Museum Musings: Before the modern kitchen

With the holiday season upon us many people will be heading to their kitchens to create the meals and treats associated with this time of year, or, alternatively, enjoying the labours of others who head into the kitchen.  

Today the standard kitchen in Whistler usually includes running water (hot and cold!), electric refrigeration and an oven of some kind. Eleanor Kitteringham, however, prepared meals in a very different kind of kitchen.

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The Kitteringham family (Olie, Eleanor and their children Ron, Jim and Linda) lived at Parkhurst from 1948 until the mill shut down in 1956. During that time Parkhurst employed about 30 men, including millwright Olie.  

For the first few years the Kitteringhams were the only family to stay at Parkhurst through the winter. They made extra money shoveling the snow off the mill’s buildings so that they wouldn’t collapse in the spring when the rains made all that snow very heavy. According to Eleanor, Olie hated snow for years after their time at Parkhurst.

The Kitteringham kitchen was equipped with a sawdust-burning stove, a convenient fuel when living at a sawmill. Sawdust was loaded into the hopper attached to the side and then fed through the hopper into the burn pot.

The stove took eight large pails of sawdust a day, a daily chore for Ron and Jim. The winter supply was hauled up before the mill closed in the fall and stored in the back of an old log cabin near the house.

Although a sawdust-burning oven may sound like a lot of work today, when one can just push a few buttons or turn a dial, Eleanor seemed fond of her stove and remembered it making wonderful bread:

“This old stove also had a wonderful warming-closet, on top of the back of the stove — perfect place to put the bread to raise. I used to bake 10 big loaves every other week, between grocery orders. You could smell the bread baking when coming up the trail from the tracks. What a wonderful smell on a cold winter day.”

The grocery order arrived on the train every second Thursday so any special meals had to be planned in advance. With their closest neighbours two miles away it was next to impossible to quickly run over through the snow and borrow a missing ingredient.

After the stove, the two most important parts of the kitchen were the icebox and the root cellar. Ice cut out of the lake in the winter and stored in sawdust provided refrigeration through the summer. Bins of sawdust underneath the house held potatoes, carrots and other vegetables grown in the summer.  

The root cellar also had shelves to hold cases of canned goods (and apparently made an excellent dark room). Not adverse to advancements, Eleanor wrote, “Later on we got a fridge run by kerosene — it was beautiful.”

Water came from a creek near the house, first using a flume and then piped in by Olie, who could “fix or do anything that was needed.”  
He got Ron and Jim to help dig down through the bush at $0.05 a foot. A water-jacket that lived on the stove provided hot water for washing dishes. Those washing up after holiday dinners this year should be grateful for how easy running water makes it.

New exhibit

We at the museum are excited to have been working with local photographer Eric Poulin to present People of Whistler, a new exhibit on some of the many figures who built the Whistler we all know today.

For a chance to learn more about this project from photographer and creator Eric Poulin and to hear their stories from some of the subjects of his photographs themselves, don’t miss the opening of People of Whistler this Thursday (Dec. 14) at 7:30 p.m.

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