Fort Vancouver
Historic Furnishings Report: Bakery
NPS Logo


As can be seen from the material presented in the previous chapter, there is a reasonable amount of information available upon which to base the furnishing and equipping of the bakery proper. The required articles might be difficult to obtain, but at least their names, descriptions, and uses are known in most instances.

The case with the living quarters which probably were located somewhere in the bakehouse is quite different. Very little is known about the furnishings of the accommodations for common laborers at Fort Vancouver. No inventories thus far examined list "articles in use" in the dwellings in the village where most of the workmen lived or in identifiable workmen's quarters within the pickets.

To complicate matters further, it now appears that Joseph Pétrain, the depot baker in 1845-1846, did not live in the bakery structure, except perhaps for short periods. As has been seen, he had a house outside the pickets during his employment by the Company. Therefore it seems probable that no quarters for his family were located in the bakery.

If anyone lived in the bakehouse to keep the oven heated and to tend to the yeast and dough, it may have been one or more of the assistants to the baker. Perhaps Pétrain remained on the scene on a round-the-clock basis during times when large orders had to be filled.

Although there are no firm data to go on, it seems likely that any employees quartered in the bakery were lodged in rough "bachelor-type" accommodations, probably on the upper floor or garret. Undoubtedly all were housed in a single room.

Unmarried men's quarters

In England during the early nineteenth century little attention was paid to providing comfortable or even healthful quarters for servants and farm laborers. "The Sleeping-Rooms for unmarried Farm Servants, in most parts of Britain," wrote that indefatigable crusader for better rural conditions, John Claudius Loudon, in 1844, "are generally such as merit extreme reprobation." He quoted another writer who believed that "the health of servants is often less attended to than the health of cattle." [1]

While it would not be just to accuse the Company of such neglect, yet there is abundant testimony to the fact that the quarters of its ordinary "servants" were far from luxurious. In 1841 Assistant Surgeon Silas Holmes of the United States Navy visited the home of a Company farmer near Fort Vancouver. The structure, he noted in his journal, was "wretched log hut, containing one room only, about 10 feet square and filthy beyond description; it contained no other furniture than a pine table and an iron pot; the bed, if it could be called one, consisted of rough pine logs covered by a single blanket . . . and in this house ate drank and slept the farmer, his wife, their three children and the farm servant." [2]

At many Hudson's Bay posts, though not at Fort Vancouver, the lower grades of employees, along with all the other grades, were routinely housed within the stockade enclosure. Their quarters were not unlike military barracks. Clerk Robert Ballantyne described one of these men's houses as he found it at Fort Garry during the 1840's:

It was large, and low in the roof, built entirely of wood, which was unpainted . . . . The men's beds were constructed after the fashion of berths on board ship, being wooden boxes ranged in tiers round the room. Several tables and benches were strewn miscellaneously about the floor, in the centre of which stood a large double iron stove, with the word "Carron" stamped on it. This served at once for cooking and warming the place. Numerous guns, axes, and canoe-paddles hung round the walls or were piled in corners, and the rafters sustained a miscellaneous mass of materials . . . . [3]

A former carpenter at Fort Ellice left a somewhat similar picture of the servants' quarters at that prairie post during the 1870's:

There was the men's house, the mechanics' house, the native servants' and dog drivers' houses, also the married servants' houses, each consisting of one large room.

A door opened into each from the outside and there was no other means of entrance . . . . Two tiers of rough bunks round the walls represented sleeping accommodations. A large mud chimney and open fire-place provided ventilation. We did all cooking at the open fireside. [4]

There are no known descriptions of the beds in the unmarried men's habitations at Fort Vancouver, but there is ample testimony to the effect that the sleeping accommodations in the quarters of the clerks and even some of the officers consisted of simple wooden bunks. [5] If the Company's "gentlemen" had to be content with bunks, surely the laborers fared no better.

More descriptions of servants' quarters could be quoted, but these will suffice to demonstrate the points to be made here: (1) that the ordinary "servants" and even the skilled mechanics and artisans at the Company's posts lived in very plain quarters, with no frills and few comforts; (2) that the beds provided in the men's quarters ordinarily were rough wooden bunks; (3) that one stove or fireplace generally sufficed for both heating and cooking in the men's quarters; (4) that when the Company provided the living accommodations a number of persons ordinarily shared each room; and (5) that in addition to the beds and heating facilities, the furnishings consisted merely of a rough table or two, several benches, perhaps a few boxes or chests, a bare minimum of cooking and eating utensils, and the men's clothing and other personal effects.

