-1900s, the addition of an electric fan improved air flow and distribution, creating a more even temperature throughout the home.

Radiators in the Armouries Officers' Mess, 1945C
Radiators in the Armouries Officers' Mess, 1945C

Although the electric heater has been around since the 1890s it was not used as a home heating system until the 1960s, mainly due to the cost of electricity. Early electric heaters were small plug-in models that were meant to supplement heating in a room or small area. In the 1960s, the electric baseboard heater started to show up in new homes due to the high cost of fuel and low cost of electricity. Their popularity was short lived as the rising cost of electricity in the late 1980s turned people off of electric heating.   

Fireplace Artifacts

Artifacts listed in order top to bottom left to right:
  • Coal Bucket - Used to add coal to a fire or furnace. Black metal bucket with spout, 1900 C
  • Matchbox - Used to hold matches near a fireplace. Cast iron decorative match holder, 1880 C
  • Bellows - Used to add air to a fire. Wood and brass bellows, 1900 C
  • Fireplace Tongs - Used for carrying live coals. Iron tongs, 1870 C
  • Fireplace Broom - Used to sweep fireplace hearth. Angled broom, 1900 C

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Phone: 519-539-1291
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