Fort Vancouver
Historic Furnishings Report: Bakery
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1. In general, the bakery should be reconstructed along the lines suggested on pp. 59-60 of the Historic Structures Report, Fort Vancouver, vol. I. Subsequent research, however, has indicated certain modifications or refinements which appear desirable. These are treated in the following paragraphs in this section.

2. The footings and foundations upon which the heavy sills rested appear to have been of one of two possible types commonly employed by the Company, but it seems impossible to determine positively which type was actually used in the bakery. Archeological excavations revealed the existence of footings, made of heavy slabs of wood about three inches thick, spaced approximately ten feet apart along the lines of the sills; but no evidence was found of what sort of foundation rested on those footings. Excavations at the Big House seem to show that in that structure, at least, the sills rested directly on similar footing blocks. [1] Such an underpinning arrangement would have been very suitable for the bakery, since the sills (and hence the floor) would have been quite close to the ground, permitting the height of the oven complex to be lower and thus requiring fewer bricks.

On the other hand, in Hudson's Bay Company structures the sills quite often rested on vertically grained blocks of wood, or portions of tree trunks, which in turn sometimes rested on horizontally grained slab footings. With this type of foundation, the floor was elevated about 1-1/2 feet or more above the ground, depending on the height of the upright blocks or posts. This underpinning arrangement would also have been suitable for the bakery, since it would have meant that the walls could have been lower but still reach an eaves line of about 15 or 16 feet above the ground. With lower walls, the ground floor ceiling would have been lower in conformity with usual Company building practices.

The present writer is unable to recommend that one of these types should be favored above the other in planning the bakery reconstruction. Either would be acceptable.

3. After carefully examining the one pencil sketch and the single painting (Plates XIV and XVI, Historic Structures Report, Fort Vancouver, vol. I) which depict the protruding oven section of the bakery, the present writer is still of the opinion that the brick oven complex was completely covered on the outside by a wooden shed. It is also recognized, however, that the ovens may have been covered only by a wooden shed roof, with the sides boarded in only between the roof and the top of the exterior brick oven walls.

The latter arrangement, it is admitted, would bring the dimensions of that part of the bakery lying outside the stockade into exact agreement with those shown on the generally accurate Vavasour plan of 1845. Also, no evidence of a shed was found during archeological excavations, but the ground in the oven vicinity had been disturbed by post-H.B.C. activities. Further, it evidently was not unusual for the Company to leave its brick ovens partly or entirely exposed to the elements. [2]

Since it is impossible to give absolute preference to the visual evidence (which is so small in scale that the artists' general impressions only may be conveyed) over the arguments of logic, the present writer suggests that either method of covering the ovens would be acceptable in a reconstruction.

4. It is most probable that the ceiling of the ground floor was composed of heavy, exposed beams or joists upon which rested the floor boards of the garret. In other words, the bakery proper was not "ceiled," to use the terms of the Company's structures inventory of 1846-1847. Further, this "ceiling" undoubtedly was quite low, with the bottoms of the beams probably not more than 7-1/2 or 8 feet above the floor. In fact, the "ceiling" of the ground floor probably looked very much like that shown in Plate CIII in the Historic Structures Report, Fort Vancouver, vol. I. It is suggested that these factors be kept in mind in designing the reconstructed bakehouse.

5. At Fort Vancouver during the Company's regime there was no difficulty in obtaining massive timbers for use in construction. Therefore it can be assumed that the ceiling beams were sufficiently large and in sufficient number to span the 25-foot width without any supporting posts in the room. It is thus recommended that the floor of the bakehouse be unobstructed by posts.

6. Simple wooden racks for the storage of peels should be hung from the ceiling beams.

7. Because of the evidence of the supposed "varmint" barrier uncovered during archeological excavations and because no extensive remains of brick or stonework were discovered in front of the ovens, it seems almost certain that there was no hearth or area of stone or brick paving to provide protection from dropped embers. Yet, for reasons already discussed, it seems probable that some sort of fire-proofing was installed at that exposed location. It is known that the Company used protective sheets of metal on floors and walls near stoves, and it is suggested that similar sheathing be applied over the floor in front of the ovens.

8. Considering the need for light in the garret, it is recommended that a window be placed at each end of the gable.

9. Shingles on the roofs of H.B.C. structures were generally laid over solid, horizontal plank sheathing. It is suggested that this practice be followed in the reconstruction.

10. The shingles used at Fort Vancouver during the mid-1840's resembled modern hand-split shakes. At least some shakes used at the post during that period were 36 inches long, made of split cedar, fir, or pine. The evidence seems to indicate that this was the size ordinarily purchased from American settlers for the Company's own use as well as for sale. [3] There are indications, however, that shingles were laid with four inches exposed to the weather at Fort Vancouver, at least on the major buildings. [4] Such a practice seems hardly compatible with 36-inch shingles. It is recommended, therefore, that 36-inch shakes be used, but that they be laid with 12 or more inches exposed. This type of covering on certain buildings seems to be shown in the Coode water color of 1846-1847 (see Plates XI and XII, Historic Structures Report, vol. I).