Although the present writer knows of no picture of the interior of the laborers' quarters at any Company establishment, there exists a sketch dated 1848 and entitled "Interior of H. B. C. Post at Pembina," which, though probably depicting the room of a clerk or even a commissioned officer, conveys an impression of the accommodations provided for all employees except the highest ranking officers. It is reproduced in Plate XI.

Married men's quarters

The descriptions given above, except that of the farmer's hut, are mainly applicable to the quarters of unmarried servants or of those whose female companions remained outside the pickets. If, however, it is assumed that the baker's assistants who may have been quartered in the bakehouse were married, or if it is assumed that Pétrain and his family lived in the bakery periodically, the problem of refurnishing becomes more difficult. Even less is known about the domestic accommodations of the Company's married laborers.

For comparative data it is necessary to turn to a description of the home of a typical French Canadian voyageur (not necessarily a Company employee) in the fur-trading country as penned by H. M. Robinson somewhat after the middle of the last century:

Internally the house is one single apartment; occasionally, in the better class, though rarely, two apartments. The floor is of planks sawed or hewed by hand; the ceiling, if there is any, of the same material. In one corner is the only bed, a narrow couch, painted, generally, an ultra marine blue, or a vivid sea-green. An open fire-place occupies one end of the apartment, with the chimney within the walls. A table, one or two chairs, a few wooden trunks or boxes — doing duty with this people everywhere as table, chair, clothes-press, and cupboard — and a dresser, constitute the furniture. About the walls somewhere, more especially over the bed, hang colored prints of the Virgin, the sacred heart, etc., together with a rosary. It may be that the daughter of the house — and there is always a daughter — has come under the influence of a convent for a season, and can read; perhaps write. In that event, there is a copy of the "Lives of the Saints" on a bracket, and, it may be, a few periodicals. For the rest, the apartment is cheerless and uninviting. It may be clean, but the chances are that it is not. That peculiar aroma, too, which pervades all inhabited chambers, here becomes often aggressive and, as it were, wrestles with the visitor for mastery. [6]

No picture of the inside of a Company laborer's dwelling at a Western post is known to exist, but a sketch of the interior of a Red River settler's house during the early nineteenth century, attributed to Peter Rindisbacher, probably is not too far off the mark. A copy will be found in Plate XII. It shows a table, shelf, chair, and, perhaps, a bench which undoubtedly were much like those made at Fort Vancouver.

Types of chairs which might have been made by the French Canadian workman for themselves or which may have been available from the carpenter shop are shown in Figure 22.

Figure 22. Acadian and French Canadian chairs of the 18th and early 19th centuries (not all to same scale). Note that the backs — and sometimes the fronts — of these chairs generally slant toward the rear. (From Jefferys, The Picture Gallery of Canadian History, II, 139-140.


The Hudson's Bay Company did not habitually waste space. The garrets of living quarters and other structures were ordinarily put to some use — for the drying of lumber, for the storage of materials of various types, and for additional dwelling room. [7]

Even if the garret of the bakery was used for living quarters, as seems probable, it is almost certain that a good portion of the space was given over to storage. There are no records which indicate what may have been kept there, but it is reasonable to suppose that a sizable reserve of flour was kept on hand somewhere in the bakery. The weather was frequently wet and the bakery was a considerable distance from the granary or nearest warehouse. As shown by the plans in Figure 14, the upper stories of British bakeries were quite generally used for flour storage.

Flour at Fort Vancouver appears ordinarily to have been stored and shipped in barrels rather than in sacks. [8] No indication has yet been found of the weight of each barrel. However, flour was generally inventoried and sold by the hundredweight (112 lbs.). [9]

The Canadian Historic Sites Service in Ottawa has made a study of the barrels used by the Hudson's Bay Company and has developed a source of supply for such containers hand-made in the old style. If it is decided to display barrels in the bakery, it is suggested that inquiry be made of that service.

<<< Previous <<< Contents >>> Next >>>

Last Updated: 28-Nov-2005