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Highway 16A West
Yorkton, SK


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Threshermen's Show and Seniors' Festival
Threshermen's Show & Senior' Festival

 

Clay Oven


The Saskatchewan Western Development Museum has two operating clay ovens, one at its Saskatoon WDM and one at its Yorkton WDM.

The Yorkton WDM clay oven was built in 1975 on the farm of William K. Elaschuk with the assistance of Bob Pearce and Mike Nabozniak (all members of the Yorkton Threshermen’s Club). It was built on a platform with wheels; this allowed it to be moved but eventually was stationed permanently under cover at Grandma’s Oven in the outdoor compound of the Yorkton WDM. The walls are made from clay with flax straw mixed in.


WDM Yorkton - Clay Oven - Man in mud/straw mix in bare feet

Early beginnings of clay oven bread baking at the Western Development Museum. This clay oven was constructed in 1975 on the farm of William K. Elaschuk of Saltcoats. It has been in operation since that time at the annual Threshermen’s Show and Seniors’ Festival.
Photo credit – Unknown

Click on images to enlarge.


Information reproduced from Yorkton This Week article “Our Daily Bread” (Calvin Daniels, date unknown – c. late 1990s)

For more than 20 years Pauline Pearce has toiled over the clay ovens at the annual Yorkton Threshermen’s Show and Seniors’ Festival. Each year, she and a well-trained crew of helpers mix, kneed, bake, slice and sell a few hundred loaves of bread.
Pearce says she became involved almost on a dare between her and her late husband Bob.

“I told him if he built a clay oven I’d bake the bread,” she said with a laugh.
“I spoke with my mouth too fast and my foot got stuck in it.”

Bob took up the challenge along with neighbour Bill Elaschuk.

“They made their own design. I don’t know where it came from,” she said. “It’s on a wagon and has a round shape to it, and the chimney’s at the back.”

Over the next two year, 1976 to 1977, the pair constructed a clay oven from their design. And Pauline became a baker.

Looking back, Pauline said the oven took a lot of work. “The first clay came from Manitoba somewhere,” she said. But every year the oven needs a new coat of clay and a source near Theodore has since been found to simplify the process.

In addition to the clay, there’s an iron frame to the oven. Sections of mower knives were bent to form the oven’s skeleton. “There’s quite a bit of iron in that oven over there. That’s where the shape comes from.”

Once the frame was completed the two men mixed clay and straw together, the straw was added to increase the clay’s binding power, and spread the mixture over the frame.

A few trial runs and a few loaves of bread later, the new oven was ready for the Threshermen’s Show. Before long, it was dubbed “Grandma’s Oven.” As for the bread, it quickly became a valued attraction at the show. Lineups for the fresh-baked bread form at least 15 minutes before the loaves are even removed from the oven.

“Bread baking has become such an important part of the Show & Festival,” commented Norm Roebuck, one of the members of the Threshermen’s Show organizing committee.
“I guess it is something (very closely associated) with the pioneers. In the old days every pioneer family did breadbaking. Bread is kind of one of the staples of life – milk, water and bread.”

Pauline said the recipe isn’t the key, rather it’s the way it’s baked. “It’s just an ordinary recipe, the same as you would use at home. We do whole wheat and white. If your fire is right, it bakes in about the same time as in an electric stove.”

But having the right heat in the clay oven is the key. And weather conditions – like a sharp south wind – can make getting the right heat more difficult.
“That’s the main part – to get the heat right,” said Pauline. “I test it with flour. I throw in some flour to get an idea how hot it is. If it burns right away, it’s too hot. If it stays about half a minute and browns you have the right temperature.”

So what keeps Pauline working around the hot oven two decades later? The joy of baking the bread.
“If you didn’t enjoy it you wouldn’t go back. It’s hard work,” she said.

WDM Yorkton - Clay Oven - Welding on oven framework

Bob Pearce and Bill Elaschuk build the oven’s frame
Photo credit – Norman Roebuck (appeared in Yorkton This Week article “Our Daily Bread”, date unknown)

WDM Yorkton - Clay Oven - Covering oven frame

L to R: Bill Elaschuk, Mike Nabozniak & Bob Pearce make the clay mixture and apply it to the walls of the oven.
Photo credit – Norman Roebuck (appeared in Yorkton This Week article “Our Daily Bread”, date unknown)

Yorkton WDM - Clay Oven - man mixing clay and staw with bare feet standing in front of almost complete oven

Early beginnings of clay oven bread baking at the Western Development Museum.
Photo credit – Unknown