Looking Back


Imagine Life Before Refrigerators


When we talk about the Onoway Museum, we usually refer to the Old Brick School but this houses only a part of the museum collection. The UFA Equipment Shed located just behind the main museum building is home to a wide collection of tools, equipment, and even vehicles.


While exploring the equipment shed recently, a small photo on the west wall stood out; it was a vivid reminder of life before refrigerators.

This photo was placed below a 5' long saw. This unusual saw was used to saw blocks of ice which would be taken home, stored in an ice house (or ice box) throughout the summer and used to keep food cold.


                                    Saw with Photo
                                    Kettle 1950

Ice saw with photo on wall

Among the tools on display in the UFA Equipment Shed is a well-used 5 foot long saw used to cut ice in winter to be stored in an "ice house" filled with sawdust to provide a cold space in which to store food throughout the summer.

Syd Kettle 1950

Syd Kettle sawed blocks of ice from Kalini Creek by his farm, then used the tongs (lying on the ice), to lift the block out of the water, drag it on to a stoneboat and haul it back to the ice house where it kept food cool through the summer. This photo was taken in 1950.

Ice harvesting was a necessary annual job, often done by several neighbors working together. The farmer would first use an auger to drill a hole through the ice to ensure that the ice was thick enough. An ice pick was used to cut out a hole big enough for the saw to go through, then the sawing could begin. Huge tongs (and brute force) were required to lift the block of ice (3' long and 2' wide) from the water, then drag it along the ground if the ice house was nearby. A stoneboat would probably be used if the ice house was a distance away. These blocks of ice would be set down in the saw dust and wood chips that had been gathered over the summer. This managed to keep the ice from melting, thus providing an early version of the refrigerator. (Decades later, even though the fridge was expensive, just imagine what a blessing that electric appliance was not only to the woman preparing all the food but also the man who had to keep up that ice house!)

                                Ice Pick, Gloves
Matt with

Tongs ice pick gloves

The ice pick was used to enlarge the hole drilled in the ice
by an auger. By chipping away at the ice, a space was created to fit in the ice saw and begin the ice harvesting process.

Matt with tongs

Museum employee Matt demonstrates using these home-made
ice tongs (just over 3' tall) to haul a salt block. Imagine standing at the edge of the ice and pulling a 3' x 2' block of ice out of the freezing cold water!

Stop by the UFA Equipment Shed the next time you're near the Onoway Museum and have a look around. The museum is open 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. week days but the shed is kept locked. Just go to the museum and staff will be happy to open the equipment shed for you.

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 Last updated: July 17, 2022