Western Development Museum - Saskatoon - Exhibits - Clay Oven
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Clay Oven

The Saskatchewan Western Development Museum has two operating clay ovens, one at its Saskatoon WDM, and one at its Yorkton WDM.

Clay Oven under wooden pole shed

In 2005 the Saskatoon WDM undertook the task of building a clay oven. It was made in the same style as was used by early settlers. The oven would be used during the Museum’s annual event, Pion-Era, to demonstrate how bread was baked in the days before electricity and other modern conveniences.

Please click on photos for larger images.

About 20 people provided input into the construction while a group of 10 volunteers provided the manpower to build it. It took 10 volunteers one day to construct the oven part and about one week to construct the entire oven.

Staff and volunteers gathered information by speaking to people who had built clay ovens, by researching on the internet and relying on historical photos. Based on this information the volunteers decided on the size of the oven as well as the materials that would be used to build it and on the method of construction.

Volunteers building clay oven

The clay was found on the farm of WDM volunteers, Ralph & Margaret Moore, near Simpson, SK. Around 3,000 – 4,000 lbs of clay was taken from a pasture on the Moore farm in the Fall of 2004. The base of the oven is made of field stone and concrete. The base is 5’x 7’ in size.

Clay oven, front

The oven was made on a green willow branch frame. Small branches were woven to hold the clay and prevent it from falling through the holes. Upright 2”x 4” boards were used on each side for stability with willows pulled over the top. A mixture of clay and oat straw was used. Oat straw was used as it was said to add “flavour” to the oven. Seven volunteers mixed the straw and clay while three did the building of the oven. A steel door was made to cover the opening while the fire is going as the steel conducts heat. When the coals are removed a 3” thick wooden door is used to conserve heat.

The clay was left to dry slowly for about six weeks. A light bulb was placed inside the oven for five weeks to assist the drying process. The first fire in the oven was used to burn the willows and wood and leave the hardened clay to form the oven. Volunteers were careful not to light a fire in the oven too early. If you build a fire before the clay is dry enough, the water in the clay will boil causing gaps in the clay. When you build small fires to help dry the oven, cracks may appear. You can tell when there are cracks because steam will rise through them.

Preparing the first batch of clay oven baked bread

The WDM uses our oven to bake bread at events such as Pion-Era. Using the oven is quite labour intensive and requires volunteers to come out early to get it ready. Paint-free wood is used to fuel the oven. The oven takes about two hours to heat. When the oven is warm to the touch on the outside, the ashes are removed. Bread bakes at 400 degrees F. The first batch of bread usually takes 22 minutes to bake while the second batch takes about 35 minutes. Cinnamon buns can be baked at 500 degree F. Our clay oven can bake 24 loaves of bread at once.

The clay oven is located on the WDM grounds. Volunteers constructed a pole shed over the oven to provide shade and protection from the elements. A small cook shack is also located near our oven. The cook shack provides a warm place for bread to rise on cooler days. We also sell loaves of bread from the cook shack during Pion-Era. Approximately 180 loaves of bread were sold at Pion-Era 2009. All money raised goes towards the up-keep of the oven and to WDM programs.

Volunteer clay oven building crew 2005

Through the efforts of volunteers, the Saskatoon WDM can share another piece of Saskatchewan history with the public through the demonstration of our clay oven.