Friday, January 5, 2018

Early photos of Children's Sleighs

Since I covered the sleigh as winter transportation in my post Sleighs, Cutters & Carioles, in this post I wanted to show how the youngsters who lived in snow-covered areas were spending their winters. Like the sleighs and cutters, quality images are usually found online at auction and museum websites, but contain a copyright which prohibits reuse on a blog such as this one. However, I believe I've found enough images to show what was in use in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

In 1888, George Barker (1844-1894), created this stereograph of children playing in the snow beside a sled and a snowman. This is a very artistic snow sculpture as shown by the raised arm, shoulder, and two legs. 

The Snow Man - Happy Days, c1888, George Barker, photographer, Niagara Falls, New York. Source: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C.

Sleighs were more elaborate than sleds with sides and a seat like the adult versions. The pull sleigh was pulled by a person or animal, most often a dog, pony, ore even a goat such as this one pulling a Quebec cariole.

Master Corriveau in goat sleigh, Montreal, QC, 1880. Source:

Although this next image is undated, wikimedia commons has tagged it as a Victorian trade card. Manufactured by North Western Sleigh Co, it shows one of the swell-body type sleighs of my last post.

No. 23 Children's Cutter by North Western Sleigh Co. (Wholesale Manufacturers). Source: commons.wikimedia

The push type of sleigh didn't require an animal and was mainly for children and invalids. They were made of wicker or wood with iron or bent wood runners and was a larger version of the doll sleighs seen in this next image. Like the adult version, family finances and social circles dictated the look of the sleigh.

Midwinter Carnival, Children's Parade, Doll Sleds, Upper Saranac Lake, N.Y. c1909. Source: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C.

Many farm children and prairie settlers made do with all-wood push sleighs, which were used for work as well as play. 

Moodie children playing in the snow, Kelowna, British Columbia. Ca. 1911-1912.
Source: Glenbow Archives, Calgary, Alberta

Sleds were sleighs without sides, although the term is often interchangeable. For instance, a wooden sleigh with low sides and wooden runners could be referred to as a sleigh, sled, or even a sledge depending on the type of runners and use. A sledge, for example, was like a barge. It was a platform on timbers running low to the ground, a working vehicle most often used for hauling things, including people when the need arose. 

Children being pulled on sled, Spencer Ranch, Milk River, Alberta. 1913, Source: Glenbow Archives, Calgary, Alberta

A sled could have high iron runners that enabled it to glide along the snow, yet less expensive models used wooden runners, or even wood covered with a metal strip. From this next photo, it appears this type of sled was used on grass during summer training of a young lad's dog as well.

Boy with dog hooked up to sled, Crowsnest Pass, Alberta. Ca. 1915. Source: Glenbow Archives, Calgary, Alberta

Today we call it sledding, but historically, sledding down a hill has been known as coasting - a rather sedate word for the fast pace of iron runners which shoot down a hill at high speeds. 

Snow, Children Sledding, Washington, D.C, c1915-1923, glass negative, Harris & Ewing, photographer. Source: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C.

Wooden runners may not have been as fast, but their enjoyment can be seen on the faces of these boys.

Two boys on a wooden sled in winter, Edmonton, Alberta. 1913, Source: Glenbow Archives, Calgary, Alberta

Sledding was enjoyed wherever a snow-covered slope was found. In Rochester, an open-air school built a wooden chute (slide) so the children could enjoy this winter activity. 

Sledding, Rochester, Out of Door School, Coasting on the Toboggan. c1908-1915. Source: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C

This photo of sledding on a wooden chute fascinates me. Mostly because I'm not aware of the term, 'open-air school', and also because of their school uniforms. Does anyone have any information that could enlighten us?

My most memorable experience of sledding is of an abandoned ski hill where the coasting was super-fast, but the remnants of summer weeds slapped our faces as we whizzed past. I'm sure I ate a few seeds on my way down.

What about you? 


Anita Mae Draper's historical romances are written under the western skies of the Saskatchewan prairie where her love of research and genealogy yield fascinating truths that layer her stories with rich historical details.  Anita's short story, Here We Come A-Wassailing, was a finalist for the Word Guild's 2015 Word Awards. Her novellas are included in Austen in Austin Volume 1, The American Heiress Brides Collection, and The Secret Admirer Romance Collection. Readers can check out Anita's Pinterest boards for a visual idea of her stories to enrich their reading experience.  Discover more at:


  1. One of my memories is of tobogganing in a friend's field. I always bounced off the toboggan for some reason, so I spent more time off than on!!!

    1. Haha, the same thing happened to me at times where I would dislodge at a certain spot where others coasted through. I think it had something to do with my center of gravity and how I sat because when I took horse riding lessons, my instructor kept saying I wasn't seated right but couldn't seem to correct me.

      Thanks for sharing, Connie.

  2. A delightful post with the variety of pictures of children and their sleighs. A fond memory is receiving a sled for Christmas with siblings and self enjoying it during the winter. Thank you for sharing. Blessings for a wonderful 2018.

    1. I'm glad you enjoyed the post, Marilyn, and could relate to the memories depicted by these images. I love discovering pictures of kids having fun in any era, but historical images of children playing always warms my heart.

      Happy New Year to you, too.

  3. Whenever I see great old photos, I know Anita has been at work. These are sweet. Can't imagine controlling a goat on a cart, unless you just wanted to go on a thrill ride!
    The 1909 little darlings with the tiny little toy sleds is an adorable shot. I was more along the lines of trying to tie my dog to my 'flyer'. Thanks for sharing these, Anita!

    1. Awh, thanks, Deb. About the goat...fifteen years ago when we had our goat herd, we wanted to train a couple goats for a small cart we found, except we couldn't find any harness. Once we sold the herd we found a couple online stores that carried goat harnesses but by then the excitement had waned as I'd gotten back to writing.

      Yes, that 1909 image of the little girls and their sleighs is darling. I can imagine them going back to use the tiny tea set I showed in a previous post of old toys. :) Thanks for visiting.

  4. Your comment about open-air schools piqued my curiosity (mostly because I live three hours away from Rochester and know how cold it can get in the winter--minus 6 today for a high...brrr!). So, I did a little research. The following two websites have quite a bit of info regarding open-air schools. Very fascinating!

  5. Mallori, you are a dear. Thank you for the info and links. I know that TB sanitariums kept their patients outside for long periods of the day up here in Canada, but I never equated that to an open air school. It makes sense, however as children shouldn't stop learning because of illness unless they are no longer able. Otherwise, their situation would seem hopeless. And now I'm considering a blog post on this topic because this is the second image I've posted and probably should explain it to others. Actually... I've just hit on a story idea for my current project.

    I'm so very glad you stopped by today. Please visit again as we appreciate you for sharing your info.

  6. I love your posts, Anita! Wonderful photos.