What materials were used?

A Huron longhouse was usually made from white birch or alder trees that were small enough to bend, rope that had been made by braiding together thin strips of bark, and sheets of bark to cover the frame.

An Igloo was made from blocks of snow. Some igloos had a piece of lake ice for a window.

Pointing to a piece of ice being used for a window. © Kitikmeot 1946-48 (Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Center)

A Haida house was made from huge cedar logs and planks.

Frame of a Haida House. Cedar planks were placed over this.

How were they built?

An igloo was built by first drawing a circle in the snow to mark the diameter of the house floor. Then rectangular blocks of snow were cut and placed around the circle. Each block was bigger than the last one that was laid down along the circle. The blocks formed a spiral that was completed at the top of the dome. Sometimes a piece of ice was used for a window. Inside the igloo there were shelves of packed snow that were used to sit or to sleep on. Of course they had to put furs down on the snow-packed shelves or they would freeze, not to mention that those shelves were probably very hard.

This person has nearly finished building this igloo.

© Kitikmeot 1946-48 (Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Center)

Big, healthy cedar trees were needed to build a Haida house. The Haida would take their canoes to the site where they planned to take down the trees. Some people would build a fire and cook the food, while the others took the trees down. When the trees were on the ground, they were rolled down to the canoes and taken back to the village. The logs that were used for planks were cut on the spot and then taken to the village. Back at the village, the floor of the Haida house was dug out in levels.

To build a longhouse, the Huron needed a lot of trees. They burned them at the bottom. They would pack wet mud around the tree trunk about a meter off the ground. Then they would pile sticks around the base of the tree trunk and light them on fire. They would let the tree trunk burn until they could push the tree over or until it fell on its own. They might have used a stone chopping tool depending on the size of the tree to make it fall. Remember, longhouses like the one shown here, were built before the Europeans came, before they had metal tools. Once the Huron had the trees they needed, they placed the trees into holes in the ground and tied them at the top in an arch. Bark was stripped off bigger trees in sheets and stacked on the ground. Rocks were put on top of the stack of bark to make it dry flat. Once the bark was dry, it was placed over the frame of the longhouse and tied down. Inside the longhouse, platforms were made and tied on to the walls. These were used for sitting or sleeping.

How big were they? What shape were they?

Igloos were a lot smaller than the other two types of houses. They were usually between 3 and 6 meters in diameter and were a dome shape. Some had more than one room and some were joined to another igloo by a hallway. Igloos could not be very big because they would be impossible to keep warm.

Igloo at Kitikmeot

© Kitikmeot 1947 (Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Center)

Haida houses were rectangular. They averaged between 25 and 33 meters long and could be up to 17 meters wide. Some were smaller in length and in width and some were larger. They all varied. Haida houses had a pitched roof.

Huron longhouses were quite similar to Haida houses in length and width. They also averaged between 25 and 33 meters long and could be up to 17 meters wide. Longhouses are almost rectangular, but are more rounded at the ends. The roof can be arched or pitched.

Longhouses could be very long.

Note: This model shows different stages of construction. A completed longhouse would be covered with sheets of bark as seen in the middle section of the model.

Activity: Measurements

Did they all have smoke holes? If so, how were they different?

Igloos had small smoke holes because they had only a small fire in a kudlik stone lamp.

Sometimes Haida houses had smoke holes in the top that had a board propped up to protect the opening from rain and snow. The planks that formed the walls were not tightly latched together so moss was used to seal the spaces. The moss was removed when the house was too smoky.

Look at the smoke hole on top of the roof.

Some Huron longhouses had holes cut in the top of the roof, which were also covered with either bark or hides to protect the inside from the rain or snow. Although similar to the Haida house, the longhouse did not need a smoke hole because there were enough small openings between the poles to let the smoke out.

This model shows smoke holes that were cut out.

What did their front doors look like?

Haida houses had elaborate totem poles attached to the front of the house, carved with animals that represented the clan that lived in the house. Some houses had a round or oval hole in the bottom of the front pole that served as the doorway. Others had the doorway to the side of the front pole. The Haida believed that when a person walked, through this doorway, he or she was protected from the outside world. The house that belonged to Chief Wiah, the chief of Masset which was a village on Haida Gwaii, had a front door that was made so that the person entering the house would have to stoop down low to get in. The entrance of this house was also slanted down into the house to make it harder for enemies to get in. Why do you think it would be harder for enemies to get in?

