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  • Art Duval

Labatt Homestead it's architectural value

Last year I did a post on the Labatt homestead located in Thunder Bay, Tiny township Ontario. At the time it was threatened with demolition. That threat has somewhat alleviated but the waters have become murky beyond that. The fate f the house, at least in my opinion is not yet settled.

I have accumulated information on it's construction and place in our history, and hopefully future for the Log cabin. Further data should be accumulated on the construction techniques of this historical building but don't know the chances of that happening. Anyway I can go on and on down a political rabbit hole, we are letting our heritage down left and right, or I can inform people and get them interested so thats what I will do.

You can teach people to fight and they will know how to fight or you can teach people to love...Hopefully a love of these remnants of our past will enable us to keep it and study it. Before it's too late.

Labatt house in it's original design


This property is a unique one in the history of Canada. It also outdates Canada as it was built prior to confederation. This property is a remnant from when people would do their own construction, probably with the help of the community.

Same style, only plank house in Missouri

Built the same year slavery was abolished in the Commonwealth of Great Britain. It was constructed in the tail end of the French era in Canada, when similar type structures were all over North America. At the time, houses, or specifically Cabins such as this were built by the Homesteader themselves, and would reflect the building styles of the families ancestors. By this attribute, the cabin reflects some aspects of Quebec architecture and even as far back as their ancestors in France.


Navarre House in Indiana, restored and moved in 2018

Over the years a couple of 20th century additions have been made, but originally was a simply design with a great room on the first floor, a root cellar below and a sleeping area above. An outhouse would be in the yard, regularly moved in order to accommodate the waste, the Kitchen area would include a washing pail. Most of them would not have a bathtub and a shower was not yet even a possibility. Similarly indoor plumbing was not in the original design.

The house would include short ceilings and open concept, the only source of heat would be a fireplace in the side, and it was not the most efficient of heating methods, but best for the times. A lot of time would be needed to cut enough wood for the long winters.

The house built in the Piese sur Piese (Piece over piece) method where logs are placed on top of logs, stepping up each time till the house reaches t's full height. The logs are squared, which improves the aesthetics, but also rids the log of the softer sapwood.

Log cabins in this era had certain limitations and are based on

The Pen (Link below)

Log houses had several different ground plans, but all are based on the "pen". The "pen," the basic unit, was a 16' by 16'-to- 18' by 18' square box. A 16-to-18-foot log is about what one man with a mule can bring in from the forest. It's also about the largest that two men can lift as they build up the walls. First, a man would bring in and hew all the logs he needed. Next, he would gather rocks to build supports and foundations to raise the house above the ground. Then he would build the walls, log by log, as high as he could. Finally, he'd have to call in neighbors to finish building the walls. He could finish the roof, using split wood shingles himself. He could also build the fireplace and chimney alone. He had no plumbing or electricity to worry about!

Where were the women? If he had a wife, she might help him build --- when not busy taking care of a bunch of kids. Living in a temporary shelter, without plumbing or electricity, she probably didn't have much time to help build the house!

They usually "planked" the logs, hewing them on both sides. One flat side would go on the outside, the other on the inside. After the logs were up, the builder would fill in the spaces between them with mud, clay, or a mixture with lime mortar. First, usually, pieces of wood shingle filled in between the larger spaces.

Logs were notched to fit, as they were added, one by one, row by row. The best kind of notch, was the Half-Dovetail. The top of the notch, where the corner logs met, sloped to allowed rainwater to drain away. It locked the logs together, which made the building strong. Outbuildings --- barns, corn cribs, sheds --- were simpler to build. They didn't need to keep out the cold, for instance. They were often build of unhewn, round, logs, like this log

(From watershed.org)Pioneer Log Building (watersheds.org)


The fireplace was the highlight of the cabin, and still is.

The fireplace and chimney is centrally located, which makes it possible to heat the whole house as well provide light for much of the main floor. We have a concept of houses having 50 candles and they being well light, but in reality the ever present fire in the fire place was probably the main source of heat and light. Properly operating a fireplace is something we take for granted now. Switches turn on our gas fireplaces and just like that...but in a day when it was the main source it was a skill to bank a fire at night so it could heat overnight unattended till whoever it was in charge of making a fire in the morning would add wood and probably start a pot of coffee in the morning.

It was sadly not unusual for a small child to be burnt or even killed from a fireplace incident. The world was not an easy place for our early settlers.

The hearth was not only for heating, but also the cooking. And cooking could lead to dangers such as fires and burns, so it was something you had to tend. Having a fire just right and a pot hung at the proper height was paramount.

However with all the dangers also came the ability to bake, roast boil any meal that at the time was prevalent in their society. It was difficult and had some dangers, but also delicious, and nutritious.

The chimney was likely added onto in the 20th century, the original chimney shows fieldstone construction and likely wasn't much higher that the roof. Chimneys of this era were often so well constructed they outlive the cabin and are the only remains.

In the case of the Labatt's, in addition to Farmers fields there was also a Blacksmith shop. Blacksmithing was a very important profession in a time when horse and wagon, firearms, trapping farming and many other areas of life depended on he Blacksmith. Research done by John Raynor would show a line of early settlers lining up with the farm and blacksmith shop of the Labatt's. The Blacksmith was also a key go between between the European and native populace. The wares that were traded, particularly the tools, would often need a blacksmiths hand to insure continued use.

These houses were made of a similar style all over North America. In Michigan the Paquette family build a very similar log cabin

In Indiana the Navarre family built a log cabin for his fur trade post. John Jacob Astor had them built all over for his trade employees.

So the Labatt house is a unique building with an important history. One that we can hopefully find a place for in our future.

Art Duval

Pipesmoke of the Past






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