A pioneer home was very utilitarian. It served the pioneer family's essential needs, while the work of clearing the land and planting crops took priority.
After deciding that Grey County was their destination for a new life, the early settlers had a lot of challenging work and many obstacles to overcome.
First, they had to get there. The initial step entailed an arduous journey, usually on foot with all their worldly belongings either in a satchel or a bag, or loaded onto an ox-drawn cart.
Their route probably followed the Garafraxa Road (Today known as Highway #6). To call it a road would probably be considered an exaggeration by those who followed its twisting route from Guelph to Durham and northward to Sydenham (Owen Sound).
Upon arrival at the Land Agent’s office in Durham the would-be settler applied for a patent on a piece of land. There was no monetary cost for the land, no, the purchase price was probably measured in sweat and tears.
After the application had been examined by the Agent, a ticket was issued. This was not a deed, rather it was a permit that allowed the settler to locate on a 50-acre tract of land. To acquire formal ownership, that was where the sweat and tears came into the equation!
There were obligations to be met!
To begin the process, a pioneer home was required. A shelter for the family, not mention a dwelling for the animals, if there were any. As well, the settler had to clear at least one-third of the acreage, and sow a crop. All of this had to be completed within four or five years (depending upon the terms of the ticket) of the initial issue date of the ticket.
However, a review of early diaries reveals that if these targets were not completely met but it was obvious to the agent that the settler had been diligent in his efforts the time limit was ignored and the pioneer would ultimately receive his deed.
The first pioneer home was often little more than a shanty. But, after the duties of clearing land and raising crops and animals, the family often progressed to “better” housing conditions.
The permanent pioneer home was usually two storeys. The first storey was probably 10 to 12 feet high, capped by pitched roof. The ground floor was usually covered with wooden boards. But, many homes had only a dirt floor.
To get to the upper floor, there was no staircase, instead access was gained by climbing a rope ladder. The upper level was where the family slept. The loft sleeping area was one room. Privacy was a luxury only for the more affluent settlers. And, the solution for privacy was quite simple. Rugs or blankets were hung to provide separate sleeping areas!
There was central heating, of a sort!
Part of the roof was left uncovered. Directly below this gaping window on the stars, a fire pit was located. The fire was kept burning all day, not only to provide warmth in chilly weather, but because the fire pit also served as the stove where the family’s meals were prepared.
Bathrooms, as we know them, did not exist. Instead, there was an outhouse located a short distance from the home.
However, the bathing facilities were kept indoors. A tub, set on the kitchen floor, was used for baths. However, because there was no running hot water, kettles of water were heated over the fire pit and then poured into the tub. After one member of the family had bathed, another climbed into the tub for their turn in the bath.
Many pioneer families had a large number of children. I wonder what the tub looked like when it was time for the last person’s turn to bathe.
After the family had taken their baths, the tub was emptied and set aside until it was time to do the family laundry.
Do you think you are ready for an adventure living in a pioneer home that was similar to that experienced by our ancestors?
A version of this story first appeared in my Local History column in the Owen Sound Sun Times.
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