Quebec History Marianopolis College

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L’Encyclopédie de l’histoire du Québec / The Quebec History Encyclopedia


Habitations (Housing) of the Natives of Canada



[This text was originally published in 1907 by the Bureau of American Ethnology as part of its Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico . It was later reproduced, in 1913, by the Geographic Board of Canada. The work done by the American Bureau was monumental, well informed and incorporated the most advanced scholarship available at the time. In many respects, the information is still useful today, although prudence should be exercised and the reader should consult some of the contemporary texts on the history and the anthropology of the North-West Indians suggested in the bibliographic introduction to this section. The articles were not completely devoid of the paternalism and the prejudices prevalent at the time. While some of the terminology used would not pass the test of our "politically correct" era, most terms have been left unchanged by the editor. If a change in the original text has been effected it will be found between brackets [.] The original work contained long bibliographies that have not been reproduced for this web edition. For the full citation, see the end of the text.]


Habitations. The habitations of the Indians of Northern America may be classed as community houses (using the term "community" in the sense of comprising more than one family) and single, or family, dwellings. "The house architecture of the northern tribes is of little importance in itself considered; but as an outcome of their social condition and for comparison with that of the southern village Indians, is highly important." (Morgan). The typical community houses, as those of the Iroquois tribes, were 50 to 100 ft. long by 16 to 18 ft. wide, with frame of poles and with sides and triangular roof covered with bark, usually of the elm; the interior was divided into compartments and a smoke hole was left in the roof.


Other forms, some community and others not, are the following: Among the [Inuit], the karmak , or winter residence, for which a pit of the required diameter is dug 5 or 6 ft. deep, with a frame of wood or whalebone, constructed within 2 or 3 ft. above the surface of the ground and covered with a dome-shaped roof of poles or whale ribs, turfed and earthed over. Entrance is gained by an underground passageway. The temporary hunting lodge of the Labrador [Inuit] was sometimes constructed entirely of the ribs and vertebrae of the whale. Another form of [Inuit] dwelling is the hemispherical snow house, or iglu , built of blocks of snow laid in spiral courses. The Kaniagmiut build large permanent houses, called barabara by the Russians, which accommodate 3 or 4 families; these are constructed by digging a square pit 2 ft. deep, the sides of which are lined with planks that are carried to the required height above the surface and roofed with boards, poles or whale ribs, thickly covered with grass; in the roof is a smoke hole, and on the eastern side a door. The Tlingit, Haida, and some other tribes build substantial rectangular houses with sides and ends formed of planks and with the fronts elaborately carved and painted with symbolic figures. Directly in front of the house a totem pole is placed, and nearby a memorial pole is erected. These houses are sometimes 40 by 100 ft. in the Nootka and Salish region, and are occupied by a number of families. Formerly some of the Haida houses are said to have been built on platforms supported by posts; some of these seen by such early navigators as Vancouver were 25 or 30 ft. above ground, access being had by notched, logs serving-as-ladders.


Source: James WHITE, ed., Handbook of Indians of Canada , Published as an Appendix to the Tenth Report of the Geographic Board of Canada , Ottawa , 1913, 632p., pp. 186-187.

© 2004 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College