This article provides a brief history of the origins and use of the first modern lighting in rural Canada. Of all the revolutions in lighting, none was taken up more quickly or embraced more widely than the coal-oil (also called kerosene) lamp. This paper argues that the lamp became so popular not only because it met the substantial demand for an inexpensive and bright artificial light, but because, from the consumer’s vantage point, it closely resembled the familiar culture of lighting in the organic or pre-industrial energy regime. Familiar, bright, and inexpensive, it was also available in remote rural locations through the same transportation routes moving people and other goods. As a result, kerosene continued to be the main conveyor of artificial lighting in most rural households until the mid-twentieth century. The paper concludes with a discussion of the not-so-familiar toxic legacy associated with this first modern lighting.

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