Saturday, February 27, 2010

They Were Not All Eaton’s Catalogue Homes

From the turn of the century to the late 1930's, catalogue homes were very popular in the western provinces. The T. Eaton Company was one of the first companies that provided homes through catalogue order. They were followed by Sears Roebuck; Aladdin Homes; BC Mills Timber & Trading; United Grain Growers Limited; and the University of Saskatchewan and the Manitoba Agricultural College who supplied catalogues of house plans but were not in the lumber business. The main competition to Eaton's in the mail-order house business was the Aladdin Homes company.

The marketing for this industry was brilliant! A few houses were listed in the catalogue as a teaser. The catalogue advertised free plan books that gave complete details about the houses: an artist's sketch, floor plan, and information on lumber, doors, windows, flooring, and hardware. Once a house was selected, the blueprints could be ordered for $2.50 and then when the house was ordered, the cost of the blueprints was subtracted from the invoice. The lumber was shipped from British Columbia and the millwork from Winnipeg. Doors, door knobs, storm doors, windows, cupboards, flooring were all included in the package. A common misconception about the Eaton's houses is that they were prefabricated. Although they were shipped as a single item, they were not prefabricated; in fact the lumber was not even precut. Barns and schoolhouses were also available through catalogue order.

Initially, all Eaton's houses were given a name starting in “Ea” - Eatoncourt, Eastbourne, Easton, Eager, Earlswood, and Earlscourt, to name a few. The most popular type of Eaton's house was the one-and-a-half storey, and of those the most common was the Earlsfield. It first appeared as Plan 68 in the 1912 spring-and-summer catalogue with a list price of $696.50. In 1916, it was called Modern Home #668 and cost $887.50, indoor plumbing was an addition $150.00. My grandparents’ house at the farm near Rouleau was an Earlsfield (with in door plumbing).

The catalogue home industry of the early days had a huge impact on the architecture and design of home building. Many of the houses built in the early 1920’s and 1930’s were what we would call “knock offs” today. In an effort to dissuade individuals from embarking on the task of building a house based on the $2.50 plan and not based on the full blueprints the T. Eaton Company printed the following in their Plan Book of Ideal Homes, “The special purpose in presenting this Plan Book is to simplify the problem of home building for our customers. There are a number of designs that will be found adaptable to any community . . . The problem of building a house only comes to most once in their lifetime, and no greater calamity in a material way may befall an owner than to discover, when the building is complete, that some arrangement or the appearance is unsuitable. This often proves to be the case when houses are built without carefully prepared plans. Never attempt to build without proper plans to work from”. The warning did little to prevent the resourceful pioneers from building homes from an artist sketch with what they had available to them.

Reference - Catalogue Houses:  Eatons' and Others by Les Henry

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