Liz & Sarah’s 1946 “Victory House” in Winnipeg – 731 s.f.

I am super interested in the early history of postwar housing — and the teeny tiny houses are among the most fascinating. I’ve seen these called “Tom Thumb” homes, but in reality, a huge percentage (maybe a majority?) of homes in the first few years after World War II ended were quite small — 700… 800…900 s.f. And, for a goodly number of years into the 50s, many many homes were still only around 1,000 s.f.  Recently, I learned from reader Sarah that the phenomenon was the same in Canada. She and her partner Liz live in a 1946 “Victory Home” in Winnipeg. Sarah has sent photos from inside their 731 s.f. bungalow, and Sarah also shares some history about Victory Homes in Canada. 29 wonderful photos!

Sarah first wrote me in early January (umm, it’s taking me a long time to get reader submissions posted…):

Hi Pam,

I have just discovered your site and it is wonderful. My partner and I have a 1946 “Victory Home” in Winnipeg, Manitoba. It’s chock full of original features. It is very lovely, and very modest (731 sq feet)!

I wonder if you would have any interest in seeing some photos? I would also love to contribute to sharing pictures and information about early Canadian postwar homes in the hopes that there are other Canadian readers of your site out there who might contribute. There doesn’t seem to be a similar Canadian resource.

Thanks for your consideration and happy new year.

Sarah

Sarah and Liz’ Victory Home photo gallery (click on first thumbnail to launch the slide show):

I ask Sarah for more info and pictures — for sure. She sends them — what a sweet house — perfect — along with more info on Victory Homes and how she and Liz ended up in their little bungalow:

First, some notes on victory houses (most people refer to them as veterans housing, but victory housing sounds so much more exciting!):

“In Canada these homes were built and owned by Wartime Housing Ltd. The crown corporation bought materials and land and followed through with orders for homes across the country. Victory Homes came in two models: a two-room bungalow or a four-bedroom, one-and-a-half story house. They were tiny by today’s standards – and without basements and furnaces – but they met the need.
After the war, many veterans moved into Victory Homes and renovated them. Some of them, enlarged and updated, are standing today. But there was still a post-war housing crisis. The entire economy was affected by a continued scarcity of materials and of the money to acquire housing. In 1946 the federal government responded by creating the Central Mortgage and Housing Corporation (now the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation). The assets of Wartime Housing Ltd. Were transferred to CMHC in 1947 (including the responsibility of housing veterans) through the Veteran’s Rental Housing program.” Source:  International Metropolis…. Complete PDF…. More info from the Canada Central Mortgage and Housing Corp.

Sarah continues:

I have attached a bunch of photos of the fixtures in our house and a few of the exterior. I’ve also attached a picture of my partner Liz and I. Our house is sort of sideways on the lot (in comparison to most of the other houses like ours). There was only one owner before us, and she didn’t change a thing as far as we know.

We started our house-hunting journey in 2006 in the heat of a seller’s market in Winnipeg. We initially had our hearts set on a 1910s or 1920s 2 or 2.5 story character house. We soon discovered (to our dismay) that in the areas of the city that were convenient for us as dedicated public transit users, houses are mid-century. Liz decided we needed to develop an appreciation for mid-century houses, so she borrowed some books from an architecture library on CHMC (Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation) house plans from the 1950s. We made 13 (over-asking price!) offers and finally had our offer accepted on a tiny 1946 bungalow/victory house. We had been making offers on 1950s bungalows and the odd 1950s 1.5 story. Our house was the first 40s bungalow we had ever set foot it.

Ours is the rarest of victory homes (2 beds, no dining room) so most of the documentation of victory homes overlooks our type. The layout is so functional, if a bit too teensy. There is a coat closet, a linen closet, and two other hall closets, not to mention bedroom closets. I included photos of the insides of the kitchen cabinets and some closets to show the colours. At first we thought the former owner just had a thing for bright colours inside her cupboards and closets but after looking at the 1941 Sherwin Williams Paint and Color Style Guide I think it was probably part of the trend shown in some of the images – bright paint colours inside kitchen cabinets.

Speaking of paint, I included some photos of the tiny back landing which is painted in two shades of green. A 1940s decor choice? Also, the covers on our light switches each have a tiny maple leaf in each corner – not sure if they’ll show up in the photos.

For the past couple of years we have been focused on getting a new roof, furnace, windows, grading, and cleaning the layers and layers of nicotine off of every inch of the house. We have only painted one room, and we don’t have our window coverings yet. We need a new kitchen counter and backsplash, and the bathroom needs some updating. We want a more efficient toilet, and the tiles around the tubs are all cracked. We want our updates to be in keeping with the 40s (and the house) but we also want a solid surface counter top. One problem: I really dislike 4×4 tile (did I say that?!?!). I really like basket weave, penny, and honeycomb tile. Do you know if they were “in” in the 40s? I am having a hard time finding distinctly 40s fabrics and tiles (other than 4×4).

