Our living history museum is attempting to re-create a Carnival Midway from the 1920 period
when tents were made of canvas.
Thank you to all you wonderful folks who have sent me information about manufacturers of
canvas tents - passed onto my colleagues for follow-up.
One of the supplier's advised that a big top canvas tent will smell and leak.
My colleagues, who make the decisions, 'freaked - out' about this and are reconsidering
They want to be authentic but the tent has to be functional for large group gatherings.
I have been asked to inquire of anyone out there who has had experience of using
large canvas tents for feedback about the smell and leaking and if it was/is a big problem
or how bad it is.
All shared stories are appreciated.
J S Historical Researcher for Fort Edmonton Park
I have been in outdoor show business for over sixty years, and have owned many tents both canvas
and later vinyl.
Even when a canvas tent is new it is subject to leaks,
because they were sewn together.
When erected, to make the tent stable so it would not fall
down or blow down., the tent has ropes (guy lines) extending
from the tent, tied off to stakes driven into the ground, at
least one guy line at each tent side pole.
To erect the top the side poles are raised into position
first and secured, then the center and quarter poles are
raised (if it is a push pole tent.) Once raised the guy
lines must be "guyed out"
(pulled as tight as is possible).
To have the tent safe it is necessary for the canvas,
(which is sewn to a rope framework ) to remain taught. This
stretching will cause the seams of the canvas to stretch
which can and will cause the needle holes to slightly
This causes the tent to leak during inclement weather. In
obtaining an old canvas tent be sure that the canvas isn't
mildewed and that the ropes are not in unsafe condition due
to wet or dry rot.
The odor you will certainly get will be a musty smell. If
the tent is in good condition the odor will not be as
prevalent, and if the tent is erected for several days of
good weather the odor should dissipate.
If your location is a grassy lot, and if the grass is mowed
immediately before putting the tent up, the smell of new cut
grass will pretty well overcome the order.
A properly built vinyl tent is not sewn, but is heat sealed
so it is unlikely to leak, and the order will be that of a
new plastic bag, which will dissipate after a few hours.
In summation: a new canvas tent is likely to leak and will
smell like a bolt of new cloth in a dry goods store. An old
tent is very likely to leak and have a musty smell.
If you intend to be historically accurate you will need
banjo lights (gas or gasoline or kerosene lights) which I
don't believe any responsible fire Marshall would permit.
An old canvas tent is likely to be flammable unless newly
treated for flame proofing, in which case it is no longer
My unwanted advise.
Do not endanger the people in an old tent.
Find a tent rental company who can provide a new safe tent
Cordially, Ward Hall