The brave new world of trailer living

The eyesores of the Thirties have become picture-windowed, gadget-filled homes for sixty thousand Canadians. They’re helping to open up our frontiers and beat the housing shortage, and maybe some day they’ll even fly

Christina McCall January 4 1958

The brave new world of trailer living

The eyesores of the Thirties have become picture-windowed, gadget-filled homes for sixty thousand Canadians. They’re helping to open up our frontiers and beat the housing shortage, and maybe some day they’ll even fly

Christina McCall January 4 1958

The brave new world of trailer living


The eyesores of the Thirties have become picture-windowed, gadget-filled homes for sixty thousand Canadians. They’re helping to open up our frontiers and beat the housing shortage, and maybe some day they’ll even fly

Christina McCall

Along the frontiers of the Fifties, at every major construction project from the Trans-Canada pipeline to the uranium sites and the St. Lawrence Seaway, thousands of chrome-and-aluminum caravans arc herded together in neat suburban rows. In these gaudy two-toned trailers live a new race of gypsy-like pioneers that lias sprung up as a result of improved highways, prosperous times and housing shortages. There ire now sixty thousand trailerites in Canada and ilmost three million in North America. If grouped together in one colony, the continent’s trailer dwellers would form a city bigger than VIontreal and Toronto combined.

These modern frontiersmen can stand in their living rooms on bulkhead-to-hulkhead broadbom carpeting, pull back floor-length chintz drapes and gaze through picture windows into the wilderness beyond. Their houses on wheels bear little resemblance to the "tin-can-tourist" or 'rolling coop” trailers of the Thirties. They don't even have the same name. Trailers have become “mobile homes.”

After years of disrepute as one of the ugliest of community eyesores, the trailer is beginning to gain a measure of respectability as a possible remedy for the traditional evils of the boomtown with its makeshift shacks, dangerous overcrowding and rent gouging. Trailerites are no longer automatically derided as parasitic and prolific nomads parked behind gas stations in homemade square boxes on wheels.

But trailer owners are still plagued by problems in spite of improvements in standards of trailer living and wide recognition of a need for mobile housing in new communities. Habitable trailer parks are scarce. Insurance rates are high and many municipalities have anti-trailer legislation. Still, the number of mobile homes manufactured in Canada per year since 1950 has increased from twenty to four thousand. Including American imports, ten thousand trailers were sold in Canada in 1957.

For their owners, the daily frustrations of irritating job conditions and tool-borrowing neighbors can be remedied with relative ease. They simply bundle blanket-wrapped knickknacks into the bathtub, jam pillows in the kitchen cupboards, unhook the service lines and they’re ready to roll to what they hope will be pleasanter surroundings, higher-paying jobs, different neighbors, more temperate climates. Today’s mobile home has most of the conveniences of an up-to-date suburban home. For ten thousand dollars (the price of one uglier-than-average strawberry-box bungalow) you can buy the most luxurious of trailers—a double-decker, with air conditioning, two bathrooms, a dishwasher, builtin hi-fi, a bar and a fireplace—and park it in a sun-soaked California oceanside playground in February and a cool northern Ontario pine forest in July.

In the face of such unabashed romanticism, trailer haters, usually people who have tried and abandoned the way of life, are quick to point out that the biggest trailer is still smaller than the tiniest bungalow, and that in a bedroom not much larger than a normal bathroom, claustrophobia is inescapable. Hank Anderson, a bulldozer operator in Calgary, who is six feet three

and weighs two hundred and thirty pounds, gave up trailer living after six months. Now when the word “trailer” is mentioned he mutters moodily, “They ought to breed a race of pygmies to live in those damn things.”

