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SOLID FUELS were the fuel of choice in the early days of home heating.

Stoves: Worthy of our admiration

1. The top photo shows the heater closed up. In the lower one, the doors have been opened

A Franklin-style heater from 1925.
Click the image for more information.

The 1700s saw the beginnings of cast iron heating apparatus with the introduction of simple box stoves (enclosed with doors), and the Franklin fireplace (open, no doors).

During the early 19th century an explosion of variations occurred in both heating and cooking stoves. Foundry practice advanced to produce beautiful and intricate castings. By 1850, iron stoves were replacing fireplaces in city and country. “Portable” cook stoves and heaters were required by the westwardly mobile pioneers.

The latter half of the 19th century featured coal-fired stoves with grates that would burn all night. Fierce competition again advanced style and design. The “Art” period of the 1880s is characterized by extravagant neo-classical scenes, nickel-plated trim, and mica windows. The smaller “four-hole cook” stove was the standard in the early kitchen, but the larger “six-hole ranges” with warming ovens were available for those who could afford them.

By the beginning of the 20th century, wood and coal technology had seen its day and the changes that appeared were mostly cosmetic. The glorious black and nickel finishes transitioned to coloured enamels and by the 1950s, ranges were simply square and white, matching the other bland appliances. Heaters and furnaces were generally placed downstairs out of sight. Of course, the obvious advancements in heating and cooking technology were the introduction of modern petroleum-based fuels, and electricity.

Invariably, when a new invention is successful, others respond to capitalize. The “Round Oak” heating stove was introduced in the 1870s. The design was simple: an upright, columnar shape with a large feed door, a heavy cast-iron firepot and grate in the bottom. This heater was primarily a coal stove but had the advantage of burning hardwood equally as well, which could be loaded easily through the large door. This stove is characterized by its sheet metal upper half, which acted as a heat exchanger, thus improving efficiency. Within a decade every major manufacturer offered “Oak”-style heaters, which remained popular until the demise of solid fuels.

An example of cooking stove advancement is the “home comfort” range. “WIRCO” focused on the range-style cooking stove exclusively. By the 1880s, they had introduced a sheet metal body and annealed malleable castings to produce an unbreakable stove! Travelling salesmen sold these “home comfort” styles using “salesman samples” to demonstrate their superior qualities. Later, other manufacturers produced malleable ranges and by 1910 the “steel range” was the centre of the modern kitchen.

Stove development is an interesting chapter in the story of the Industrial Revolution. Foundry practice developed dramatically, stimulated by competition and the demand for cast iron stoves. The beauty and design of these products are worthy of our admiration.

Section Gallery

2. Image of Hageys’ King Heater3. Image of a Canadian-made parlor heater4. Image of a compact 1896 fisherman’s two-burner boat stove5. Image of a double-heating base burner6. Franklin-type stove from 1825

Factually Speaking

England's forest were so depleted by the 1700s that it became almost totally dependant on coal for heat.

We no longer shovel coal, but we sure use a lot

1. Drawing of a woman resting her hands on her shovel next to her coal-fired furnace

Stoking the coal-fired furnace was tiring work.
Click the image to see a larger one with more

Most of us have little to do with coal today, except when we barbecue, but it was the only way to heat a home for many people in your great-grandmother’s day.

Coal was delivered to homes by the ton back then and often represented a major expense for homeowners. That fact prompted furnace and boiler manufacturers to strive to improve the efficiency of their products and led coal suppliers to promote the quality of their products with regular advertisements.

In those days, coal was mined across Canada, from Sydney, Nova Scotia, to Nanaimo, BC. One of the easiest places to extract it was near Drumheller, Alberta. One of the 139 mines that registered there over the years was the Atlas Coal Mine, which had tunnels running horizontally into the side of a hill that contained a huge coal seam.

In 1897, the country produced almost nine million tons of coal, while consuming six million tons, two-and-a-half million of which went to Ontario. Much of the Western production was exported, while Ontario got a lot of its coal by importing it from coal-rich Pennsylvania and other US states.

Nine million tons may seem like a lot, but you might be surprised to learn that in 2007, 22 Canadian mines produced 70 million tonnes, 80 percent of which came from British Columbia and Alberta. Over the same period, Canadian consumption grew to 58 million tons, 85 percent of which went into power plants to to generate electricity used to heat and light the homes and businesses of millions of Canadians, with most of the rest going to steel and cement production.

In the face of climate change, coal is now being demonized and new efforts to mine it are hotly protested. However, Canada has more than a 100 years of proven reserves — plus several times as much that is as yet unproven.

Section Gallery

2. Image of a wall mural in the shower and change room that depicts miners3. Image of the Atlas Coal Mine’s tipple

Article Sources

Stoves: Worthy of our admiration

  • Contributed by Mike Strong, Canadian Antique Stoves, Kaslo, BC, Canada, January 2010, especially for 'Warming Up: Automated Heating and Social Change.' Mike has been restoring these stoves for 30 years.

We no longer shovel coal, but we sure use a lot

  • Research from the archives of the HVACR Heritage Centre Canada (DCSB #14, HD1005B).
  • About Coal | Energy Sector, via


  • Research from the archives of the HVACR Heritage Centre Canada.
  • Centre for Energy : About Energy, via

Image Credits

Stoves: Worthy of our admiration

  • Canadian Antique Stoves,
  • (1892) Catalogue: The E. & C. Gurney Co., Ltd. (John Bull Ranges)
  • Ibid.
  • Art Irwin, Art Irwin Consulting, Halifax, Nova Scotia
  • The D. Moore Company, Limited, Illustrated Catalogue and Price List, No. 61, Treasure Stoves and Ranges (Hamilton, ON: n.p., 1909–10).
  • Art Irwin, Art Irwin Consulting, Halifax, Nova Scotia

We no longer shovel coal, but we sure use a lot

  • Advertisement, Canadian Institute for Plumbing & Heating (CIPH), 1958.
  • Nigel Heseltine, HHCC.
  • Ibid.