Susanna McLeod

Susanna McLeod

Glimpses of Canadian History : Email: Scribbles@cogeco.ca

Mail-Order a Home

Canadian Aladdin and T. Eaton’s offered complete house kits, from plans to lumber, cupboards to knobs, all precut and ready to construct on your own piece of land.

Eaton's Spring and Summer Catalogue, 1913 - Canadian Museum of Civilization

“Manufactured in our mills in Ontario, New Brunswick and British Columbia, according to the most approved methods of modern construction, shipped complete, knocked-down flat, ready for construction…anyone can put them up.”

The confident words of Canadian Aladdin Company Limited’s catalogue inspired the average Canadian to dream of home ownership – and then take action. An American company in Michigan, Aladdin located its Canadian head office in Toronto, and had branch offices across the country. It was a simple plan that worked: print catalogues of house designs and plans, allow the customer to make their own blueprint changes and then put together a kit, complete with instructions.

Many home designs, but not all had bathrooms

The Canadian Aladdin company sold homes through catalogues from 1905 to 1952, noted Les Henry on Civilization.ca. Their many home plans included bungalows, storey-and-a-halfs, and two storeys. Since indoor plumbing was still a rarity, not all plans came with indoor bathrooms. Outhouses could be ordered separately. The company’s dedication to quality homes lead to a guarantee that would be almost impossible to find today. They would pay a dollar per knot for every tree knot found in a train-car load of their lumber.

Shipped by train to the station nearest to the prospective homeowner’s property, the kits included precut lumber and all materials needed to build a house – the stairs, flashings, nails, paint and hardware. Buyers in the west received fir and cedar lumber; buyers in the east received pine, spruce and hemlock lumber. All materials were guaranteed by Canadian Aladdin.

Company towns were built using home kits

Customers for the mail-order homes were not only single home buyers. Businesses also took advantage of the price-conscious kits. Garner Brothers Grain Company in Saskatchewan, Porcupine Crown Mine in Ontario, along with the Hydro-Electric Power Commission of Ontario and others, used Canadian Aladdin’s homes scheme to set up their own company towns for employees.

Along with a full range of catalogue goods, the T. Eaton Company also sold a range of home designs from 1910 to 1932. In the western provinces only, the 40 or more house designs were available through Winnipeg catalogues and home plan catalogues. The lumber was shipped from British Columbia and the millwork was completed in Winnipeg. Blueprints sold for $2.50, which was subtracted from the purchase of the home kit. Eaton’s plans featured a two-and-one-half-storey home, which came to be recognized as an Eaton’s house.

A home for less than $1,000 in 1912

The most common style of Eaton’s house, a one-and-one-half-storey model, sold in 1912 for $696.50, plus $150 for indoor plumbing. Delivered by boxcar to the nearest train station for pick-up, the Eaton’s lumber was not precut.

Built to last, mail-order houses still stand today in towns and cities across Canada. Canadian Aladdin’s advertising gave the reason for such durability:

“They differ from other high class dwellings only in their manifest superiority.”

Both companies used high-grade lumber, good quality supplies and invested in good design. Many Eaton’s homes, according to Jan Warrick of Homes.Canada, are “serving the fourth or fifth generation of the same family, on the same quarter section of land.

More Resources:

Turn the virtual pages of a Canadian Aladdin Catalogue for an absolutely mesmerizing view of mail-order homes.

This article first appeared on Suite101.com in 2007.  Copyright Susanna McLeod

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