11. It is recommended that the stairs to the garret be placed at one end of the bakehouse. In keeping with usual Company practice, these stairs should be quite steep, with open treads, much like those shown in Plate XCIV in Historic Structures Report, Fort Vancouver, vol. I. If it is decided not to open the garret to visitors, these stairs should have no railing, but at the garret level the open stair well should have a protective barrier. (see Plate XCV in Historic Structures Report, vol. I).

12. There should be a trap door in the garret floor to permit the hauling up of goods for storage. Appropriate framing should be provided to support hoisting tackle. Large butterfly hinges would be appropriate for use on the trap door. A suitable location for this door would be at about the center of the north half of the bakehouse.

13. The garret should be divided into two rooms. Probably the room with the stair well (north end of building) should be designated for storage.

14. The second garret room should be designated as living quarters. Although it is not certain that the one stove in the bakery was located in these quarters, it would be well to provide a fireproof stovepipe opening through the low east garret wall into the south oven chimney. This opening should be as close to the top of the wall as possible.

15. There is no evidence that the interior of the bakery was lined with boards. In fact, what evidence there is points to the absence of such an amenity. The 1846-1847 inventory of fort structures includes the "Bake House" in a list of work shops. One of these structures, the Saddler's Shop, is described as "lined & sided," but no comment is made about the others except for their dimensions. The implication seems to be that the bakery was not lined. It is suggested, therefore, that no interior wall finish be applied in the reconstructed building. The hewn wall timbers should be left exposed.

16. There is no evidence as to the style of the door to the bakery, but the doors in Company shops and stores generally were quite plain and solid. It is recommended that the door be similar to that shown in Plate LXXXIII in the Historic Structures Report, vol. I. The common color employed for gates and doors at Company posts was called Spanish brown. Paint of this color was carried in stock at Fort Vancouver, and it is recommended that it be used for the bakery door, window frames, and shutters. This color in the 1840's was more red than brown. National Heritage Limited, 322 King Street, West, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, has been in touch with British museum experts concerning the exact shade meant in the early nineteenth century by the term "Spanish brown." That organization has color samples, and it is suggested that contact be made with it so that the authentic shade may be applied.


None of the ovens described and pictured in Chapter III of this report seems to fit exactly the few facts which are known about the ovens at Fort Vancouver or what can logically be deduced from the available data on the bakery operations. Archeological excavations have determined the size of the oven complex, and historical research has shown that the bakehouse and its equipment probably did not reflect the latest technological advances in the industry. The ovens shown in Chapter III only match in a general way the dimensions of those at Fort Vancouver, and they are, on the whole, too complicated in design.

It has seemed desirable, therefore, to recommend a rather simple type of oven, a compromise between what little is known of the typical British country oven and the more sophisticated models favored by Loudon and the U. S. Army Subsistence Department. The suggested oven is pictured in Figure 23.

oven complex design
Figure 23. Suggested oven complex design. (a). Section on AB. (b). Section on CD. (c). Plan of two-oven complex. d. Damper. e. Flue. f. Chimney. g. Oven door. Scale: 1/5 inch equals 1 foot.

The outside dimensions given in Figure 23 are established by archeological excavations, as is the general thickness of the side and rear walls. But all wall thicknesses in the diagram are merely approximate, since much depends on the size of the brick used, the amount of mortar, etc. The height of the oven arch has been based on general British practice, but most other dimensions are adapted roughly from U. S. Army specifications, except that the arch under oven has been reduced in width in conformity with British precedent. Also, since the present writer is far from being an engineer, all flue and chimney dimensions are diagrammatic only.

The main flue or chimney has been placed outside the oven door as seems to have been the most common practice of the period, but an inside flue, with damper, has been provided to reduce smoke in the room should the oven be used for demonstrations.

The ovens should be lined with fire brick, except that the floor or hearth of the baking chamber should be of tile, preferably of one of the sizes found during archeological excavations (see page 8, note 10 above). The oven door should be similar to that pictured in Figure 8.

Mr. A. Lewis Koue has pointed out that the two available pictures of the bakery (Plates XIV and XVI in Historic Structures Report, Fort Vancouver, vol. I) appear to show the chimneys as being offset from the centers of the ovens. This appears to be a valid observation, but no attempt has been made to picture such offsets in Figure 23.

