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A Unique Find From Saskatchewan

Hello, and welcome to this week’s Bill’ History Corner. I have been having an interesting email conversation with a young lady for the past several months. Her emails started as so many other emails have. Basically, people are asking when their cabinet was made and which company made it? “What can you tell me about my kitchen cabinet?” Usually, I can give a positive answer, then sometimes I’m completely stumped. The most difficult questions are the ones with cabinets that have no markings and look as if any of 20 or so companies could have made it in their factory. I’m sure that I’ve said it before, but cabinet companies borrowed ideas from other cabinets that were already on the market. This is why so many look alike.

This History Corner does not have that problem with this story. The kitchen cabinet that I have been emailing about looks like no other cabinet I have ever seen. First, it was made in Canada, the country to the North, in case you have forgotten. Second, I thought it was a one-of-a-kind kitchen cabinet, and I think our email conversations bear that out. The drawers have hand-cut dovetails. The young lady’s initials are MB (I told her I would not use her name). The cabinet has the name of MB’s Great Grandfather,  G. HAMILTON + DONGOUGH (his town) + SASK (Saskatchewan) written on the back side.

dovetailed drawer from 19th c cabinet

Furniture that I have seen with a person’s name written on it is usually an indication that it was made by the person that signed it. So, from the beginning, I thought this cabinet was a one of a kind cabinet having been made by G. Hamilton. When I suggested this theory to MB, she was not so sure but has since found military records indicating that G. Hamilton was indeed a cabinetmaker before he entered the military for WWI. MB has started to piece together her family genealogy, which is very rewarding for anyone who does it.  This is what history she has shared so far.

 “My great grandparents did not have a lot of money, so it is definitely possible he built it. My Great- grandpa (Gavin Hamilton) was a farmer later on in life. I’m not sure what he did before 1933 (cabinetmaker). I think I mentioned this before, but he brought his family (including my infant grandmother) over from Saskatchewan to British Columbia in 1933 via horse-drawn covered wagon. He bought a plot of land just outside of Nelson, (about 30 acres and some of it lakefront) built a barn, cleared land for a farm and built a home [with] the help of the older sons. He then became a farmer for a living: mostly cows and chickens. He would have been about 50 years old when he was doing all of this! He was 40 when he started having children with my great grandmother when they had their 9th and 10th children (twins) he was 60 years old!   The property is still owned by my family. My mom’s cousin owns the upper 20 acres of the property including the original barn which until this past summer was still being used for cows and chickens. My mom and her sister own the original house together and we go up at least once per year.”

This is the cabinet that we have been discussing.

Early Hoosier Cabinet

As you can see, it needs some work. MB is planning on repairing/restoring/fixing it but does not want to lose the original color or character of the cabinet. Notice that the work surface appears to pull out like a genuine Hoosier cabinet, so likely Mr. Hamilton may have seen a Hoosier cabinet in his work as a cabinetmaker. I’ve suggested she add some color where needed and basically leave the rest alone.  It’s her cabinet, she can decide what to do.

Another very interesting aspect of this cabinet is the interior tin work. The flour bin is on the left side, and there are tall containers for tea and coffee with sugar in the center, shelves for spice jars and spaces for cups or other cooking utensils. This tin work is different from any that I have seen. It does look familiar, but I can not place it yet. Still working on the tinware, maybe in the U. S. patents, is where I remember seeing tinware like this. I do think the tinware was commercially made and that Mr. Hamilton may have ordered it from a mail-order company- Sears, possibly. It does look like the three-part tin portion would pull forward and out of the cabinet, for cleaning and filling.

tinware inside a custom Hoosier cabinet

What would you do if you inherited an old family piece of furniture with that much history that needed some repair, how much would you fix it up or leave it alone?