By Melissa Cole, Curator
As summer heat builds, more people will rely on air conditioning units to keep cool. No air conditioning? No problem! There were a variety of options for ‘cooling off’ on a hot summer day before the days of air conditioning! Here are a few of the creative ways people in Oshawa beat the heat at the turn of the 20th century.
Parks are a wonderful place to cool off; trees absorb heat, and ponds and lakes help further cool the temperature in the air. The development of city parks boomed in the late 1800s and early 1900s.1 Early city parks were usually privately owned land made available, for a small fee, to the public. This model evolved after WWII.
An example of this type of privately owned park was Prospect Park (located where Parkwood Estate is today). In 1880, Eli Edmondson landscaped the grounds with ornamental gardens, gazebos, and water fountains that would have provided an easy way to cool off in the summer!
One of the best parks to cool off in would be Oshawa-on-the-Lake (today’s Lakeview Park). For the citizens of our community, it is a favourite location to spend a summer’s day, swimming and relaxing along the sandy beach. There is an abundance of large trees providing shade to sit under to escape the summer sun or to take an afternoon nap!
Awnings became popular as a way to block out the sun while still allowing daylight and air to enter into storefronts that needed ventilation. On rainy days, awnings made it possible for passersby to enjoy window-shopping excursions. Throughout their history, awnings have had great appeal. Along with drapes, curtains, shutters, and blinds, they provided natural climate control in an age before air conditioning. By blocking out the sun’s rays while admitting daylight and allowing air to circulate between interior and exterior, they were efficient and cost effective.
Covered porches, such as the one pictured below, helped reduce the amount of direct sunlight hitting the outside walls and downstairs windows. A covered porch also allowed people to sit outside during the evening and early in the night when it was cooler. The porch eventually turned into a place to socialize with friends and family while cooling off after a long hot day.
Summer kitchens during the late 19th and early 20th centuries in Ontario had a number of practical applications. They were usually a wing constructed on the rear of the home. Often, the wood stove in the home would be disassembled and moved into the summer kitchen.2 At Henry House, the summer kitchen is located at the back of the house, off the main kitchen. This extension of the home was used during the hot summer months to separate hot kitchen activities from the rest of the house during the warmer months – a key way to survive the summer before the advent of the modern air conditioning.
Fans, hats, and parasols are not just fashion accessories. They were useful tools used to beat the heat of the summer months. Since the sun heats the earth through radiation, one of the best defences against the summer heat for a Victorian woman was protection from the sun’s rays. Wide-brimmed hats and parasols not only protected but were essential fashion accessories. After a stroll in the sun, what better way to cool down than to let nature protect—with its cooling canopy of shade.
- Von Baeyer, Edwinna. “City Park.” The Canadian Encyclopedia, March 4, 2015. https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/city-parks
- Bates, Christina. Out of the Old Ontario Kitchens. 18