Oh yes, the house really needs come curb appeal, too. We are thinking maybe a mint or spring green repaint on the original stucco. Any thoughts or suggestions you have on anything related to the house would be appreciated.

We both love mid-century houses and interiors now and are so thankful we didn’t get the kind of house we set out for! I discovered your blog over the holidays and can’t stop reading it. It’s fantastic.

Where did you live in Canada??!!

Cheers,

Sarah

Thank you so much, Sarah. What a darling house — so small, but so full of charm, I love it.

For a 1940s house, if you don’t like 4×4 tile for the bathroom, how about subway tiles for around the tub? Oh and as we discussed via email, those sure do look like plastic tiles in your bathroom. I have NO PROBLEM whatsoever with ripping those puppies out — I had three bathrooms full of them, and I was a happy pammy the day they were gone. In my bathrooms, the plastic tiles were absolutely rotted through, they were not watertight and 50 years had done their damage, no question. Ceramic on concrete board – yes! If you need to re-do the floors, I think that octagon or small six-sided mosaics (same as what you call honeycomb) — with or without color dots (which could be nice) would be appropriate. For exterior paint ideas, I’d point you at the library of Aladdin Home images for inspiration.

And I love love love hearing about Canadian postwar housing history. I lived in Canada for about six years of my adult life — I went there for two jobs with Ford. The first time, I lived in Toronto, in Cabbagetown. The second time around, I lived in the Bronte area of Oakville, a Toronto suburb. BTW, I have been to Winnipeg — a wonderful town, I had a great time! Thank you so very much for taking the time to share your home with us all. Circle back as you continue your updates, we’ll all want to see what you and Liz do with it to make it your very own.

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Comments

  1. Sarah says

    Thanks so much Pam for showcasing our little mouse house :). It is such a pleasure to hear such kind and generous words of appreciation for our modest little house from everyone who has commented. All of the comments and suggestions re: curb appeal and bathroom floor tiles are ever so helpful and inspiring. Yay!

  2. hillary says

    Love the idea of a mint green repaint! There’s a local house that is mint green with chocolate brown trim and it looks fantastic. It’s great to see the inside of this house…there are a bunch of “Tom Thumb” houses in my neighborhood, all built at the same time as our 1948 house. They are mostly 550-600 sf one bedrooms and 700-750 sf two bedrooms. Really darling little houses, on half-lots. Some are built next to each other in mirror images, so they resemble a duplex (but are detached, on separate half lots). I am really charmed by them (in fact we have a pair next door).

    • Sarah says

      Wow – 550 to 600 sf. Are they one beds? If you have the original bathroom flooring I’d love to know what it is.

  3. says

    This post has me REALLY excited because my husband & I just bought our first home – a 1955 bungalow in Calgary. The people we bought it from are the original owners and not much work has been done to it. Some of the work that was done was done in the 70s so we are hoping to revert back to the 50s esthetic for the rooms that do need work – like the bathroom which is really quite disqusting and needs to be redone (although I’m hoping there is interesting tile under the – yuck – carpet that was installed in the 70s). I will be following this comment thread for lots of ideas!

  4. says

    Oops – I forgot to mention that when we were looking for a house we saw a number of victory homes in Calgary too. We thought for sure we were going to end up with a 2-bedroom 800 sq ft home but luckily (for us) ours is just over 1000 sq ft and has THREE bedrooms which is very nice to have when you have a toddler and another baby on the way. And yes, as someone mentioned before, those 800 sq ft houses are really expensive and a lot of the ones I saw had been renovated and not with any thought to keeping the original asthetic like this Winnipeg cutie.

  5. Sara D says

    Hi fellow Canadians!! I too live in a war-era home, in Ottawa. It is spectacular, also with one former owner. Ours was actually built in 1953 so I don’t know if it technically qualifies for the distinction, however down our street are smaller versions of our 1.5 story 3 bed (I think our square footage is approx 1100) and I know they were building them for some time after the war. It is funny, you can see how the neighbourhood grew outwards as the years passed. Most of the small, actual Victory Homes in my hood have been bought up by Ottawa Community Housing, which is great when you think about it because the people who live there are as grateful to have them as the veterans were when they came back from overseas. In another local neighbourhood, alot of the smaller war homes are being bought up by developers who are building doubles or condos on the lots. It is a sad thing to see go. I mourn for the lost history and design that the new houses just don’t have and never will. Thanks for featuring some Canadian house history on here! It’s great to see. Good luck with the reno’s Sarah and Liz! (ps I think some geraniums out front would look stellar, too!)

