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From the Stove to the Electric Range

Dreams and Reality: Marketing, Design and Consumerism

Electrification was keenly marketed across Canada in the early decades of the twentieth century. In the 1910s and 1920s, Sir Adam Beck travelled the Ontario countryside to demonstrate the advantages of electricity with his “Beck Circus,” which consisted of electric appliances installed on board a vehicle.

This “electric kitchen,”
contained in a caravan, toured
rural Quebec in the 1930s.
(Archives Hydro-Québec,
Fonds Shawinigan Water
and Power Company,
F1 / 700 864)

In 1930, the Shawinigan Water and Power Company set up an “electric kitchen” in a caravan that travelled around rural Quebec. The agricultural exhibitions at the time — in Toronto, Ottawa and Quebec City — featured displays by electric companies to promote electric household appliances. This era was also marked by collaboration between the Hydro-Electric Power Commission of Ontario and the municipalities connected to its network to encourage the use of the electric range in the home.

In the 1950s, consumerism increased along with population growth (due largely to the baby boom), the rural exodus, urban expansion, government support of housing construction, and an increase in advertising by manufacturers. In their search for a better quality of life, many Canadians would demand massive, sturdy, stylish ranges to suit the large kitchens of suburban bungalows. High performance, and ease in use and cleaning were other popular attributes, and all these factors led manufacturers to offer a variety of models that would be purchased by consumers to enhance both lifestyle and social status.

Advertisement for a harvest
gold Westinghouse range
1968 (CSTM Trade
Literature Collection)

Magazines, brochures and trade catalogues in the 1950s liberally promoted the image of the attractive and pleasant “homemaker” to tout the merits of electric ranges. Manufacturers appealed to Canadian women consumers’ dreams of grandeur by comparing their appliances to gems, with the notions of “deluxe,” “imperial” or “royal” embodied in the chrome or gold-plated decorations, dazzling colours, and ease of operation, and conferring upon them the virtue of being “femineered from top to bottom.” As early as the 1920s, commercial catalogues suggested that the stove was “as important as your husband.”

Logo for the Canadian Association
of Consumers, circa
1948–1954 (Courtesy CAC)
The March 1990 cover of
Protect Yourself magazine (Courtesy Protect Yourself)

As would be seen later in feminist studies, homemakers made their needs clear by choosing electric ranges that were easy to operate and maintain. A large number of requests, for example regarding the operation and use of appliances, were addressed to manufacturers and reported in the brochures published by the Canadian Association of Consumers (later known as the Consumers’ Association of Canada) between 1940 and 1960. Following the creation of multinational companies in the electric household appliance sector in the late 1960s, these associations would focus on educating consumers through magazines such as Protect Yourself, published by the Consumer Protection Bureau in Quebec City from 1973 to 1991, that also provided price and quality ratings for appliances on the market.