Jack Scott, a columnist on the Vancouver Sun, has harrowing memories of a 17,500-mile journey he made in a trailer. In 1951 Scott, his wife and their two young daughters crossed Canada from Vancouver to Halifax, continued down the Atlantic coast to New Orleans, traveled across to San Diego, Cal., and then up the Pacific coast to B. C. The journey took seven months and as Scott said recently, “It was a miracle it didn’t lead to divorce or infanticide.” Scott concluded in one of his daily columns written en route: “As a cheap, comfortable and convenient way of camping, the trailer is ideal for short trips. But if you’re undertaking anything that involves a lot of mileage, then a heavy trailer is a headache. It’s tiring to drive since it demands concentration at all times. It’s murder going through big cities.

I’ll never quite recover from taking our beast down Broadway.”

But many who own models built in the last three years are quick to defend them. They say, among other things, that there is plenty of space in the new mobile homes. These range in size from thirty feet long and eight feet wide to custom-made trailers, fifty-five feet long and ten feet wide. Prices are from four thousand to ten thousand dollars. One third of Canada’s trailer population has lived on wheels for more than three years. The fierce enthusiasm of confirmed trailerites is reflected in the Canadian Mobile Home Magazine, a monthly published in Toronto. It has a wide circulation in trailer parks and every issue carries some trailerite’s firm pledge that he wouldn’t want to live any other way.

In their attempt to make trailers homelike, manufacturers have thought up dozens of ways to beat one of the biggest problems trailer dwellers have to face—lack of space. Originally they borrowed many ideas

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Crowding is a problem bul modern appliances make housekeeping a breeze

continued from page 11

Glassed-in showers and fireplaces are luxury touches. But where do

kids play when it rains?

from shipbuilders. Now architects are using in houses the same space-saving gimmicks found in trailers. Storage cupboards line the hall and bedrooms; appliances are scaled to fit into cramped areas. A typical mobile home, in the most popular si/e (forty feet by ten) sleeps six people. Including all furnishings, from the shower curtain to the door chime and the Venetian blinds, it costs about six thousand dollars.

The oak-paneled living room has windows on three sides, with floor'-to-ceiling pull drapes. Furniture consists of a hideaway-bed sofa, a matching armchair, two end tables and a lamp. The purchaser can choose the decorating scheme, ('lurent tastes run to lipstick-red with metallic-thread chesterfields and wrought-iron legs on everything. Most trailer owners in receiving areas have television sets; a TV hookup aerial is a standard service line in trailer parks.

Anything else squeezed in depends on the individual family. The hi-fi craze has hit the trailer population too and people are building their own sets, using the kitchen-living room divider as a bombast for the speaker. The Vernon Flynns, who come from Dawson City and have traveled across the country in their trailer, managed to find room for a standard-size upright piano.

Overhead shelves are designed for books or ornaments but one woman created her own small and humid green jungle by cramming them with twenty pots of rambling ivy plants. Another woman found space in a twelve-foot room for her collection of fifty dolls.

Trailer kitchens are as trim as a submarine's galley, with ten-cubic-foot refrigerators, double sinks, eye-level ovens, apartment-size gas ranges, exhaust fans and lots of cupboards. There's a twentygallon hot-water tank concealed under the sink. A dividing shelf with a flat top for work space usually separates the living room from the kitchen, and some trailers have bamboo screens to completely conceal the kitchen. A four-chair dinette suite fits into this area but a few models have drop-leaf tables and folding chairs that can be stored in a cupboard.

The master bedroom, crammed with built-in drawers and overhead cupboards with sliding doors, is located in midtrailer. In it. a double bed is flanked with night tables and a mirrored dressing table huddles against the wall. The bathroom. next door, has pink or turquoise fixtures, a full-length tub. glassed-in shower, toilet and mirrored washbasin. Another, smaller bedroom at the rear, usually equipped with bunk beds, provides sleeping space for children. Toys or dirty laundry can be stuffed out of the way into storage drawers under the beds.

