More Information on Pioneer Jobs

Museum of Ontario Archaeology Education Programs

The Blacksmith Shop

This was a very important business in a pioneer settlement. This is where the farmers could get their animals fitted with iron shoes to protect their hooves. The blacksmith also made many tools such as nails and knives, which were needed by many members of the settlement. The community also relied on the blacksmith to fix or rebuild broken tools or machinery.page25image18584 page25image18744

The General Store

This was the center of business for the pioneer settlement. People depended on the general store to provide them with seeds and supplies for the farm, canned goods, cooking staples, and dressmaking materials. The shopkeeper kept a book of who owed what, and sometimes allowed people to pay with milk, eggs, or flour. There was also a post office section where people could pick up or send out their mail. There was also a catalogue that pioneers could look through for large items such as a cook stove. The shopkeeper would place the order for the pioneer and it would arrive a few months later.

The Gristmill

Once a community had enough people moved into the area the gristmill became one of the most important buildings of the settlement. A gristmill grinds grain into flour, which can be used to make bread. They are built on the banks of fast flowing water and in an area that is located closely to a forest so that they would have wood to construct the building. A millpond was created building a dam across the river. From the millpond the settlers could release the dammed-up water through a sluice-gate onto a waterwheel, which provided power for grinding the wheat. The waterwheel turned the gears inside of the gristmill, which then turned the millstones, which grinds the grain. The Miller was a very important member of the community because almost everyone in the settlement was his customer. He needed to have special knowledge of how to operate, adjust, and repair the millwheel, gears, and millstones.

The Milliner

A Milliner were women storeowners who made clothing alterations, sewed garments, and sold fashions that were imported from Europe. They provided their pioneer customers with a link to “home”. The word milliner is derived from the word ‘Milaner’ which meant people who originally people came from Milan. The milliner’s customers were usually people from the middle to upper class because their clothing was expensive. They did not sell ready make clothing because it was not in style so the milliner carried the finest fabrics from around the world and sold everything that was needed to make a gown. One of the most important areas of service for the milliner was caring for clothing and hats, because the fabrics were so delicate everything needed to be treated with great care.


There are many things that made a pioneer school different from the schools of today. The school was a one room wooden building made of boards or logs and the children sat on wooden benches in front of wooden desks. The school master or mistress sat at the front of the room at a wooden desk. The school was warmed by a large stove that was placed in the center of the room.

During pioneer times children attended school until they were 12. Grades one to eight were taught in the same class. The students learned reading, writing, math, and science. There were no blackboards, textbooks or maps like there is today. Instead each student had a small slate board on which they did their work and after each lesson they wiped their slate clean. Reciting poetry and spelling contests were popular activities for pioneer children.

The boys and girls of the community had different tasks to perform for the school. Boys had to help chop firewood for the schools stove while the girls had to help keep the school clean. Sometimes the boys could not attend school because they had to help at home in the fields. Most of the children had to walk a long way to get to school and they had to help keep it clean by sweeping and wiping the desks, carrying in firewood and drinking water.


Tools were very important to the Pioneers who arrived in Upper Canada. Every occupation and chore required a number of tools to be used to get the job done. The tools that the Pioneers used were made out of natural materials such as wood, leather, iron, and steel. When they first arrived most tools that were by the settlers were used by hand, but as time passed some tools were powered by animals, wind, and water.

Here is a list of the some important tools that were used in different areas of a settlement:

Everyday Use

These tools were used around the house on a daily basis:

  • Warming Pan: these were used when it was cold outside. It is filled with hot coals and moved around in between the sheets of a bed to warm it.
  • Crane Swing: placed on the outer edge of a fire place and is used to support pots and kettles in the fireplace. It allowed the cook to stir the food away from the fire.
  • Mustache cup: made sure that a man’s mustache would be kept dry while drinking.
  • Whale oil lamps: these were used because they produced little smoke and gave off a bright light.

Farm Use

Different tools were used for planting, harvesting, and preparing the foods. These tools were used to perform everyday farm tasks:

  • Flail: a hand held tool used by farmers to thresh grain.
  • Threshing machine: it was powered by horses on a treadmill, and it shakes the seeds from stalks of wheat and deposits them in bins outside the farm.
  • Winnower: A farmer scooped up grains with a winnower and threw them into the air so that the unwanted thin outer cover from the wheat kernel could be blown away. page30image17792 page30image17952


These tools were used within the mill:

  • Gristmill: ground grain into flour.
  • Water wheel: placed outside of the mill near running water.  Water flowing over the wheel turned it and the gear inside the mill transferred the power from the water wheel to the millstone.
  • Mill pick: this tool was used to cut grooved (furrows) into the millstones at the gristmill. These grooves ripped and ground the grain.
  • Sawmill: cut logs into planks.
  • Muley saw: cuts logs and planks quickly and easily.

Metal workers

There are different types of metal workers, the main difference lies between Blacksmiths and the other metal workers. Blacksmiths create objects by pounding and bending hot metal into shape. Other metal workers cast metal into shapes. These tools were used to work with metal:

  • Forge: this was the most important tool for metal workers. It is a raised fireplace made out of brick.
  • Crucible: this is a heat resistant pot that was laid on hot coals in the forge to melt metals.
  • Tongs: used to hold and shape metal.
  • Set hammer or Flatter: used for smoothing out the surfaces of metal.

Woodworking Tools

  • It was very important for woodworkers to know the strengths and weaknesses of all the different types of woods. These were the tools used for wood crafting:
  • Plane: used for shaving wood to make it smooth.
  • Shaving horse: a carpenters bench that allowed woodworkers to sit as they shaped a piece of wood.
  • Broadax: an ax used for chopping hard woods. It has a large head and a short handle.
  • Adze: a type of ax used to make round logs square. It was also used for hollowing out logs.
  • Drawknife: used to shave thin layers from a piece of wood until it was the right shape. 


Pioneer doctors didn’t know much about what made people sick. Because the doctors didn’t know how to help many people, especially children, died of diseases that can easily be cured today. These were some of the instruments pioneer doctors used:

  • Cups: these were placed on the skin to create blisters. They believed that they could draw disease out of the body and into the blister.
  • Leeches: blood letting tool.

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