There isn't very many houses still around from the mid 19th century. One still standing has a fascinating story. Louis George Labatt came to Penetanguishene from Drummond island in a batteaux and settled along Penetanguishene Bay. Unsatisfied with his lot, it was small and not arable he decided to take up land in Owen Sound.
There were a few who decided to move to Owen Sound and so they commissioned the Penetanguishene, a Steamship owned by Mitchell and Thompson, fur traders out of Penetanguishene to tow them to Owen Sound. This was in December of 1834 and must have been harrowing.
Along the way the Batteaux they were in got lost, the rope was no longer connected to the Steamship. The Penetanguishene was a paddlewheel, and paddle wheelers are cumbersome by nature. In this case, with other passengers and assumedly other boats in tow, they were not able to return for the one boat that became separated. After a couple of nights on Christian Island, they were able to reach the mainland, where they put down roots.
What they found was home, or at least it would be. The weather necessitated building shelter, and so they sheltered in the Bay. This would eventually lead to a house being built on that site. This house still stands today.
The house is still in excellent condition, although of less than majestic dimensions. Much can be learned from the house itself. A time capsule onto itself, in a time when builders were not hired to build a house, the family built in a style they knew. So the architecture of this ancient building reflects those that were built before by members of the Labatt family in Quebec and France before.
The Labatt house is a small squat little building. This was common practice at the time, as heating was done by inefficient means such as fire places and stoves. Today we have forced
air heat, fans circulate the heat evenly through the home, but at the time it wasn't so. Heat would have to be conveyed to the various rooms naturally. Heat rises and so a short ceiling means the heat is conveyed more efficiently through the house.
The second story is even shorter than the first, and has small windows and dormers. Similar to the first this was done to keep the heat in the winter. The architecture also has an open concept, walls keep heat from travelling throughout. Privacy is lost as a cost of comfort. Many of these early families would not have enough rooms for the large families anyway!
On the front is a small porch, unlike the other features that keep the heat in, this was for the opposite reason. Porches could be open to the air and would provide relief from the heat. No screens were in existence then so it was a simpler open form, but clearly a rocking chair or simple wooden chair would be put out and sat on in the warm summer days.
The original layout was very simple. One room downstairs with a fireplace for heating and cooking and a sleeping area upstairs. The second story is even shorter than the first, and has small windows and dormers. Similar to the first this was done to keep the heat in the winter. The architecture also has an open concept, walls keep heat from travelling throughout. Privacy is lost at the cost of comfort. Many of these early families would not have enough room for the large families anyway! The Labatt's were one of the first settlers of an area called St Croix, now known as Lafontaine. The presence of a blacksmith encouraged others to move out to Lafontaine. Family names of Amiotte, Boucher, Coté, Corbiere, Descheneau, LaCroix, Lafreniere, Larammee, Mecier, Messier, Pombird, Precourt, Thibault, Vasseur followed the Labatt's to Lafontaine. Most of those names were also on Drummond island and followed them to Lafontaine. The only one of thee homesteads remaining is that of the Labatt's, and so represents all of these families. The houses remaining are more affluent larger houses, this house remains as the one remaining log cabin from this era, not just in this area, but very probably all of Canada.
Now the house is in jeopardy, it's Heritage designation may be removed so that the house can be demolished. Does this look like a house that should be demolished? Please join: SAVE THE LABATTE HOMESTEAD | Facebook to find out what you can do
All photos of the Labatt House courtesy of Mark Guilbault
Art Duval Pipesmoke of the Past