There are still a few octopus like monsters to be found in old house basements but by and large, the present generation have never seen one of these old gravity type hot air furnaces.
Until the late 1880’s, most houses were “heated” by means of a cast iron stove fueled by wood. One of Canada’s major stove manufacturers was the London, Ontario company, McClary Manufacturing Ltd. Stoves were actually only one product out of hundreds produced by this company who turned out tin-ware products for every possible use in the home and workshop. Their factory grew until it occupied the whole block at York and Wellington in downtown London, employing over 700 persons by 1900.
Factory fresh McClary Sunshine furnace ready for ducts to be added
Around 1890, McClary began to build “central air” furnaces, a cast iron stove surrounded by a galvanised housing from which sprouted large round ducts carrying hot air to each of the rooms in the house. With no fan, air movement was by convection in which the hot air rises. Iron grills in the floor led to even larger ducts that carried the cold air, by gravity, back to the furnace which was usually installed in the basement. After a few years of slow selling builders were, by 1900, adopting this type of furnace in their new house construction and soon McClary was supplying furnaces for whole streets of houses all across the country. They were extremely inefficient by today’s standards but were a miraculous addition to the home owner of 1900.
old mcclary furnace
I can still recall in the mid 1950’s, my wife-to-be’s father doing his nightly chore on his octopus furnace before retiring to bed. He would descend to the basement and for the next five minutes the house would resonate with clanging as he dragged the ashes out, stirred and re-stoked the coal fire, to ensure that it would continue to ward off the winter cold until morning.
Read more in my book Where Did They Go.
The Winnipeg branch of the Brantford based Waterous Company opened in 1883 to market its products to the rapidly opening Western part of Canada was, by 1929, passed by the growth areas of the country. The action was now further west in the far Prairies and Alberta and it was decided to move their Western Sales operation to Edmonton. A suitable property, formerly operated by Edmonton Iron Works, was found on 96th Street. It was purchased, including machinery, for $60,000 and the Winnipeg branch was closed down and operations moved to Edmonton. Used mainly for sales and service, some manufacturing was later added.
Waterous Edmonton office 1932
A Western sales franchise for Allis Chalmers was added about ten years later and profits from this part of the operation helped the parent company through after the 1930’s depression. When Waterous Limited finally passed out of family control in 1947, and subsequently became part of the Koehring Company, the Edmonton and Calgary branches were sold to the Wajax Corp. by the new owners.
On a recent trip to Edmonton, I made a point to find the building, and such were the surroundings, I did not feel too comfortable climbing out of my car and walking the street to take a photo. The plant, now used for warehousing, still stands near the downtown area of Edmonton in a run down industrial area where most of the surrounding buildings have been knocked down and turned into parking lots. It is no longer a prosperous looking area although some construction of new buildings is evident.
Former Waterous Edmonton office, 2015
Although the photographs show little change in the front of the building, the remains of over 100 years of painted on name signs applied by subsequent owners can be seen, giving the building a well used and somewhat historical appearance.
Read more about it in my book Iron, Steam and Wood
On a recent visit to Edmonton, we took a detour to the small town of Wetaskiwin where I was able to fulfil my long desire to see the Reynolds Alberta museum. The huge pieces of steam equipment lining the drive into the museum were almost worth the visit.
But on entering the modern museum building, I was fascinated to see a huge horizontal engine spotlighted in the glassed in entrance. Polished like new, its steel parts glistening, the huge flywheel turned over slowly as an electric motor cycled the engines piston and elaborate valve gear.
The surprise, on studying the placard inside the building more closely, was to find that the engine was made in London, Ontario by the E. Leonard & Sons Company. The surprise part was that I was unaware that the company had made steam engines of this size, equalling those made in Galt by the Goldie McCulloch Company. It was a great entrance installation, and was matched by the exhibits of machinery and equipment inside.
Leonard engine in Wetaskiwin museum entrance
Read the history of the Leonard Company in my book “Steam Engines and Threshers”.