Arguing that past scholarship has provided inadequate methodological tools for understanding ordinary housing in Canada, Peter Ennals and Deryck Holdsworth present a new framework for interpreting the dwelling. Canada's settlement history, with its emphasis on staples exports, produced few early landed elite or houses in the grand style. There was, however, a preponderance of small owner-built 'folk' dwellings that reproduced patterns from the immigrants' ancestral homes in western Europe.
As regional economics matured, a prospering population used the house as a material means to display their social achievement. Whereas the elites came to reveal their status and taste through careful connoisseurship of the standard international 'high style,' a new emerging middle class accomplished this through a new mode of house building that the authors describe as 'vernacular.' The vernacular dwelling selectively mimicked elements of the elite houses while departing from the older folk forms in response to new social aspirations. The vernacular revolution was accelerated by a popular press that produced inexpensive how-to guides and a manufacturing sector that made affordable standardized lumber and trim. Ultimately the triumph of vernacular housing was the 'prefab' house marketed by firms such as the T. Eaton Company.
The analysis of these house-making patterns are explored from the early seventeenth century to the early twentieth century. Though the emphasis is on the ordinary single-family dwelling, the authors provide an important glimpse of counter-currents such as housing for gang labour, company housing, and the multi-occupant forms associated with urbanization. The analysis is placed in the context of a careful rendering of the historical geographical context of an emerging Canadian space, economy, and society.
About the Author
Deryck William Holdsworth is Professor of Geography at Pennsylvania State University. He is co-editor of The Historical Atlas of Canada, Volume III.