A Brief History of Home Construction and Renovation in Canada

These days you hear a lot about net zero homes, but the earliest dwellings in Canada were sophisticated, natural and very ecologically responsible. These were the dwellings of the First Nations.


Teepees and Igloos

Canada’s First Nations were nomadic; their teepees were easy to set up, take down, and move. Made from animal hides and poles, the teepee was naturally warm in the winter, waterproof, cool in the summer and ventilated.


Igloos, built by the Inuit, were dome shaped snow huts that had a raised platform inside for the bed. Cariboo and seal hides lined the interior, providing extra warmth and comfort. When summer came, the Igloo would be replaced with a tupiq, which is a seal skin tent similar to a small teepee.

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Wood and Stone: The Settlers Arrive

In the 17th century, the first settlers arrived, and they built single story, low homes out of wood, with a chimney made from stone. As the settlers became more acclimatized to Canada, subtle changes were introduced, such as raised floors and metal roofing (to help preserve the house in the case of fire).


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Trendy Kitchens and Townhouses

Townhouses started popping up in Canada in the 19th century. Since the early settlers did not have the grand dwellings and household help that many Europeans enjoyed across the Atlantic, the kitchen was located on the first floor – not hidden in the basement from genteel eyes. The townhouses were convenient, affordable housing in Canada’s growing urban landscape.



We still see this trend today – people moving out to suburbia. Urbanization brought with it crowded streets, crime and pollution. In the early 20th century, those seeking a calmer and quieter way of life moved outside city boundaries into two-story family homes. It was here that style became an option as the need for only practicality eased. Influences in suburban construction were seen in the Italian, farmhouse, Old English and Tudor styles. This time period was also rise of the bungalow, a favoured home plan that is still widely used today.


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Building Materials through the Ages

From animal pelts, snow, ice, sod, timber and stone, Canadians have always built their homes using whatever natural resources were close at hand. As the world became more globalized, more decorative construction materials, such as tile, were imported and used by those that could afford the luxury.


One building material, however, caused no ends of trouble: asbestos.


These days we are very familiar with the hazards of asbestos, an insulator widely used in the 90s. However, did you know Canada’s last asbestos mine didn’t officially close until the mid-2000s? While it has been banned for use in Canada, asbestos is still commonly found in older homes and buildings. It’s not just the insulation either. It can be found in cement, floor and ceiling tiles, and even some kinds of siding. When renovating an older home, having professionals check for, and remove if necessary, asbestos is very important.



As Canada’s cities grew, its dwellings were built to last, but that didn’t stop the march of time, or the march of the “trend.” While the shell of many homes from earlier in the century stood tall, the homes’ interiors underwent radical changes. Shag carpet in the 70s, pastel kitchens in the 80s, hardwood floors giving way to engineered hardwood, single-purpose rooms melding into open concept spaces – these are just a few of the trends that kept renovators busy.


Now and into the future

Today’s homes take advantage of the global marketplace, but one thing remains similar to the very first Canadian dwellings: the need to use local, sustainable materials and to be as eco-friendly as possible. This is mixed in with the advantages of the global marketplace. While you can frame your house with Alberta softwood lumber, you can also have Italian tile and French décor.


As a home renovator in Calgary, HomeFix builds on the past, present and future to give your home new, or revived, life. Contact us today to make your dwelling part of Canada’s home building legacy.