All kinds of extras are available. An automatic washer-dryer can be installed in the kitchen or bathroom. One ingenious trailer owner, Mrs. Shirley Lindsay, of Naughton. Ont., had an ordinary washing machine chopped down and built into the bathroom, then tiled over the washbasin and washing machine so that they looked like one unit. Broadloom carpeting instead of linoleum, central air conditioning, a fireplace, garbage disposal unit and indirect lighting are also available.

Heat is provided by a thermostat-controlled, centrally located oil heater and a winter’s fuel bill, even in the far north,

is rarely more than ninety dollars. The fact that mobile homes can stand up to severe Arctic blizzards is a surprise to many people who think of them as summer-only propositions. There is a large trailer colony at Tok, Alaska, where temperatures drop to sixty-five below zero. The H. F. McGinness Co., of Peterborough. Ont., has built trailers on sleighs for use by the Canadian and U. S. governments in Arctic defense projects.

The most important thing new trailer owners have to learn is how to organize their living space, which is little more than twice the size of the living room in an average home. They learn to do away with nonessentials but say it takes at least two months to adjust to their cramped living area. One new mobile-home owner, Mrs. Marjorie Kingyens, of Elliot Lake, Ont., found that when she got all her family’s belongings into their mobile home, there was hardly room lor the family. Everything has to have a fixed place and both adults and children learn to put things away as soon as they’ve finished with them. A complete housecleaning only takes about two hours, so trailer wives have more time to spend with their children.

Trouble with a tilting trailer

What to do with the kids on a rainy day is a thorny problem in a trailer. Recent models have sliding doors between rooms so one end of the trailer can be shut off and children can play on the hallway floor. Some families are using folding beds, instead of fixed bunks, in the second bedroom so that their children can have more floor space to play. But kids often manage to find more spectacular ways to amuse themselves. Mrs. Dorcas Arsenault, the wife of a cateringcompany manager now stationed at Chiboügamau, Que., was sleeping peacefully early one morning last year at Elliot Lake, Ont., when she awoke to find her bed sliding across the room and the dishes crashing from the cupboards. Her eightyear-old son. Marcel, had gone outside to play and was keeping himself busy by jacking up the Arsenault mobile home with an old car jack.

It takes less than an hour for mobile home owners to get ready to move but the moving itself involves difficulties. Highway regulations in some provinces forbid travel to ten-foot-wide trailers on busy highways at peak hours. At speeds above twenty-five mph trailers have a tendency to sway dangerously and backing up a trailer takes an expert. An average-priced car. such as a Ford or Chevrolet, can move trailers smaller than forty feet long, but anything bigger needs a heavier car or truck. About two thirds of Canadian trailer owners use the services of firms specializing in mobile-home moves. Many trailers never get towed anywhere by car: they're shipped by railway flatcar. The cartoonist’s concept of people riding about in trailers, with housewives leaning out side windows to gossip at stoplights, just isn't so. It's illegal to travel in a moving trailer.

On pipeline construction the workers move in sixty-mile hops to new parking sites every week. But few mobile homes are moved more often than twice a year; two families, at the Pleasant Valley Park near Toronto, have lived in the same trailers on the same land for a decade. A U. S. sociologist, L. C. Michelon, has analyzed the psychological attitude of people who live in trailers but rarely move around: the fact that their homes can be moved is supposed to give them a feeling of freedom and satisfies their desire to keep out of the rut of routine living.

Trailers aren’t suitable living quarters for the possession-proud who dote on elaborate furniture, or for space-demanding hobby addicts, or gregarious couples who like to entertain lavishly. What kind of people do find mobile homes the most suitable form of housing? Trailer dwellers come from almost every employment category. The Canadian Mobile Home Association, an organization of trailer manufacturers, dealers and owners, calls them simply “mobile occupation workers.” Some are golf pros, race-horse trainers and entertainers.

A Central Mortgage and Housing Corporation survey in 1955 showed that the average trailer dweller’s income was just under four thousand dollars, or three

hundred dollars more than the national average. Some trailerites in uranium boom towns earn more than ten thousand dollars a year.

