My two grandmothers, now there’s a study in contrasts. Just how did they live and cope with the rules of the places in which they lived? Did they cope well with living without modern conveniences?
Previously I wrote about how my grandfather, Harold Chambers, immigrated to Canada when he was the sole remaining member of his immediate family. In 1912, he was unlucky enough to be living on one of the streets that the Regina tornado ripped down. His life must have improved from that point because he married my grandmother in Regina in 1918 while he was serving in the RAF, stationed in Canada. He was not discharged from the RAF until 1919 so it is not known if the newly married couple set up housekeeping right away.
By 1920 they had moved to Winnipeg and lived at 457 Stiles Street from 1920 to 1934. To my eyes it looks like a tidy house and, after reading Chambers’ family wills, I know that Harold ended up with the family wealth. Not only was he his father’s sole living beneficiary but his uncle, Charles Pratt Chambers, married well and died childless so named Harold as his beneficiary as well. I would imagine that 457 Stiles Street ended up with the latest mod cons soon after they were available.
Photos of 457 Stiles Street, Winnipeg
According to The Canadian Housewife: An Affectionate History, housewives were happy to adopt thermostatically controlled gas or electric stoves after 1918. No doubt Mrs. Chambers would have had one of those stoves and the house would have boasted a hot water heater which was not tied to the stove; hot water heaters were fairly common by 1930. Hot water would have been needed for doing laundry which was a major household task. In the 1920s some homes also had mechanical washing machines, but electrical machines with wringers or mangles were not common until 1939. One thing that Winnipeg did have was 150 Chinese hand laundries. That would have been one way to take care of a daunting household chore.
Another modern convenience that we tend to take for granted is the refrigerator. In the 1920s electrical refrigerators had been invented but weren’t in very many homes as many leaked. Once they had improved by the 1930s, they were still too expensive for most households and by that time my grandparents, like the people around them, were affected by the Depression. No doubt they had an ice box in the kitchen of Stiles Street until they quit the house and the city due to the economics of the times.
Kusch, Larry. "Hard-working Chinese immigrants, once banned, have risen to the highest echelons of Manitoba", Winnipeg Free Press, 07/28/2012
Neering, Rosemary. The Canadian Housewife: An Affectionate History. Whitecap Books, North Vancouver, BC. 2005.