  6. Elaine says

    This is a fun thread. I learned to crawl on the kitchen linoleum in our new postwar bungalow, so I can see it now just as it was. My parents did replace it with the new asbestos tile, also in green. The outside was originally a pale green, not mint, a little more yellow, with salmon trim. My parents changed it to the new asbestos shingles in pink and burgundy. The pink was on the bottom half, and the burgundy on the top half. The kitchen was also pale green and salmon, and I don’t recall a color change. I think inside the cupboards was cream color. On the countertops, there was white hex tile, and I think also on the bathroom floor. My dad built a little island divider with curved shelves, very modern, and surfaced the shelves with some kind of linoleum.

  7. Mark says

    Maple leaf light switch plates, how cool is that!?
    Nice house, I have an older (1924) small house 850sf and it takes some getting used to but there is no wasted space and I find the quality is much better on smaller houses.
    Nice find!

  8. Tera says

    Love this house. Reminds me so much of my own including the project list of things needing to be done. Ou home is 734 sqft, 1949 and I am going to go ahead and paint the interior closets with bright colors! Love that!

  9. sumac sue says

    Liz and Sarah, it’s obvious that Retro readers love your house! It certainly is a treasure, and I appreciate how you took close-ups of the special features.That mint green with chocolate trim idea that hillary suggests sounds yummy, like Andes mint candy.

  10. Beverly in MA says

    Just bumped into all of this while trying to find info on how my house might have looked originally. Great comments and house in Winnipeg is wonderful! I have a 1946 cement/stucco bungalow in Massachusetts and am feeling very fortunate because it tops out at over 1000sf. Good size kitchen with original white-painted wood cabinets (no bright interiors though) flows into dining area. Then a front-to-back living room, and two smallish bedrooms with tiny bath in between…all with original hardwood floors (except bath). Had one owner for over 50 years and those people took advantage of every inch to add storage spaces–amazing! Younger couple had it for a few years and did some critical updates (roof, plumbing and electrical) plus tile in kitchin/dining and bath. Anyway…great to read all the comments. PS….I’m stuck with an reddish-orangy roof so Ive stayed with cream body, whte trim. and the least offensive dark rust i could find for shutters.

  11. says

    So happy to find this post! I’ve been doing some research tonight trying to figure out what our 1947 “war box” as the realtor called it (and I’ve adopted; I love it) might have looked like originally. At some point some weird moldings were put in — well, not weird exactly, just a little more elaborate that I feel were original. Plus they get dirty — too many little nooks and things to clean. I’m sure that someone tore our what was probably a lovely tile bathroom too, and did a rather shoddy job putting in wood siding, and that will eventually come out, too. Sigh.

    I am rambling a bit, but this was fun to find. I will say though that our actual current living area (one floor — someday we’ll double it by finishing the basement) is about 850 square feet. Compare this to our old Cincinnati house that was three stories and 2500 square feet! But you know what? Aside from our big old farmhouse kitchen, I don’t miss the Cincinnati house AT ALL. I was constantly losing things! So I say small houses forever!

    Mary T.

  12. Brian says

    WOW! what a cool old house! i love seeing these old time capsuls! i’m glad that you plan to preserve its charm.

    i’ve always loved the old bakelite light switch covers, especially that pattern you have with the maple leafs in each corner. i’ve been trying to locate as many of that pattern as possible as i’d like to do my house in them.

  13. Maria says

    Hi there, I found this blog through Pinterest.
    I have a Victory House in Winnipeg; Riverview neighbourhood to be exact. It was built in 1948 and is a 1.5 storey. Living room in front, bedroom behind it, central hallway, dining room in front with kitchen behind. Bathroom, stairs, and back entrance tucked away. It has two bedrooms upstairs PLUS a 2-piece bathroom ad a full basement. It is 1300 square feet. We bought it in 2013 from two young people who had bought it 6 years before from the original owners. The last owners did some window upgrades, furnace, roof, bathrooms, a/c, and basement – all very poor workmanship. The original hardwood floors on the main level are in horrible shape, we have constant ice damming in the winter, yard needs landscaping, but it is home. We have been debating adding another bedroom upstairs plus more closet space and a shower into the bathroom. The house badly needs new floors, trim, kitchen, and insulation.
    From what I understand, these houses in Riverview were built with only the main floor finished – owners had to pay extra to do the upstairs. This makes sense why so many don’t have washrooms upstairs. I’ve noticed the door and trim is different between the levels in our house too. Plus the arched ceilings/walls in our house are curved whereas most other houses are angular. It is a nice detail if you are taller – I’m only 5’1, so have no issues there!

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