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Lighting and Candles

Learn From Home Activity

In partnership with East Gwillimbury Public Library

Background Information

When early settlers packed their wagons and prepared for a new life, one of their essential items would of course be candles. Aside from being a source of light, the candles would provided safety at night and often had symbolic ties.

Aside from natural daylight and the flicker of an open stove, the inside of cabins would be dimly lit, affording a limited amount of light for daily tasks and activities. Placing candles throughout the home would allow members of the household to complete tasks even after the sun went down. Their candles could also be taken outside of the home and used in lanterns when travelling by both foot and wagon. 


With anywhere from 750 to 1000 candles used annually by one family of early settlers, it should come as no surprise that these items were often stocked in great supply. It is also important to consider that the number of candles used would depend on the size of the candle and the materials used to create their candles.


While candles could be purchased at the local General Store, as evidenced by Charles Doan's ledger books, many early settlers were well versed in the art of candlemaking and would make their own. To do so, settlers would reserve animal fats, rendered from cooking meats and collect them in a large vessel. Since the animal fat would often produce an unpleasant smell when burned as a candle, settlers would include herbs and spices in the melted fat to mask the smell when the completed candles were burned.  


Children would then be tasked with creating candles and following the steps for "candle dipping". First, the fat, or tallow, would be heated and wicks, attached to a stick, would then be dipped repeatedly until a standard size candle formed. Pauses would be taken between each dip to allow time to slightly dry and harden. Once candles were completely formed and cooled, wicks could then be cut from the stick and candles could be stored in a candle safe, keeping them, quite literally, safe from being nibbled and eaten by mice and other small animals.  

Another method for candlemaking included using a candle mould, which would require wicks to be placed and tallow to be poured into a mould and able to harden. This method was often expensive in comparison, requiring a purchase from the General Store or a local metal worker. 

Beeswax candles were also widely used around this time, as they were harder, provided a sturdier candle and would burn for longer than the tallow alternatives. 


The Sharon Temple has long used beeswax candles in its illumination, with candles being placed in each of the windows and lanterns of the Temple. This is a practice we still continue to follow today with our annual Illumination event. 

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With candles openly burning in homes and buildings, safety became one of the greatest concerns, and with the advent of technology, safer methods for bringing light into homes soon emerged. The oil and kerosene lamps provided an enclosed flame in a unit that could be easily transported. As an added benefit, these oil lamps could be adjusted to change the height of the flame.

From the candle to the lamp, technology would continue to evolve to the light bulb with the advent of electricity. The East Gwillimbury Public Library has compiled a number of resources for further reading through their Stay at Home Library. Learn more about candles, electricity and the light bulb!

This program has been adapted from the Science & Technology: Then & Now Outreach Program offered to educators at the York Region District School Board and the York Catholic District School Board. For more information or to book this program for your classroom in the coming school year, please contact Stephanie Clare, Manager, Programs & Community Engagement at East Gwillimbury Public Library or Melissa Vella, Event & Programming Manager at Sharon Temple National Historic Site and Museum. 


Curriculum Connections

Social Studies - Grade 3: Strand A. Heritage and Identity: Communities in Canada, 1780-1850 (A1.1, A1.2, A2.2, A2.5, A2.6, A3.2, A3.4)
Science and Technology - Grade 5: Understanding Matter and Energy: Properties of and Changes in Matter (3.3, 3.7, 3.8); Understanding Earth and Space Systems: Conservation of Energy and Resources (2.4, 3.1)

Science and Technology - Grade 6: Understanding Matter and Energy: Electricity and Electrical Devices (1.2, 2.4, 3.8)

The Arts - Grade 3: Visual Arts (D1.1)

The Arts - Grade 4: Visual Arts (D1.1)

The Arts - Grade 5: Visual Arts (D1.1)


Tin pierced lanterns provided a safe way to carry an open flame while still producing enough light to be able to see at night. We've adapted the technology and materials used by early settlers to provide you with your own "pierced lantern" craft. We've provided a double template so you can make two or share with a sibling or friend! You can also create your own design using a dotted template!

Follow the instructions below to complete your own! Send them to us on social media @SharonTempleNHS, @eg_public_library (Instagram) and @EGPublicLibrary (Twitter) and use #STLearnFromHome to show us your creations!


Template with dots - see below or create your own!

Push pin or needle

Brown paper bag (sandwich size)

Carpet, foam pad or soft surface (for absorbing impressions)


Flameless tealight candle 


1. Download and print the template below.

2. Use a small piece of tape and attach the template on top of the brown paper bag. 

3. Place the bag and the template on top of a soft surface like a carpet or foam pad. You can also do this outside on the grass. 

4. Using a push pin or needle, follow the template and carefully poke holes on each of the dots on the template. 

5. Be sure to not remove the template from the paper bag before you are finished - this could shift your design!

6. Once you're done, un-tape the template and admire your work - one side should be raised and almost feel like a cheese grater!

7. To see what it would look like as a lantern, place a battery operated flameless tealight candle in the paper bag. You can also hold your design up to a window to see the daylight "light up" your design. 

CAUTION: Paper bags are flammable. Do not use any type of flame or tealight candles with this activity. 

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