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  Eaton's Spring Summer 1913, back cover 

Enlarge image.Eaton's Spring/Summer Catalogue, 1913, back cover (detail).


Mail-order Houses
by Les Henry

During the 1910s and 1920s, customers could order their homes from mail-order catalogues. The house type was selected from free Plan Books. Then blueprints could be ordered for a nominal fee. From the blueprints, house materials were ordered and shipped by rail.

Introduction | The T. Eaton Co. Ltd. | Canadian Aladdin Co. Ltd.


Eaton's was just one of several companies active in selling houses through mail order in the 1910s and 1920s. Sears Roebuck was huge in the United States but did not have offices or mills in Canada. Other companies active in Western Canada included B.C. Mills Timber and Trading Co. of Vancouver, which shipped prefabricated houses and commercial buildings, mainly banks, from 1904 to about 1911. The United Grain Growers and its precursors were in the mail-order house business from about 1914 to 1926. The University of Saskatchewan and the Manitoba Agricultural College supplied catalogues of house plans but were not in the lumber business. The main competition to Eaton's in the mail-order house business was the Canadian Aladdin Company.


The T. Eaton Co. Ltd.

The Eaton's catalogue was the shopping mall for farm families in the early 1900s, the settlement period of the Canadian prairies. Coveralls for dad, a new dress for mom, and a special Christmas present for the kids, all came from Eaton's in Winnipeg. The catalogue also supplied almost everything for the house, and, from 1910 to 1932, the house itself.

The house portion of Eaton's merchandise was a Western Canadian phenomenon only. Houses were advertised only in the Winnipeg catalogue and in special plan books. The advertisements showed Douglas Fir trees, seven feet in diameter and 200 feet to the first limb. The lumber was without knots and came from trees that would not be cut today.

  Eaton's Plan Book of Ideal Homes 1919, 

Enlarge image.Eaton's Plan Book of Ideal Homes, 1919, cover.


The mail-order house business worked like this: A few houses were listed in the catalogue as a teaser. The catalogue advertised free plan books that gave complete details about the houses: an artist's sketch, floor plan, and information on lumber, doors, windows, flooring, and hardware. Few of the plan books exist today because they were distributed free of charge.

Once the customer selected a house, the blueprints were purchased from the plan book for $2.50, although when competition appeared, the cost dropped to $1.00. When a house was ordered, the cost of the blueprints was subtracted from the invoice.

  Eastacre, Eaton's Plan Book of Ideal 
Homes 1919, cover.  

Enlarge image.The "Eastacre," Eaton's Plan Book of Ideal Homes, 1919.


And order they did. Hundreds of Eaton homes dot the landscape in Western Canada, many serving the fourth or fifth generation of the same family, on the same quarter section of land. The lumber came by boxcar from British Columbia and the millwork came from Winnipeg. Freight was paid to the nearest railway station and the lumber was hauled to the farm by team and wagon.

Eaton's sold at least 40 different house plans. While the large two-and-a-half-storey square house is most often referred to as an Eaton's house, all shapes and sizes were available. The most common type was the one-and-a-half storey, sometimes referred to as the semi-bungalow.


Enlarge image."Eastacre," built in 1916 by Alex Dunlap, in Harris, Saskatchewan, June 1999.


Very few single-storey houses remain, but the Art Dunlap house near Harris, Saskatchewan, shows how durable the houses were. The Dunlap house was built in 1916 and has been empty since 1956, but it still stands straight and proud.

On the other end of the spectrum was the large two-and-a-half-storey house. A typical example still serves the Chris and Kathleen Bolink family near Monarch, Alberta.

   Modern Home no. 666, Eaton's Modern 
Homes, Building and Material, p. 30.   

Modern home no. 666, Eaton's Ideal Homes, Building and Material, 1917-18, p. 30.

Enlarge image.
   Modern Home of the Bolink family, 
Monarch, Alberta.   

Modern home no. 666 built by W. A. Van Lohuizen near Monarch, Alberta, in 1918. It is now lived in by the third generation of the Bolink family.

Enlarge image.
   Eaton's invoice for House Special sold 
to W. A.  Van Lohuizen, Monarch, Alberta.   

Invoice for materials from Eaton's for "House Special" sold to W. A. Van Lohuizen, Monarch, Alberta.

Enlarge image.

