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Canadian families have enjoyed a steady improvement in comfort, convenience and overall contentment during the past 300 years as heating technology has moved forward.

Memories of early life with wood stoves

1. Sketch of a log cabin

1. Sketch of a log cabin from “Roughing it in the
Bush,” by Susanna Moodie. Click the image for
more information.

Who cut and who stacked?

Ron Marcotte remembers talking with his mother, who was 96 at the time, about life with a wood stove. “She remembers quite clearly that the biggest problem was who did the cutting and stacking of wood with her brothers and sisters. The main heating source was the fireplace and the cook stove. The biggest improvement came when they got a new cook stove with side ‘pockets’ which heated the water and was a great asset for a bath or laundry. The heating improved with a pot bellied stove in the living room which heated the whole house upstairs and downstairs. That would be around 1913.”

Staying Warm — 100 Years Ago

Michel Brown: “The wood burning stove was the main source of heat for cooking meals and to unfreeze the house during the cold season because, 100 years ago, we did not always enjoy the comforts of heat in winter. My mother told me that in their day, often in the morning the water in the side tank in the kitchen was frozen. The first to rise had to start a fire in the stove to heat and thaw the place and the water, also prepare lunches for the day.”

Seats near the stove were prized

Nellie McClung: “My memory of our old house is somewhat shadowy ... The heating was done by a huge cook stove, with a high oven, in the kitchen, and a round heater in the front room which had a drum upstairs to collect and radiate heat to the bedrooms. Seats near either stove were much prized for the outer area was very cold when the north wind swept down from Georgian Bay.”

Kitchen stove moved to the big room

Nellie McClung: “When the weather got cold, the kitchen stove had to be brought into the big room, and it was a family grief when this change had to be made. If the weather did not come down too hard, the stove was kept out until after Christmas. Later, when the storm doors and windows were added, and a bigger heater bought, a fine big barrel of a stove with a row of nice windows around its middle through which the coals glowed with all the colours of a sunset, the kitchen stove remained in the kitchen all winter.... But even when the kitchen stove was in the middle of the big room, there was a cheerful roominess about it. The wood box, papered with pictures of the Ice Palace in Montreal (Family Herald Supplement), when covered with two boards over which a quilt was spread made a nice warm seat...”

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2. Illustration of tin stove furniture

Factually Speaking

Roughing it in the Bush shows the life of early settlers in Canada to be much tougher than suggested by advertisements of the day in England.

The stove tells her story

1. Image of a McClary Famous Kootenay Range

1. This “Kootney” range met the needs of many
BC families. Click the image for
more information.

From the 1700s into the 1900s, life was hard for rural families, winters were cruel, with only a wood stove or fireplace for comfort in their log homes. But as new Canadians, they adapted to the land and the weather with hopes and dreams for the future. Pioneer families’ lives across the country, like the Dvorak family in the 1920s in BC, did not change much, as this personal life story describes. The wood stove, cast iron or steel, fancy or plain, was the difference for survival during those 200 years — until automated systems finally replaced them. These are their life stories.

“I shiver now, remembering the hard cold winters when the children of the family that lived in the log cabin where I was installed, stomping snow off their boots, entered with arms stacked high with chopped wood for the wood box that sat close to my side. I had heard that regardless of how high the wood box was stocked with wood it was claimed to be always empty! My yawning mouth consumed much fuel. I glowed with satisfaction when the wood box was filled with the fragrant birch, pine and fir. I made extra effort to send heat far into the cold rooms. My iron frame strained under boilers full of water to be heated.  But I was strong and willing. Came jam-making the cooks filled the air with the aroma of wild berries bubbling in pots on my flanks.

2. Image of a broken and abandoned Stewart Range

2. What tales could this rusty old stove tell?
Click the image for more information.

“I was in constant use, serving faithfully and was greatly appreciated! I was proud of the golden crusty loaves of bread I turned out, with youngsters impatiently waiting for their first slice. My warm flanks always drew the children around me. But, Yan, their father, when he returned to his eager thankful family after a serious accident, never again enjoyed good health. He would often sit on my protruding ash bin cover while I drew my warmth around him to ease his pain.

“My memories come and go. I recall one cold chilly Winter morning, the boys gathered around me to soak up all the heat possible. They plan to go rabbit hunting. Their sisters are instructed to boil a turnip to be used for bait. I blew my cheeks to set the pot boiling. Chattering along they plan their day. The turnip prepared and wrapped to retain its aroma, they set off with their snares. Later, with much commotion, the returning boys burst through the door, triumphantly, gleefully swinging two white rabbits amidst much banter. They set to prepare their catch for the pot. Quickly, I blow smoke up my chimney, my top grew hot in preparation for the task at hand. The boys’ sister, now dutifully takes over and soon a stew is bubbling in the pot.”

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 3. Image of a range that burned coal or wood 4. Image of a coal-burning range 5. Photo showing school children gathered around a stove 6. Image showing men sitting near a heating stove

Factually Speaking

The stove in the story was a large cast iron range, circa 1895, which was crushed, warped and distorted by a fire that destroyed the trapping cabin it had been moved to. Efforts to restore it were unsuccessful.

The dreaded cold bath on a Saturday night

1. Image of a man sitting in a tin tub

1. A tight fit.
Click the image for more information.

A traditional family event of the 1800s was the Saturday night bath, which was a real chore when heating water with wood.

That lifestyle needed to change.

A 1941 newspaper story about a new housing development in Toronto reminded prospective customers of being the last one in, “The automatic gas water heater has done away with the old dread of being last in the bath tub on a Saturday night, for there is always an abundant supply of hot water, regardless of demand.”

An earlier 1896 newspaper ad told women, “When flushed with heat and damp with perspiration, a bath, complete change of garments will make you feel like a new being, with cotton gowns, drawers, corset covers, chemise skirts.”