Furnishings of the bakery proper

By combining the items listed in the Fort Vancouver "Bake House" inventories with those called for in the lists of "requisites" for typical English bakeries of the period, plus a few articles thrown in by the present writer as seemingly necessary, one can produce the following list of items suggested for refurnishing the ground floor of the reconstructed bakery:

2 large square-headed axes
4 biscuit stamps
4 plain "point" blankets — 2-1/2 points
1 broom
4 buckets (2 for water, 2 for ashes)
1 tin candlestick
1 counter brush
2 dippers
2 dough cutters
4 flannels
1 hammer
1 hoe
2 tin kettles — 8 gallon capacity
2 tin pans
6 peels (4 all wood, 2 with iron blades)
1 peel rack
1 jack plane
2 tin pots (one 1-pint, one 3-quart)
2 rasps
1 rooker
2 salt bins
1 saw (crosscut)
1 pair scales (iron weighing beam, tin pans, 1 set weights)
1 steelyard, 110 lbs. capacity, with weight
1 steelyard, 1400 lbs. capacity, with weight
6 tin sconces
2 scoops (small)
4 scrapers
2 scrub brushes
2 seasoning sieves or strainers
2 seasoning tubs
2 duck sheeting table cloths — 21 yards each
2 sets wooden shelves (over tables at sides of room, see Plates XCVI and XCVII, Historic Structures Report, vol. I, for type)
2 shovels
2 wire sieves
1 stock yeast tub
1 single "Canada" stove, 36 inches long [location not known]
1 swabber
3 tables (about 4 ft. wide, 12 ft. long, 2 ft. 10 in high)
2 kneading troughs (c. 7 ft. long, 2 ft. 10 in. high, 2-1/2 ft. wide at top, 19 in. wide at bottom, 18 in. deep, on legs)
2 yeast tubs
Several barrels

Arrangement of furnishings in the bakery proper

Based upon practice in British bakeries of the period, the larger pieces of furnishings may have been arranged about as shown in Figure 24. Quite possibly the weighing beam and tin scales were suspended on a rod hanging from a rafter rather than from a stand resting on the floor or a table. The peels were stored overhead on a rack suspended from the beams. Probably the broom, hoe, rooker, and swabber leaned against a post at one side of the ovens. The axes and saw perhaps were kept near the door, handy for use at the wood pile which must have been outside the bakehouse, possibly on the south side.

Figure 24. Suggested arrangement of larger furnishings in bakery. (a). Tables (dotted lines indicate shelves over). (b). Kneading troughs. (c). Weighing beam. (d). Large steelyard. (e). Small steelyard. Scale: 1/8 inch equals 1 foot.

Several of the smaller items, such as sieves and tin pans, probably hung on nails driven into the walls. Others, such as scrapers, dough knives, and biscuit stamps, undoubtedly were scattered about on the tables. Buckets, kettles, yeast tubs, and such sizable miscellaneous items may have been kept under the tables or ranged around the walls when not in use.

Probably several flour barrels were kept on the ground floor of the bakehouse for ready use. It seems likely that they stood near the kneading troughs.

The presence of the larger of the two steelyards seems to suggest that barrels of flour and perhaps completed biscuit were weighed. This scale thus might have been suspended near the southwest corner of the room, with several closed barrels nearby.

In refurnishing, a neat and orderly appearance should be avoided. Troughs, tables, the floor, and most utensils should show signs of hard usage. Flour dust everywhere was a characteristic feature of early nineteenth century bakeries. Above all, there should be no frills such as curtains or chairs. It seems quite likely that the oven complex showed a mixture of new and used brick.

Furnishings of the garret

In view of the uncertainties existing about the use of the bakery for living quarters, it is recommended that the garret be closed to visitors and left unfurnished pending the possible discovery of additional information. In point of fact, such a decision would improve the quality of the restoration, since compromises to provide for visitor safety could be avoided. For instance, the stairs could be steeper, and handrails would not be necessary. In Company work structures the stairways were usually not much more than large ladders.

If, however, it is considered desirable to exhibit the garret, it is recommended that the upper floor be divided into two rooms, the larger being at the north end. This north room, to which the stairs would give access, seems best suited as a place of storage. Flour barrels, extra barrels for packing biscuits, sacks of salt, etc., could be ranged in rows, while drying lumber, firewood, and other assorted materials could be used to fill up much of the rest of the space. Adequate clear passage should be allowed for access to the living quarters at the south end of the garret.

The south room could contain two sets of two rough wooden bunks placed along the north wall, one set on each side of a center door. The "Canada" stove could sit in the southeast corner, with a stovepipe leading through the wall to the southern oven chimney. A deal table on which a few cooking utensils are scattered and a couple of benches should complete the main furnishings. The "point" blankets could be placed on the two lower bunks, one blanket on each folded to form a mattress and one blanket to serve as covering. The single candlestick should be in this room if it is to be exhibited. No curtains or rugs should be in evidence. Articles of clothing and perhaps a gun or two might hang from nails on the walls. Probably a tin wash basin placed on a box and a bucket of water would suffice for ablutions.

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Last Updated: 28-Nov-2005