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Chopping Wood

His family’s balloon frame firetrap
was to be heated with twisty elm

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1. Image of Lovers’ Elm, Gwynne estate

1. Lovers’ elm in 1914.
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2. Photo of elm logs shows that elm is a stringy wood

2. Elm is a stringy wood.
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3. Photo of a competitor racing to chop a log with a chainsaw

3. The chain saw made chopping wood,
even elm, a whole lot easier.
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Gary Burger, HVACR Heritage Centre Canada’s (HHCC’s) vice president and Leslie Oliver, curator of the HHCC’s artefact collection recently reminisced on the challenge of keeping warm with wood, elm in particular. You can read the text of their talk below, or listen to it using the audio player on the left.

Gary: We had a house in Fort Erie that was essentially balloon construction ...

Leslie: Yeah, balloon construction.

Gary: So, it had, essentially had, you could take a tennis ball in the attic and find the edge of the wall and you could drop that tennis ball and you could pick it up in the basement. There was nothing in between. If you had a fire in the basement, the whole house would go. You’re done for. And it would go right up through, set fire to the lathe and all the siding and everything and whoosh, you’re gone. And so far as heating it, it was totally ridiculous. So my dad said to heck with this, we’re not going to by buying gas and that kind of stuff, we’ll heat mainly on wood. And we had to go through that wood heating ritual of stoking the thing up and banking the fire and all of the rest of that kind of stuff. We had to go to the farm and chop up the wood and split it and take it and most of the ... at the farm, we had a woodlot there, most of the trees that were dead were elm ...

Leslie: Elm was awful to split. It wouldn’t split.

Gary: What we had to do was cut the great big trunk into one foot sections and then try to split it as a one foot. Even then the grain intertwines within one foot of the tree trunk.

Leslie: You can’t get a clean split on it.

Article Sources

His family’s balloon frame firetrap was to be heated with twisty elm

  • Research from the archives of the HVACR Heritage Centre Canada (DCSB #210).


  • “Balloon Framing.” Home Remodeling, Repair and Improvement — Products, Ideas and How-To Tips, via (accessed January 31, 2011).

Image Credits

His family’s balloon frame firetrap was to be heated with twisty elm

  • William James, City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 9145.
  • Public domain.
  • Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-1988-0831-029 / CC-BY-SA [CC-BY-SA-3.0-de (], via Wikimedia Commons.