Monday, December 30, 2013


In Pigs, flowers and bricks : A History of Leslieville to 1920, Joanne Doucette recounts that "Working class families often built their own homes. Sometimes they lived in a tent or in the basement of their house while working on building the rest of the house over their heads."

So you can imagine the allure of a mail-order home that came flat-packed like an Ikea bookcase, and promised that you didn't even need a saw to assemble it. A "knocked-down" house kit included everything from the pre-cut foundation timbers to the shingles, along with instructions for the owner-builder to put it together themselves.

First introduced around the turn of the last century, this revolutionary new housing solution became so popular that Buster Keaton featured it in his first solo film, the 1920 silent short One Week.

Aladdin Readi-Cut Homes – named for the fable in which a genie builds his master a palace overnight – used the tag line "Built in a Day". They claimed that "Skilled labor is absolutely unnecessary in any part of the erection and completing of an Aladdin house – because we supply the skilled labor in our mill, preparing the entire house for you to fit together in a few days."

The house kit would be packed into a railroad boxcar at the factory, and delivered to the siding or freight yard nearest the customer's site.

The Grand Trunk Railway bisects Craven Road, so it's not hard to imagine this boxcar being unloaded at the Harris Coal siding at 514 Coxwell Ave. (today the site of Monarch Park Collegiate):

From there, all you'd have to do is hire a cart to transport the materials to your empty lot, and match the numbered pieces with the building plans.

What could possibly go wrong? 

Buster Keaton's One Week, which parodied a 1919 educational short about prefabricated housing, features two young lovebirds who are given a house kit as a wedding present. Along with the 1986 Tom Hanks feature The Money Pit, Keaton's film is itself valuable educational material for any couple embarking on a major construction project together.