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

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Ready-Cut Houses

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In the first half of the 1900s, it was not unusual for people to shop for their new home through mail-order catalogues like those from Eaton's and other retailers.

As historian Don Wetherall explains, when the ready-cut house arrived, all the pieces were cut, colour-coded, and ready to assemble.

Now the manufacturers popularly advertised that you only needed a hammer to build a house, and some even boasted that you didn't even need a saw! The nails also came along with the materials and the package included doors, windows, and interior mouldings, you know, things like baseboards and window or door casings, building paper and sometimes even the paint.
All that you had to do was assemble all of this. To help you, the manufacturer supplied a manual that guided you through the assembly.

Ready-cut houses came in a variety of styles, including bungalows, four squares, and one-and-a-half storeys. While some were known only by their model number, others were given names that would appeal to the prospective buyer. Houses named "The Edmonton," "The Lethbridge," and "The Calgary" were sold in Alberta. But the big appeal of ready-cut houses was their cost.

Well, they were cheaper - they seemed to be about 30 per cent less than a conventionally built house - but, of course, you had to put the thing together, and this was seemingly not as easy as it was advertised, because some people hired carpenters to do the job for them. But even then labour costs would have been lower than in a conventional house.
But, in addition to lower costs, these houses could be put up quickly, which was important in the settlement years when labour was often hard to find.

While Vancouver was a major center for ready-cut houses, there were manufacturers as well in Edmonton, Calgary, Regina and Winnipeg. Some houses came from as far away as the United States.

Well the manufacturers advertised widely in all of the Prairie newspapers and magazines, and they as well distributed flyers in catalogues. And, as well, lumberyards sold them, and big retailers like Eaton's and Sears featured them in their catalogues.
Eaton's even issued a special catalogue at some points just of ready-cut buildings. Most of these were houses, but you could also buy barns and garages and even granaries.

Ready-cut houses continued in production from 1904 to at least the 1930s. And since they copied popular designs, they blended well with conventionally built homes.

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.