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The Heritage Trails are presented courtesy of CKUA Radio Network and Cheryl Croucher

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Verandas and Their Demise

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Before World War I, most houses in Alberta were built with verandas. They usually faced onto the street. And, as historian Don Wetherall comments in his book, Homes in Alberta, verandas served a number of purposes.

They had a number of functions. They allowed doors to be left open to provide ventilation, and they were a place where people could leave dirty boots and wet umbrellas and coats rather than bringing them into the house and messing things up.
But they also had a social function. They provided an outdoor space where family and friends and neighbours could gather; and, because they fronted onto the street, they created a forum where people passing by and neighbours could chat with the family. And they also created a forum where strangers could be watched.

Picket fences, low hedges, and latticework established territory, but they didn't create barriers to the social interchange between house and street.

I think it was a very sophisticated convention because it assumed a certain sympathy among neighbours; or, failing that, at least a commitment that people had to get along.

But as the pioneer society slipped away, so did verandas. Beginning in the 1920s, they were replaced by glassed-in porches. Then these disappeared, so that, by the 1940s, all that remained was the step leading up to the front door.

There was a greater protectiveness, I think, in this abandonment of street-oriented spaces and a retreat into the house, or into the back yard. Perhaps it was a part of the revived commitment to the nuclear family and the notion that the house was a retreat from the world for the individual and for the family.
Subsequently, the public space of the verandah was not replaced. By the late 1950s, fences were getting higher and people were more and more focused on the back yard, the patio craze of the 1960s, and the fashion of decks after that.

The disappearance of the veranda signaled the end of a once-valued relationship between neighbours and the community of their street.

On the Heritage Trail,

I'm Cheryl Croucher.

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            For more on the history of settlement in Alberta, visit Peel’s Prairie Provinces.