Carl Benn (Department of History, Ryerson University)

Edwardian home photos

I possess 16 photographs from c.1905 of my great-grandparents’ home in St. Catharines. At a personal level, I like these pictures because they record details about the life of my ancestors. The images also show some furnishings I knew growing up in the 1950s and 1960s because my grandparents had them in their Toronto house, and a few objects even grace my home today.

As a historian, the photographs appeal to me because they illustrate some of the values that Edwardian Ontarians expressed through their domestic environments. One of those ideals was something I call “respectable comfort” – an idea that captures middle-class aspirations for their homes, inspired by a range of reformist social and decorative movements in the late 19th and early 20th centuries (made possible through more ambivalent phenomena, such as industrialization, which lowered the cost of consumer goods but at considerable social cost).

My favourite image in the group conveys something humorous, at least in a modest Edwardian way. In the shot, there is a large piano, in front of which is a ridiculously small chair, which would have made playing music either impossible or have required someone to adopt an utterly ludicrous pose to do so. I wonder which of my ancestors put the chair there and how the others responded to the joke.

Photos courtesy of Carl Benn



- Carl Benn (Department of History, Ryerson University), Toronto