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Space Heating

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SPACE HEATERS are appliances that warm small areas, such as a single room, typically by radiant heat.

Supplementary heating with electric power

1. Photo of a simulated bronze fire basket

1. Simulated fireplace hearth of the 1930s.
Click the image for more information.

Electricity was the new magic word on the lips of Canadians in the early years of the 20th century. Creative, innovative and entrepreneurial Canadians would see new market opportunities through the promotion of the latest in room heating electrical appliances for comfort, health, convenience, and pleasure. All this seemed possible, conditional on the electrification of Canada’s cities, rural villages and working farms.

An early form in which electric supplementary heating would appear, primarily in urban settings, would be the electric fireplace. It was promoted as a modern fireplace hearth, needing neither wood nor coal, nor a working chimney. It was an answer for urbanites, anxious to leave behind the mess of burning wood or coal. They would look forward to modernizing the home, “living better electrically.” All this had great market appeal, satisfying the Canadian perennial desire for the sense of comfort and pleasure that comes from sitting around an open hearth in the winter, and around the campfire in the summer.

Designed and manufactured by Renfrew Electric Products, Renfrew Ontario, through the mid to late 1930s, it was beautifully crafted in the form of a traditional hearth fire basket. Yet carefully concealed from view were twin, open coil electric heaters on fragile porcelain tubes, producing 1,500 watts of home comfort. A simulated coal fire look was created using twin light bulbs, illuminating chunks of amber glass. A flickering fire effect was accomplished through the use of an ingenious fan, self-driven by naturally generated warm air currents.

In a steel casing with cast bronze front grill, and large copper heat reflecting hood, it would be a truly remarkable engineering innovation of its times. It would herald the market interest, close to a century later, in high tech electric fireplaces. The electric fireplace would become, once more, an object of pleasure and supplementary heat for Canadians, many now moving into condominiums in the cities, towns, and villages across the nation.

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Factually Speaking

The US Department of Energy says, “In some cases, small space heaters can be less expensive to use [than central heating] if you only want to heat one room or supplement inadequate heating in one room.”

From solid to liquid fuels

1. Photo of a vaporizing kerosene room heater

1. The Coleman “Quick-Lite” vaporizing,
kerosene room heater from 1929.
Click the image for more information.

With the availability in Canada of liquid fuels, such as kerosene, in the early years of the 20th century came the idea a new innovative form of space heating — a self-contained, completely portable room heater. Without the need for a chimney, it could be moved from room to room. Although smelly and unacceptable by current standards of air quality, it would in its time be revolutionary, providing an auxiliary form of heat for cold, drafty homes, common in Canada in the near pioneer conditions under which many were still living.

Marketed by Coleman under the “Quick Lite” brand in the 1930s, it had a built-in, aluminum, fuel tank, a 14-inch parabolic heat reflector in spun aluminum, a needle fuel control valve, ceramic heater element, steel wire safety guard, and wooden insulating handle, all finished in the popular, innovative, antiqued finish of the times.

The innovation would provide Canadian homeowners with a new convenient heat source, supplementing their wood stove or gravity furnace. It would help to set new expectations for winter comfort, building new markets for heating equipment for the Canadian homeowner. It would demonstrate the remarkable achievements in engineering, materials development, and manufacturing processes that were available to Canadian consumers in the early years of the 20th century — those that could afford them.

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2. Detail of kerosene fuel burner crafted in moulded ceramic3. Detail of liquid fuel flow controls4. Image of a modern kerosene heater

Factually Speaking

Some heaters had attachments that allowed them to heat the room above them as well.