Most trailer owners are under forty and, contrary to popular belief, there arc rarely more than three people (usually a couple and one child) to each trailer. Three quarters of them are either skilled workers whose specialized jobs make it profitable to follow the booms, or married armed-service personnel whose frequent postings make permanent quarters impractical.

T he rolling home is a familiar sight in Canada’s pioneer communities and more than half of the sixty thousand mobilehome owners are drawn from the group of itinerant workers who move from one unpopulated job site to another—miners, engineers, construction, pipeline and hydro workers. Trailer settlements around Cornwall, Ont., are housing much of the Seaway labor overflow.

At Elliot Lake. Ont., the site of the largest uranium mines in the world, a whole new community has been built out of the wilderness. There are fifteen hundred mobile homes housing nearly fortyfive hundred people. Trailers are being used for almost everything. Dentists pull teeth in them. The Bell Telephone has installed a mobile switchboard in one of them, capable of handling five hundred phones. The Bank of Montreal cashes cheques in a mobile branch, and there's a beauty salon on wheels operated by Mrs. Isabel Capillo.

Construction-company owners and mining interests have realized the advantage of housing workers in mobile homes. Officials of Steep Rock Mines at Atikokan. Ont., have formed their own community of one hundred company-owned trailers. They rent them to employees. The Ontario Hydro bought a fleet of trailers last year and they’re being used as bunk-bed dormitories for hydro men working in the bush. Company officials say they just can’t get skilled workers earning large salaries to stay in unpopulated areas without good accommodation.

The second biggest group of mobilehome owners are armed-service members, mostly men in the air force. Servicemen have difficulty finding suitable housing quarters for their families. At most military centres there aren't enough married quarters to go around, and rented housing often costs an exorbitant amount. At Camp Borden, before the establishment of a mobile-home park was approved by the township, landlords were charging seventy-five dollars a month for condemned hen coops. At some air-force bases, such as Gander, Nfid., or the jet base at Cold Lake, Alta., married quarters or rented housing aren’t available at all. The airman with a mobile home has the only possible means of keeping his family with him when he gets such a posting.

Early in 1956 the Department of National Defense gave official approval to mobile homes by allowing camp commanders to extend facilities, such as hydro and garbage collection, to trailer settlements of soldiers and their families.

For a third group, retired people living on modest incomes, trailers can be the ideal accommodation. They can settle down in one of the well-equipped parks or follow good weather. In the U. S., where the popularity of the trailer far

surpasses even the happiest hopes of Canadian manufacturers, an estimated three hundred thousand people of retirement age live in trailers.

Some parks are luxurious playgrounds. At big parks in California space rent goes as high as a hundred and seventyfive dollars per month. Services include oceanside mooring for the trailerite’s boat, telephone, television, a swimming pool, clubhouse and shopping centre.

In Canada the trailer-park situation lags far behind that in the U. S. Of the two hundred privately owned trailer parks here, only a handful have adequate facilities. The Canadian Mobile Home Association estimates that Ontario alone needs at least two hundred parks to accommodate the number of mobile homes being used in the province. At the few good parks in Canada rent is about thirtyfive dollars a month and services include electricity, water and garbage collection.

A community spirit grows in parks such as Pleasant Valley in Toronto, the Highland Trailer Park in Bancroft, Ont., and the Covered Wagon in Fort Garry, Man. Pleasant Valley, the largest park in Canada, has “streets” along which new mobile homes are parked in choice locations. Old trailers are stationed on outof-the-way “back streets.” Families settle down for long periods, cultivating flower gardens and building side porches.

