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Home: From Roughing It to Retirement Headquarters

Written by Posted On Tuesday, 02 January 2001 00:00

During the 20th century, Canadian homes underwent more than their share of transformations. Along with improvements in construction, Canadians saw more labour-saving devices, environment-modifying equipment and mind-expanding technology in that century than in all our previous history combined.

In the early 1900s, European settlers were still struggling through harsh winters in sod homes and one-room cabins. Even in cities, life was far from luxurious. Without central heating and R-2000 insulation, Canadian homes were cold and drafty during winter and became sweat boxes in summer.

Calgarian Tom Spear, who was 103 when he wrote his first book, Carry On: Reaching Beyond 100, described his home life at the turn of the 20th century:

    "There were no indoor toilets because there was no modern plumbing. When we had to go, we went in outhouses. Even the hotels would have outhouses...Some people used old catalogues as toilet paper. We never bought any toilet paper that I could ever remember.

You had to get your own drinking and wash water from the river, hand-dug wells, pumps or ice. We had ice houses that stored the ice, packed in sawdust, in summer...

On wash day, you always had a big boiler with ice in it on the back of the stove. We (mostly Mother and Grannie) washed clothes by hand with a scrubbing board and a bucket. It was a big job.

When it was time for a bath, you had to heat the water on the stove and put it in the bathtub. Two or three of us kids at a time then splashed around in it...Everything was dependent on water.

Some might consider this way of life hard, but we didn't think anything of it. It gave you a deep appreciation of progress. You felt a sense of accomplishment. You were inspired to have a better way of life, an easier way of living, and more leisure time. This mentality is instilled in me. It's an inspiration to improve."

Today, many Canadians have never used an outhouse and don't feel the loss. Labour-saving devices and low-maintenance building materials gradually liberated men, women and children from much of the time-consuming drudgery of home maintenance and housework common in the first half of the 20th century.

Leisure time and a prosperous post-world war II economy got Canadians out of their homes and into restaurants, bowling alleys, drive-in theatres and stores. Women, employed during the war, returned to the workforce during the sixties. Home, empty during the day, became a family meeting place when busy schedules overlapped.

During the "yuppie" era, homes became status symbols. The "location, location, location" mantra caused a frenzy of bidding in many markets across Canada. In the economic lows and highs that followed, home remained the most ignored financial asset in Canadian investment portfolios -- in spite of its potential to earn tax-free profit.

Subdivisions went through transformations which promise to continue as technology evolves and links homes electronically. Early bedroom communities developed into full-fledged municipalities. Many established towns and villages were eclipsed by waves of construction that continue to ripple around Canada's major cities. Inner-city densities increased with infill mega-houses, multi-phase condominium developments and loft-renovations of commercial buildings.

Home has emerged as headquarters for the 21st century. Technology and the Internet have provided Canadians with the choice of working from home, either in an electronic extension of their employer's workplace or in their own home-based business.

Thanks to technology, the Internet, longer life expectancies and generally-improved health, home is already retirement headquarters for 3.7 million Canadians over age 65. When their 9.8 million Baby Boomer children, reach retirement – whatever that word will mean in this century – home will be a busy place.

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PJ Wade

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