On the chronological list of Things People Learned How to Do, heating their homes (well, caves) came in at number three, right after bipedal motion and hunting with tools. That’s pretty crazy if you think about it; we went straight from tying sharp rocks onto the ends of sticks to taming one of nature’s most destructive phenomena. Depending on who you ask, that happened anywhere from 300, 000 to 1.6 million years ago, and until relatively recently, we didn’t change much. Even by the end of the 17th century, homes were heated by setting a fire somewhere inside and letting the heat move around the house through channels in the construction. The Romans did it by leaving space under their floors and letting the warm air and smoke of a fire percolate there before escaping up a flue. The ancient Koreans did the same thing, only they used their cooking fire as the heat source, thereby saving resources. Despite the constant risk of housefires, this was the most efficient method. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
In the middle of the 19th century, people decided it was broke, so they fixed it.
By the time Beaulieu was built in 1891, a much safer (and some would say more elegant) solution to the heating problem had been developed: radiators. You’ll notice radiators in almost every room on the first and second floors of the Lougheed House. Far from the hulking, cumbersome machines you might expect, these cast-iron radiators blend seamlessly with the décor of the house. The dull-gold “hot boxes” (an archaic term used by Franz San Galli, one of the pioneers of radiator technology) are inlaid with ornamental patterns. They remain in the house today because they are still in operation — the house is heated using the same radiators first used by the Lougheeds in 1891!
Back then, and still to this day, the heating system was powered by the house’s boiler, which ran first on coal, and then on natural gas once the pipes were laid in Calgary in the 1910s. All the radiators in the house were constructed by the E. & C. Gurney Co. Stove Works, a company based out of Toronto. Gurney supplied all sorts of heating implements to homes throughout Canada. Amazingly (and bizarrely), they refused to ship their machinery via train, even after the CPR was completed. This means that every single one of the Lougheeds’ radiators was driven from Toronto to Calgary in a wagon, a trip that would have taken weeks. The same is true for the stove they had in their family cottage in Banff; it would’ve been pulled up into the mountains by horse!
Though every radiator in the house is built by Gurney, they are not all alike. Radiators had to roughly reflect the size and shape of the space they were to heat, so you’ll see ones that are short, tall, long, or thick depending on the room you’re in. Despite their different dimensions, they all run on steam from the boiler. In the summer, they’re rarely on, but be careful in the winter; they can become too hot to touch!
-Jake, Summer Student