But many people are still living in shabby parks without adequate drainage, garbage disposal or proper sanitation, and municipalities, especially in Ontario, are reluctant to either build parks or to encourage the establishment of private ones. Their reluctance stems from ugly memories of the trailer camps that sprang up ten years ago in urban areas where work was plentiful and houses scarce. They think of trailerites as shiftless nomads, eager to take advantage of municipal services but unwilling to pay taxes. Because they don’t rest on permanent foundations, mobile homes are not considered assessable property. Thus trailer owners, since they don’t pay property taxes, are disenfranchised at the municipal level. In Ontario the law allows municipalities to charge a maximum license fee of ten dollars a month. William C. Smith, president of the Canadian Mobile Home Association, feels that a more logical solution has been adopted by Lancaster, N.B., where mobile homes have been made assessable properties at a thousand dollars each.

Smith feels sure that if legislation involving mobile-home parks were brought up to date, the number of trailers sold in Canada would double within a year; and he forecasts that within the next decade the mobile-home business will be a $ 1 OO-million-a-year industry. Trailer living has already achieved remarkable success in the U. S., where there are twelve thousand trailer parks and trailer sales last year topped five hundred million dollars.

Canadian manufacturers are also doing a brisk business in custom-built trailers required for a variety of unusual uses. In Montreal there’s a Roman Catholic chapel for cabbies in a converted trailer. Besides the altar, it has a lounge and snack bar and moves to a different location in the city every day. The Anglican

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Church has a similar Mission to Seamen trailer that parks on Toronto’s waterfront. Trailers are also used as bookmobiles, Red Cross dispensaries, laboratories and as salesmen’s display space for everything from chinaware to clothing.

Probably the world’s most luxurious mobile home was built in the United States for the late King Abdul Aziz lbn Saud of Saudi Arabia. It had a diamondstudded throne room, mahogany-paneled walls with an inlaid solid-gold crest in the royal bedroom, plus a small harem. The house trailer of the future promises to be almost as opulent. John Hays Hammond Jr., a Boston inventor, is already building eighteen-ton trailers with Plexiglas observation domes, sundecks, wall safes, movie screens and attachable tenthousand-gallon swimming pools. Another project of Hammond’s is a self-propelled helicopter mobile home.

In 1936 Roger Babson, a well-known American business prognosticator, created a fearful flurry with his prediction that within fifty years half the population of North America would be living on wheels. With trailers looking more and more like ranch bungalows and trailer parks beginning to resemble sections of suburbia, it’s possible that his forecast may come true. ★


Maclean’s Magazine regrets the paragraph published in its issue dated November 23, 1957, wherein it was stated as follows:

"When the east finally got around to appointing a commissioner last year, it named Judge Allan Fraser whose only previous connection with sport was that he'd once been an official of the Ottawa Valley Softball league.”

Maclean's Magazine is happy to say that Judge Fraser has had the following association with sports:

1919-1921: Commodore, Victoria Yacht Club, Aylmer, Que.

1923: Commodore, Britannia Boating Club (since about 1922, Trustee and part donor of Victoria Cup, representing club championship for paddling of Northern Division of Canadian Canoe Association).

1924: Member of Executive of Ottawa Football Club.

1925-1930: Member of Executive and Secretary of Ottawa Football Club. (During this period he represented the club at practically every executive meeting and annual meeting of the Inter-provincial Rugby Football Union.)

1929: Secretary-Treasurer of Inter-

provincial Football Union.

1933: Secretary-Treasurer of Inter-

provincial Football Union.

1942-1955: Commissioner of Eastern Canada Senior Hockey League; Commissioner of Ottawa Senior Hockey League; Commissioner of Ottawa Junior Hockey League; Commissioner of Ottawa Lacrosse League.

For several years, associated with Bill Cowley and others in the management and administration of the Ottawa Senior Softball League.

When professional baseball folded up in Ottawa a few years ago, he was member of a group that resurrected Senior Amateur Baseball in Ottawa. Was asked to be President of newly founded league but refused, and was appointed Honorary President.

Vice-President for two years of Ottawa Junior Football League.

Past President and now Honorary Treasurer. Christie Lake Boys’ Camp.

Charter Member and Director, Citizens’ Committee on Children.