Monday, November 29, 2010

Snow Houses:Igloos

      Since I'm on the "cold" topic I might as well make it three in a row: Polar Bears and Cold Snap and Snow Houses. Since I have been thinking about my polar bear experience it brought back watching the Inuit build snow houses.

      As I said in my last post I spent two years in a remote arctic community. The community had only been established as a settlement for Inuit six years before I arrived in the late sixties. Inuit had lived and hunted in this area for thousands of years. An air radio station had been established in the late 1920's when cross ocean flying first began. Flights from North America went to Wakeham Bay and then across Hudson Strait to Frobisher Bay, across to Greenland , over to Iceland and I'm not sure where after that.They had to use this route so that they could refuel.
     But I got off the topic. When I arrived in this community the people were still actively hunting. One dog team was still in use but all the others had begun using skidoos. These people still were using and familiar with traditional hunting patterns. When they went out on the ice for several days they used snow houses rather than tents. Snow houses were warmer than tents and you didn't have to carry a tent.

     The first time I saw a snow house built was an unforgettable experience. I was not prepared for what I saw. First, the main tool was an ordinary hand wood saw. A large knife (machete) was used in the trimming of the blocks. They first look around for the right amount of snow which has the proper consistency. The snow has to be fairly hard. Then they start cutting blocks out of the snow with the saw. After half a dozen blocks or so they begin setting them up. The bottom of the block is slightly beveled so that it tilts inward. They continue this pattern in a spiral . When the second course is laid they make sure that the blocks overlap the bottom joints and again the blocks are slightly bevelled. The layers continue until one piece of snow can be cut to fill in the last hole in the top. All this is done from inside so you see the blocks of snow do not get that high. Any spaces between the blocks are filled with little chunks of snow. They cut the door out from inside. The test for success of your house is to be able to stand on it! My fellow teacher tried his hand at building snow houses and was very successful.

      Again I have pictures which are still slides and not changed to digital. I have a project ahead of me.

      These houses are surprisingly comfortable. You have to be careful not to warm them up too much or the inside walls ice up and then they are not comfortable. I once had a soapstone mining project where they went out for a week to mine soap stone . At the end of the week the inside of the snow houses were iced up. They used Colemann stoves which would throw off too much heat.

     These were wonderful houses and I'm glad I got to see them even though I didn't spend a night in one.


  1. That's pretty darn cool. What a neat life experience. The igloos are built in the same manner as the Greek and Roman arches.

  2. Thanks for your comment and relating the igloo to greek and roman arches...interesting!
    My arctic experiences were life altering.I was exposed to something very different.