This model does not have a door cut out. It would have been at the base of the front pole.

The front door of and igloo was an archway that was slanted down to the outside so that warm air could not escape. Why would warm air be less likely to escape if the doorway was angled down? Warm air rises. If the doorway was angled up or was level, the warm air would soar out into the open air. The doorway was also facing in the same direction that the wind was blowing. Why? Cold wind could blow into the igloo if the doorway faced toward the wind. This way the wind would blow right over the igloo and not into it.

Unlike the Haida house, there was nothing elaborate about the doorway of a Huron longhouse. They were rectangular frames that were covered by a sheet of bark or an animal hide.

Where did the people sleep?

The Huron slept on platforms made from the same trees as the house. You can see examples of sleeping platforms in the pictures of the model. Compartments or dividers were put up so each family's sleeping and living quarters were more private. Fur, hides, reed mats and sheets of bark were all materials that were used to cover the platforms to make them more comfortable and warm.

One side shows bark corvered platforms and the other shows animal hides covering the platforms.

Haida people also slept on platforms made from cedar planks and, like the Huron, there were compartments for each family's living space. Haida also covered these platforms with fur and hides to make them more comfortable and warm during the winter months.

The Inuit slept on shelves made of hard packed snow. Fur and hides were laid on top of them so they would not be so cold and hard.

How many fires were there?

Haida houses generally had one central fire in the floor of the house. The bottom floor was where all the cooking and the social events, like playing games, happened. The others levels were used more for a living and sleeping area. Each family had its own compartment for privacy.


Igloos had no fires because there was not much firewood in the arctic. Some driftwood might have washed up on the shores, but if the Inuit did not live close to the sea, they would not have found it. Besides if they had a fire in a house made of ice and snow, what do you think would happen? It would melt the entire house! So oil lamps were used and these lamps did not give off the same amount of heat. If the inside of the igloo got too warm, the igloo would start to melt and the cold water would drip down on to the people inside. However, body heat from two or three people would keep the igloo comfortable because the snow acts as an insulator to keep the heat in.

Igloo lit up with kudlik (oil lamp) © Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Center

Longhouses had many fires. One fire was shared between two families. Some longhouses had up to six fires. Each family did their own cooking on their fire.

This model has three fires.

Where did they build these dwellings?

Igloos could be found in the Arctic region. Igloos were winter shelters that were built close to the hunting grounds. There are not too many other places in the world where you would be able to build a snow house and live in it. When it snows in Vancouver, British Columbia, a lot of children will make snow forts to play in. These, however do not last very long in the mild climate.

Haida houses could be found on Haida Gwaii, the Queen Charlotte Islands in British Columbia. The Queen Charlotte Islands are part of the region that is called the Northwest Coast. Haida houses were shelters built on the ocean. The Haida got most of their food from the water around them. They also had to make sure there was an accessible area of cedar trees to build the house with. In the summer they would take the planks off the house and move to a summer camp. There they would use the planks to build a summer dwelling.

Huron longhouses could be found in the areas around the St. Lawrence River and the Great Lakes, particularly Lake Huron. This area is called the Eastern Woodlands region of Canada. The Huron built their longhouses as year round dwellings. They had to be on good soil so that they could plant their crops. They also had to be in an area close to a secondary growth forest, a forest with young trees, so they had enough of the right size trees to build the houses. They were usually close to a water source like the St. Lawrence River or Lake Huron.

How long did they stay in the same place?

Igloos were usually temporary dwellings. The Inuit would follow move to follow the animals they hunted. Igloos only took a few hours to build. In the summer they would erect hide tents.

Haida houses were permanent dwellings. However, in the summer the Haida would take some of the planks from the house and move them to their summer camps to gather food for the winter months.

The Huron would stay in the same place until the soil used to grow their crops began to be depleted. Then they would move their fields to new areas. Sometimes they would move the whole village.

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