Early 20th century heaters

1. Image of an ad that claims the stove burned any type of fuel

1. A Belle Oak stove like this was
advertised in an October, 1911,
issue of Popular Mechanics for 75 cents
per month. Click the image for more

Advertising is as much a source of history as the companies, and products being sold. These vignettes, or local examples, of the technologies being promoted offer a window on what appliances were being marketed, and the lifestyle messages they used to sell them in Canada at specific times:

  • The Niagara Electric Fire Basket was touted as being “cheery, fascinating, comfortable and suitable for regular service.” It was bronze plated, sized at 32 inches, priced at $12.50, and sold by J. Ogden, likely a distributor.
  • The Consumer’s Gas Co. was promoting (that same day) a “gas-fired auxiliary furnace that would be attached to your present gas warm air heater” to heat a room and avoid firing the main heater, mainly coal-fired, “too early in the Fall.”
    The T. Eaton Co. Ltd. advertised different appliances in different issues:
  • The “Acme Steel Range is designed to give the greatest amount of heat for the least fuel.” Its price was $22.50 to $33.00 with an installed price of $52.50 to $71.00 for five or seven rooms. (Eaton’s also featured an Acme Gas Cabinet Range for $55.00, a smaller model for $17.75 and a third for $44.00.)
  • The Crown Huron Range “has a good heater, sectional firebox and duplex grate for $15.50.” This Eaton’s ad also listed the ‘Quebec Idea’, a small heater in four sizes from $5.00 to $9.60 – “for safe steady heat.”
  • The Sunshine furnace was promoted by McClary’s of Toronto as being “equipped with an automatic gas damper…opens when the gas in the furnace reaches a certain pressure and allows it to escape up the chimney … Safest as well as most healthful, easiest managed, cleanest, greatest labour-saving, and fuel economizing furnace you can buy.”

This certainly appeals to the social preferences of the day, and examples of the impact on lifestyles and social change.

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2. Image of an advertisement promoting natual gas3. Advertisement for a stove that burned wood, coal or gas4. Advertisement for a gas cabinet range

Article Sources

Supplementary heating thanks to electric power

  • Research from the archives of the HVACR Heritage Centre Canada (DCSB #2, HD1001H).
  • Historical artifact from the HVACR Heritage Centre Canada, T. H. Oliver Collection, Accession No. 2003-084.
  • Safety issues with heaters,”

From solid to liquid fuels

  • Research from the archives of the HVACR Heritage Centre Canada (DCSB #1, HD1001G).
  • Historical artifact from the HVACR Heritage Centre Canada, T. H. Oliver Collection, Accession No. 2003-082.
  • Wikipedia online encyclopedia lists 18 room heater choices,

A vignette of early 20th century gas heaters

  • Research from the archives of the HVACR Heritage Centre Canada (DCSB #101).
  • Toronto Daily Star, September 26, 1932, page 20.
  • “Eaton’s Daily Store News,” Toronto Daily Star, May 3, 1911, page 16.
  • Ibid., November 19, 1918, page 20.
  • “Eaton’s Daily Store News,” The Globe, May 1, 1920, page 28.
  • The Globe, Toronto, June 12, 1911.
  • “Eaton’s Daily Store News,” Toronto Daily Star, June 7, 1911, page 20.

SIDEBAR: More Gas Appliances

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

SIDEBAR: More on Kerosene

  • Research from the archives of the HVACR Heritage Centre Canada.
  • “Miles Stair's Wick Shop.” Miles Stair's Wick Shop. (accessed February 1, 2011).
  • Walter , Hal. “End Times Report - Home Page.” End Times Report - Home Page. (accessed February 1, 2011).
  • Kids, supporting P.R.O.. “City of Kingston, Ontario, Canada - Residents.” City of Kingston, Ontario, Canada - Official Web Site - Home Page . (accessed February 1, 2011).

Image Credits

Supplementary heating thanks to electric power

  • HHCC Historical artefact (Accession No. 2003.084), photographed by Mark Dorlandt Photography, HD1006A-14-180.
  • Ibid., 14-167.
  • Ibid., 14-171.
  • Ibid., 14-165.
  • Ibid., 40-219.

From solid to liquid fuels

  • HHCC Historical artefact (Accession No. 2003.082), photographed by Mark Dorlandt Photography, HD1006A-13-RM2 1.
  • Ibid., 13-RM04.
  • Ibid., 13-RM05.
  • Creative Commons 3.0, via

A vignette of early 20th century gas heaters

  • Canadian Antique Stoves, via
  • Toronto Star, Sept. 26, 1932.
  • Ibid., June 11, 1918.
  • The Globe and Mail, May 1, 1920.