January 2018 - Lougheed House

The Year was 1917

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If You Thought 2017 Was a Big Year…

…then hold on to your britches, because we’re about to hop into our time machine and take a trip back to 1917!

Clarence Lougheed (centre, front) and other officers in WWI.

First up, what were the Lougheeds doing in 1917? For the family, the years of the Great War were marked by triumph and tragedy. Sir Lougheed was splitting his efforts between his personal real estate and law operations in Calgary, and a newly created wartime cabinet position in Ottawa. Despite possessing a background in law, not medicine, and possessing no military experience, Senator Lougheed was appointed Chair of Military Hospitals in 1915. The Senator’s style was described by his colleagues as effective, if authoritarian. The previous year (1916), Sir James Lougheed had been knighted for his work in this new role. As the war neared its end, more than 30,000 widows and children of those lost in the war, as well as 70,000 disabled veterans, were under Lougheed’s jurisdiction, making 1917 a banner year in Sir James Lougheed’s career.

1917 also brought hardship to the Lougheed family. Clarence (the Lougheed’s first “son & heir”) and Douglas (their fourth son) were at war, having enlisted with the Canadian Expeditionary Force. Curiously, the family lost neither of the two young men; instead, they lost their youngest daughter Marjorie, at home. Described as infirm since birth, Marjorie contracted influenza at the age of twelve, and died in Victoria on February 18, 1917, where she and Lady Isabella had travelled in hope of aiding her recovery. At the time, it was believed that a change in climate was the best treatment for respiratory illness.

Examining Lincrusta

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Visitors at the Lougheed House often ask about the wall covering material that is found throughout the lower level, but is particularly remarkable in the main hall. Lincrusta was a common wall covering material that was used throughout the Lougheed House, and was embossed and painted gold for decorative effect. An unpainted sample of Lincrusta can be found in the closet to right of the fireplace beneath the musk-ox head, and displays the unique properties of the material. If you have an opportunity to hold this sample, it will immediately be clear that the material is pliable and has a unique composition. While this sample has become brittle over time, it still demonstrates the unique properties of lincrusta.

Lincrusta was invented by Fredrick Walton in 1877. After noticing oxidized linseed oil (also known as flaxseed) had formed a flexible material over a can of paint, Walton noted that this substance could be modified to produce a substitute for natural rubber. After experimenting with linseed oil and wood flour, Walton created a floor covering that he termed linoleum, which he derived from the Latin words for flax, “linum,” and oil, “oleum.” Building on the development of linoleum, Walton began to develop a wall covering incorporating the same technology, and by the late 1870s Walton had developed Lincrusta, a versatile wall covering that was originally patented as Linoleum Muralis – linoleum for walls. The success of Lincrusta was that the wall covering had a “warm and comfortable” effect and “would not warp or be eaten by worms.”[1] Additionally, Victorians noted that unlike stone or terracotta, Lincrusta had a low heat capacity, meaning that it would not be “cold in winter and hot in summer.”[2]

In 1891, Lincrusta was just one of many new technologies that was incorporated into the construction of the Lougheed’s new mansion. The Lougheed House also made use of electric lighting (which had been incorporated into some homes since the 1880s), indoor plumbing, and a telephone line. While it is tempting to think of Victorian homes as existing at a time when technology was not constantly upending and reshaping living spaces like it is today, the reality was quite different. Victorian buildings often incorporated the latest developments of interior design, and profited considerably from incorporating new technologies that could be used by residents. Fortunately, Lincrusta proved to be a material that withstood the test of time, and while it is uncommon in residential properties today, it is still used in hotels, restaurants, and public buildings around the world. Today, Lincrusta is manufactured by Heritage Wall Coverings Ltd. in Morecambe, England, and while it no longer represents the cutting edge of manufacturing, it is still regarded as a versatile and attractive material with a plethora of potential uses.

-Sam Kerr, Interpreter and Event Host

[1] Pamela Simpson, Cheap, Quick, & Easy: Imitative Architectural Materials, 1870-1930 (Knoxville, University of Tennessee Press, 1999), 104.

[2] Simpson, Imitative Architectural Materials, 104-105.