Building on a Lot

The Cabin

Surveyors records indicate erecting a dwelling place was usually a priority when clearing a lot. A site for the house was chosen, the area cleared, trees were chopped and the logs prepared for building.

The first homes and outbuildings were built of logs squared on at least two sides using a broad axe, the ends dove tailed with an adze. Initially a foundation was dug and lined with stones, of which were usually plentiful in Rawdon. The walls were assembled without cutting an opening facing the approach to the house, for a small window, and a single door. 

Windows were kept to a minimal size not only for heat considerations but also due to cost and the difficulty getting panes of glass to the site without breakage Rocks, stumps, sections of corduroy roads and corduroy bridges were not conducive to a smooth ride. Many early cabins stretched oiled paper or a deer skin over the window opening until it was feasible to bring in glass, which, although not always in stock locally, was available. The first year and sometimes years after, floors were earth.

No nails were used in building. All constructions were built with logs squared with a broad axe and, using an adze, dovetailed at each end to fit snugly

The walls were assembled without openings for the windows, nor a door.Once the walls were in place, holes were cut for a window and a door. Windows were kept to a minimal size for heat considerations. Cost and difficulty getting  panes of glass to the site without breakage was also a factor. Rocks, stumps, sections of corduroy roads and corduroy bridges, were not conducive to a smooth ride.

Many early cabins stretched oiled paper or a deer skin over the window opening until it was feasible to bring in glass, which, although not  always in stock, was available in St. Jacques. 

Roofs were covered with cedar shingles made on site or purchased/traded from a local supplier.

Shingles were made from 10″ long (approx 254 mm) cedar blocks.

Seated on a splitting bench the block was split into thin pieces with a maul and frow.

Then using a draw knife the shingle was tapered to size. Can you imagine filling an order for 3,000 shingles? Mr. Corcoran in St. Alphonse did just that!

In Quebec stoves for cooking and heating were available before anyplace else in America. Les Forges St Maurice, established in 1730 fabricated many types of stoves as well as an assortment of other products. There were also several small forges making stoves in the Montreal area. Most homes in the Township used stoves for heating and cooking.  

Stones, which were plentiful in the Township, were generally easily gathered for a chimney.

Not all homes had a chimney. Not all chimneys were high enough to prevent sparks from falling on the roof. Sometimes there was no time to build the chimney before winter blew in. A temporary solution was to pass the stovepipe through a hole the roof or gable end.

All going well, at the end summer, although usually not be complete, the family was able to move in.

The first year, sometimes longer, floors consisted of a coat of dry earth spread over the rough under floor. One home in Rawdon had such a floor well into the middle of the next century.

Finishing the interior, such as putting in stairs if the attic was to be used, was left to be done over the winter. Lathing and plastering might be delayed for another winter or two, such as time allowed.

The Trek to Their New Home

There is much to be seen in this sketch.

That there is a still aways to go before this family reaches their new home can be surmised by the cabin in the background. It might or might not be the next neighbour, either way there would still be a distance to go before their new home came into view.

Notice the stumps, branches, rocks, and logs, strewn along the narrow path that had to be navigated, around or over.

Young and old are carrying the family’s belongings, clothes, linens, essential kitchen ware, etc. Foodstuffs in bags are hung over the shoulders of the husband and oldest son, as well as a satchel in his other hand. The younger boy also has a parcel under one arm and and a bag in the other. The mother carries a small child..

The trek through the bush littered with rocks, stumps, fallen logs, and carrying their worldly possessions was not an easy trip.. The cabin in the background indicates this family still has a way to go.

With the family installed in their home there was much to do before the winter set in. The outside walls were banked about a foot (approx. .3 m) high of earth. This was to protect the cellar from frost and reduce cold drafts.

When the snow arrived, as much was available was also shovelled against the walls to preserve as much heat in the cabin as possible.

Despite all the effort, during the winter during ‘cold snaps’ the temperature fell well below freezing. Water in pails and pots froze hard.

For at least the first winter, food supplies had to be purchased to last through the winter. Meat was salted and stored in barrels, vegetables, eggs, butter, cheese were laid in the cellar. Late in the fall meat and fish, protected from the wildlife, could be kept frozen outside.

All this done, there was still plenty to be done outside. A stable was needed for cattle, pigs, sheep, and fowl. A barn to store hay and grain proved yet another challenge.

138 Year Old Original Cabin on the 6th range
The photo was taken in 1958
The house was demolished to make way for a housing development
shortly after the photo was taken
The original farm buildings were demolished at the same time to make a lake.

Building a Barn

These barns were built circa 1842. The photo was taken between WW I & WW II when they were 100 years old.

By necessity, the raising of this, usually large, building called for a bee. The timber for building had been cut to length, squared, and piled at the site previous to the bee being called.

A foundation of 12 cedar blocks 3 feet long, sunk 2 feet into the ground, 1 under each corner, 1 under the foot of each (8) post was built.  

The raising rafters, already cut and squared, about 3/4 of a day i.e. 8 hours .

With an adequate number of men it took about 8 hours to raise the skeleton of a barn ready for roofing and boarding.

Built about 1824 this barn is now (2022) 196 years old.