Once Upon a Time: Log house Memories

The onset of cold weather should remind us to be thankful that our homes are well-insulated, cozy and winter-warm. What was winter life in the homes of the first white settlers in Bruce County? Aileen MacDermid was a retired teacher from the Paisley area when she wrote this story in 1983.


Their first duty was to build a temporary shelter—a “shanty”— until a more permanent log house could be erected. The area was densely forested, so there was no shortage of building materials. Large logs were lifted on top of one another by many hands, including neighbours who arrived for a “work bee.”

No nails used for fitted corners

As no nails were used in the walls, corners were carefully mortised to fit snugly. Spaces between the logs were plastered to seal in warmth. Rafters formed the roof and were covered with shingles made from lengths of cedar. A few small panes of glass provided light. Floors were planked, a chimney built and stoves put in place. Rooms were partitioned. With the addition of a lean-to for storing wood, the home was ready for its family (ed. note: No mention of the outhouse!)

As you travelled through Bruce County, each log house was similarly built. But, in particular, one stands out in my memory—because I was born In it. The kitchen was the room where our family spent most of their indoor hours. We ate meals at our long harvest table and later we did our homework there. Dad rested on the horse-hair couch after his hard day’s work. My parents’ bedroom was on the main floor close to the kitchen stove which needed replenishing during the cold winter’s night.

Coal oil lamp

As kids, we had daily chores:  keep the wood-box full, the coal lamps filled with kerosene and their chimneys kept clean.

Under the floor was our dug-out, accessed through a trap door. It was where we stored potatoes, carrots and other root vegetables from the garden for winter.

I slept on a rope bed with a straw tick on it. The straw was changed every fall.

Within the log cabin’s walls were peace, love and happiness. Our first home is now long-gone but what precious memories!


The original article from the 1983 yearbook of the Bruce County Historical Society and abridged by Bob Johnston