Looking Back


The Kitchen Is Warm!

The recent cold spell was a reminder of how life in rural Alberta has changed and how lucky we are.


After the initial years of breaking land and finally building a proper "home", Onoway's pioneers lived in relative luxury. One of their first investments was a wood-burning stove a huge, heavy monster that was front and centre of the country home and the main piece of furniture. Where did it come from? Ordered from Eatons catalogue? Purchased from the store at the closest village?


The stove had two functions: to prepare meals and to keep the house warm. It might have been the only heat source in the home although there was often a small heater in another room.


Although the design of stoves varied, the cast iron stove top was ideal for cooking (as long as you didn't make the mistake of touching it) since, once heated, that heat held on for a long while. The section at the left was above the firebox filled with burning wood so it was very hot while, further over to the right side, the heat might have toned down to "low" or even "simmer". The heat in the oven, to the right of the firebox, could be controlled by the size of the fire and type of wood (dry vs. green) although the door may have been left open to release some of the heat.


On the right side of the stove was the reservoir, a water tank where there was always warm/hot water to wash dishes, or put a dipper-full in the washbasin to wash your hands after coming in from doing chores.


Above the stovetop was a warming closet, a handy place to let the bread rise.


In order for the stove to operate efficiently and be safe, a system of "dampers" was designed on the side of the firebox to draw in (or restrict) air and force heat and smoke up and out the stove pipe.


By the 1940s appearance was as important as function so decorative enamel panels covered parts of the stove. These were also much easier to clean than heavy iron.


Keeping the house warm through the winter meant that a supply of wood had to be ready by snowfall. Trees were chopped down, split and cut in just the right size pieces. These were then stacked neatly in woodpiles near the house. One of the daily chores was to bring in enough wood to fill the woodbox near the stove.


The heat that was welcome in winter became a problem in summer so meals requiring heat, or baking a batch of bread, meant that the kitchen door was kept open. Often families had a small cookstove in a shed to solve this heat problem.


Variants of cast iron cookstoves were common around Onoway but one stove in the Onoway Museum, although older, was much more costly and advanced.


And today? Microwaves, glass/ceramic cooktops, gas or electric heat supply, convection ovens - so easy!

Wood Burning Stove

                                      Gas Stove

Wood-burning stove - This stove was purchased in 1941for
$45.00 cash from Eaton's in Edmonton then shipped by train,
then brought to the farm by a team of horses.

Wood-gas stove This expensive stove was built in the 1920s
and was way ahead of its time for this area. The fine ceramic top is
lifted up to expose the wood-gas combo - 4 gas burners beside
the wood-burning unit.

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Last updated: January 27, 2020