I love a good night sleep. Who doesn’t? Sufficient rest affects a frame of mind. Certain mattresses and bed frames guarantee physical aches and pains. With friendly concern for historical characters residing inside my stories, current and future, I set about to discover the nature of bed with which they must contend.
Early pioneers made built-in beds called “jack beds”. Later came “catamount’ beds, constructed of four upright posts plus two long poles for the sides and two short poles for either end. Elm bark was woven across the centre of the bedframe, similar to a woven chair seat. The bark was later replaced by cords and pegs which could be tightened when the bed began to sag. Hence the expression, “sleep tight”. A special wrench was used to draw the cords as tight as possible through holes in the frame. Once taut, wooden pegs were wedged into each hole to sustain tension. The process was repeated around the entire perimeter of the bed.
During year one of living in the bush, the bed may have been layered with hemlock boughs in lieu a mattress. By year two, a family may have graduated to a mattress known as a “tick”. It was typically stuffed with straw which was replaced once or twice each year. A tick was like a bag stitched shut except for a 2- to 3-inch-long opening in the centre of the topside to allow women to slide a hand inside to adjust the straw. Once their poultry was well established, mattresses were stuffed with feathers. While this sounds comfortable, the feathers often separated and the tick hung like saddlebags on either side of the bed.
Trundle beds, commonly used by children, were similar to deep drawers on wheels. They were outfitted with a rope handle for pulling it from its hiding place under the parents’ bed. Cradles for babies resembled sap troughs. At the end of a cradle, handles were attached for ease of rocking. Bedding was knotted to knobs along either side. The earliest bedsheets were homespun from linen or flax, a labour-intensive job. Homemade blankets were woven from sheep’s wool often raised by the family.
(Photo taken at Pickering Museum Village, Pickering, Ontario)
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