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WDM Saskatoon

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Saskatoon, SK

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Winning the Prairie Gamble -
Eaton's Catalogue House

Ordering a house through the catalogue ... Nonsense! It wasn’t nonsense in the early years of the 20th century. Mail-order house packages from T. Eaton and several other companies were a good option for those farm families who lived miles away from the nearest lumber yard. Winning the Prairie Gamble features partial replicas of a home plan ordered through the Eaton’s catalogue - the Earlsfield model, the most popular style built on the prairies during the late teens and early 1920s.

The Earlsfield first appeared in the 1912 spring and summer catalogue, at a list price of $696.50 plus the cost of freight from Winnipeg. By 1916 it was called the Modern Home and the cost had risen to $887.50. The addition of indoor plumbing cost another $150; heating was $90 extra.

Dozens of Earlsfield houses still stand on the prairies today. In 2005, the WDM salvaged materials from an Earlsfield house on the Miller farm south of Cut Knife for use in the Winning the Prairie Gamble exhibit. The house was built by Norman and Bertha Stewart sometime around 1919. The Stewarts farmed until retiring to Wilkie in 1944. The house was never occupied after that. Years of dust, dirt and grime accumulated. One of the salvage crew remarked, “I can’t explain why such a dirty and uncomfortable job was so much fun, but it was. There was a mysterious exploratory element to it which is hard to put a finger on. There is something very satisfying about saving and recovering real history.”

The old Earlsfield house on the farm near Cut Knife was subsequently demolished, but its original doors, windows, stair fixtures, furnace grates and baseboards have a new life at the Western Development Museum in Saskatoon.

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WDM Research Papers

The Eaton's catalogue house exhibits are featured in the Grade 7 Smarter Science, Better Buildings program.