In a letter to a friend, DeVon F. Andrus of Wisconsin wrote: “You took your bath in the kitchen, close to the hot water. (It was nice just to be close to the stove in winter.) When I was a small boy the hot water supply was often limited to what could be heated in two four-quart tea kettles on top of the coal range. We envied families who had a kitchen range with a hot water reservoir.”

While lifestyles change with time, technology, fads, trends, you name it, a basic human need to be clean and comfortable is always present — and automated hot water heating ensures that happens whichever fuel you select to do that. And it is the message that reaches out to consumers whatever the era or decade.

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2. A Pears soap advertisement showing children about to give a puppy a bath3. Photo showing kids bathing in a small metal tub4. Image of a tin bathtub with armrests

Factually Speaking

Indoor plumbing, good soap, and near limitless hot water have made bathing and showering a daily activity for many Canadians.

Keeping the Wrens warm

1. Image of Wren Sidney Dymond stoking a stove

1. Wren Sidney Dymond stokes a stove. Click
the image for more information.

In the Second World War a new component of the Canadian Navy was formed to overcome the shortage of personnel needed to fill non-combatant roles. Officially named the Women’s Royal Canadian Naval Service, the organization and the women who staffed it were soon known as the “Wrens.”

Wrens played a significant part in the war, taking on a wide variety of military duties excluding combat. For instance, some Wren recruits went to Moncton, New Brunswick, where they attended what was said to be “the best-equipped signals school in the British Empire,” where they were housed in wooden huts condemned by the army in 1918. When they were not training, they took turns to keep stoves burning while snow piled up outside.

Larry Gray, author of Canadians in the Battle of the Atlantic, wrote: “In September 1943, Elsa’s [Lessard of Ottawa] long-awaited draft for the six-month telegraphists’ course in St. Hyacinthe came through. She was off to Montreal and the communication school. These Wrens lived in an old, previously condemned army barracks. It was a long shed with a row of double-decker bunks along each side wall and pot-bellied coal stoves down the centre aisle.

“The stoves had to be continually stoked, which meant a rotating roster of Wrens for night duty. The Wren on fire duty crept around with a flashlight tending each stove as quietly as possible. Often the most difficult part was waking the replacement Wren without disturbing the whole barracks.”

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Article Sources

Memories of early life with wood stoves

  • Research from the archives of the HVACR Heritage Centre Canada (DSCB #39, HD1005BB).
  • As told to Ron Marcotte of Hamilton, Ontario, and sent to “Warming Up” via Email November, 2010.
  • Nellie L. McClung, Clearing in the West: My Own Story (Toronto Ontario: Thomas Allen, Toronto, 1984), 18, 166-67.
  • American Radiator Co., The Ideal Fitter, 21st Edition (New York, N.Y.:n.p.,1925), 348 pages, hard bound. HHCC Collections.
  • As told to Michel Brown, Montreal, Quebec, sent to “Warming Up” in an Email February 28, 2010.
  • Canada Collections, Lewin-Langsner Archival Collection, Montreal, Quebec, 2010.

The stove tells her story

  • These are excerpts from a long story of this stove's family life in the early 1900's deep in the Kootenay’s of British Columbia, hand written on May 1, 1996 by Vickie Kuchera, Fernie, BC, daughter of Yan Dvorak of Morrisey, BC, for stove restorer Mike Strong of Kaslo, BC, owner of Canadian Antique Stoves.

The dread and a cold bath on a Saturday night

  • Research from the archives of the HVACR Heritage Centre Canada (DCSB #109).
  • The Globe, July 6, 1896
  • The Globe and Mail, May 2, 1941
  • Family Matters: "Saturday Night Bath," via

Keeping the “Wrens” warm

  • Research from the archives of the HVACR Heritage Centre Canada (DCSB #17, HD1005E).
  • Larry Gray, Canadians in the Battle of the Atlantic (Edmonton, AB: Folklore Publishing, 2007). 286-87. Printed in Canada, with financial support from Canadian Heritage and the Alberta Foundation for the Arts.


  • Research from the archives of the HVACR Heritage Centre Canada.

Factually Speaking

  • Research from the archives of the HVACR Heritage Centre Canada.

Image Credits

Memories of early life with wood stoves

  • Susanna Moodie, Roughing It in the Bush (Toronto, ON: New Canadian Library, McClelland & Stewart Ltd., 1962), cover.
  • The James Smart Mfg., Co., Limited., Combined Catalogue and Wholesale Price List of Perfection Stoves, Ranges and Furnaces, Favorite Stoves and Ranges (Brockville, ON: The Recorder Printing Co., Ltd., 1890), 108.

The stove tells her story

  • Canadian Antique Stoves,
  • Ibid.,
  • Clare Brothers, Descriptive catalogue of fine stoves, ranges and hollow-ware, of warm air furnaces, registers and combination heaters, 1893-4, Internet Archive, via
  • Ibid., p29.
  • Glenbow Archives NA-3229-80.
  • Ibid., NA-4035-192 [detail].

The dread and a cold bath on a Saturday night

  • R. Frings (Beeld en Geluidwiki - Stiefbeen en zoon) [CC-BY-SA-3.0-nl (], via Wikimedia Commons [detail]
  • Frederick Morgan (1847-1927), (Web screenshot) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.
  • User:w:en:User:Flyhighplato [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons,
  • Georges Jansoone (JoJan) (Own photo by uploader) [CC-BY-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons [detail].

Keeping the “Wrens” warm

  • Doris Hope, "Coverdale Photo Album - People [1].” Jerry Proc’s Family of Web Pages, via
  • “Coverdale Photo Album - People [1].” Jerry Proc’s Family of Web Pages, via