The most popular type of Eaton's house was the one-and-a-half storey, and of those the most common style still in use in Western Canada was the Earlsfield. It first appeared as Plan 68 in the 1912 spring-and-summer catalogue with a list price of $696.50, f.o.b. the mill (freight on board, i.e., cost of freight added). In 1916, it was called Modern Home #668 and cost $887.50, with freight paid for the lumber, but freight charged for paint, hardware, nails, and paper from Winnipeg. Adding indoor plumbing cost another $150; hot-air heating was $90. In the 1919 and 1920 plan books, it was listed as the Earlsfield, but no price was given.

In 1919 and 1920, all Eaton's houses were given a name starting in Ea, thus, the Eatoncourt, Eastbourne, Easton, Eager, Earlswood, and Earlscourt, to name a few. But, the most common was the Earlsfield. Can you imagine the "think tank" sessions required to come up with all those names starting with Ea?

  Earlsfield, Eaton's Plan Book of 
Modern Homes 1919.  

Enlarge image.The "Earlsfield," Eaton's Plan Book of Ideal Homes, 1919.


  Earlsfield built by Martin and Katie 
McGrath near Fielding, Saskatchewan.  

Enlarge image."Earlsfield," built by Martin and Katie McGrath near Fielding, Saskatchewan, and now lived in by their son Kevin, April 1999.


  Eaton's invoice for McGrath home, 
Fielding, Saskatchewan.  

Enlarge image.Invoice for materials from Eaton's for McGrath home, Fielding, Saskatchewan.


Not all houses that look like the Earlsfield were strictly Eaton's. Some just used the plan and sourced lumber elsewhere; some came from United Grain Growers. Nevertheless, the Earlsfield is a distinctive design not easily forgotten. In addition to the McGrath home in Fielding, Saskatchewan, Earlsfield houses are known in Alberta in Edmonton, Consort, Mannville, Irma, Nobleford, Viking, Coronation, Camrose and Carrot Creek. In Saskatchewan they were found in Conquest, Wawota, Lafleche, Central Butte, Lancer, Griffin, Craik, Eastend, Cabri, Wapella, Creelman, Tisdale, Star City, Ponteix, Reford, Verwood, Elrose, Maple Creek and North Battleford; and in Manitoba in Glenboro, Killarney, Holland, and Shoal Lake.

A common misconception about the Eaton's houses is that they were prefabricated. Although they were shipped as a single item, they were not prefab; the lumber was not even precut. Other companies, such as the Canadian Aladdin Co. Ltd., did have precut houses and one company shipped prefab materials.

Canadian Aladdin Co. Ltd.

The largest company in the mail-order house business in Canada was the Canadian Aladdin Co. Ltd. with its head office in the CPR building in Toronto. It was a branch plant of the American Aladdin Company headquartered in Bay City, Michigan. The original name of Canadian Aladdin was Sovereign Construction (after founders O. E. and W. J. Sovereign); the original name of Aladdin Co. was North American Construction Ltd.

  Edmonton, Aladdin Homes, 1919, 
p. 30.  

Enlarge image.The "Edmonton," Aladdin Homes: Sovereign System, 1919, p. 30.


In addition to the head office in Toronto, Canadian Aladdin had offices in Saint John, Winnipeg, and Vancouver, with mills in Ontario, New Brunswick, and British Columbia. Whereas Eaton's was only in the mail-order house business from 1910 to 1932, and only in Western Canada, Canadian Aladdin did business from coast to coast from about 1905 to 1952. Canadian Aladdin was less well known than Eaton's, but it was much bigger in the mail-order house business.

Canadian Aladdin houses were precut at the factory and shipped to the railway station closest to the customer. The lumber and materials were accompanied by a detailed set of blueprints and construction manual. Aladdin boasted that anyone who could swing a hammer could build an Aladdin Home and they offered to pay $1 per knot for every knot you could find in a carload of Aladdin lumber. Imagine that guarantee today: The lumberyard would owe us money.

  Les and Shannon Dawe's Aladdin 

Enlarge image.An Aladdin "Edmonton" owned by Les and Shannon Dawe south of Dinsmore, Saskatchewan, March 2000.


Canadian Aladdin homes were a quality item and hundreds of them likely still exist across Canada. Research into Canadian Aladdin homes is ongoing, and the author, who has an extensive collection of Aladdin catalogues, is currently identifying Aladdin homes.

Think you might have an Eaton's or Aladdin home? Contact Les Henry to obtain a copy of the popular book Catalogue Houses: Eatons' and Others ($38.51, tax and shipping included) or to identify your home: Henry Perspectives, 143 Tucker Crescent, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan S7H 3H7, or by email:



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