About Sod Houses

Petitot - Sod Houses In Winter

Drawing of a winter village on the lower Anderson River near Liverpool Bay, 1865 based on a sketch by Émile Petitot, in his book, Les Grandes Exquimaux. The domes are snow covered sod houses. Tipi-like tents built over the entrances were used for cooking over wood fires.

Petitot, Émile

1887 Les Grandes Esquimaux. E. Plon, Nourrit et Cie. (Translated and reprinted in 1981 as Among the Chiglit Eskimos. Translation of "Les Grandes Esquimaux", by E. Otto Höhn. Boreal Institute for Northern Studies, Occasional Paper No. 10, 1981.)

Émile-Fortuné Petitot (December 3, 1838-May 13, 1916), was an Oblate missionary who travelled extensively in the Canadian Northwest, and who wrote many articles and books about the aboriginal inhabitants of that region. Les Grandes Esquimaux, translated into English as Among the Chiglit Eskimos, describes his encounters with Inuvialuit in the Anderson River and Mackenzie River areas in the 1860s.

Before present-day communities were established, most Siglit Inuvialuit spent the winter at places where food was abundant and could be stored for the winter. If driftwood was available they built winter dwellings from wood, which they covered with blocks of sod and earth for insulation. These dwellings are called sod houses, or igluryuit (singular = igluryuaq)

Sod houses built by Siglit Inuvialuit often were shaped like a cross, with a central room, three alcoves containing benches or platforms for sitting and sleeping, and a long covered entrance passage. These houses were large enough for a large family or for several families to live together. Winter was a time when many social activities - such as visiting, storytelling, and other pastimes - took place, and living together helped keep social ties strong. Smaller sod houses, with one or two sleeping platforms, were sometimes built as well.

Sod House Cross Section

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Inuvialuit sod houses were designed to be comfortable even during the coldest period of winter. The floors were dug into the ground, so that only the top part of the dwelling had to be insulated with sod and snow. Entry into the dwelling was through a tunnel built below the level of the floor. Cold air is denser and heavier than warm air, and was trapped inside the tunnel, which kept heated air inside. Platforms for sleeping, sitting and working were raised above the floor, so that people sat and slept in the warmest part of the dwelling. The sloped walls reduced the amount of air inside that had to be heated. Oil burning lamps were all that were needed to keep these houses warm. Usually there was a lamp in front of each sleeping platform.


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