Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The Long House

By Stephen Mullock. RI

I can't help myself but wonder about the local First Nation people and their lifestyle before European contact.  Being a Realtor© the places they would call home is of real interest to me. So I was pleased to find a book by Charles Hill-Tout who arrived in British Columbia in 1891; his field work has been called "the first resume of British Columbia archaeology".

There seems to have been two different styles of home, along the Fraser River near Chilliwack and Agassiz, the long house and the the semi-subterranean winter pit house.

The long house was a communal home for the tribe and might be quite sizable depending upon the number of inhabitants and the landscape.  One such aptly named long house erected by the Chehalis band on the north side of the Fraser River was 300' long and 24' wide providing a total interior space of about 7,200 square feet.

The structure had a half gable or shed-roof style with a low pitch.  So low, that at times it was used as a sort of grandstand. The roof was made of slabs of wood that were pulled and pushed, this way and that, to allow smoke from fire pits to leave and light to enter.  The sheer size and weight of these log slabs must have kept them in place during stormy weather.

The exterior walls of the long house were also made of wood slabs with doors on all sides with the long side having three doors some 96 feet apart. One side of the building was higher than the other and this was considered the front of the building.  As it is today, a vaulted ceiling confers a sense of prestige and here to for it was along this side of the building that the chief and other family notables would live inside. The back of the building relegated to important but lesser status serving as a place to remove dirt and refuse.

The interior offered no physical division except at the doorway entry points, where an 8' foot wood screen or wall was built; otherwise it was wide open from end to end. Physical modesty was apparently not an issue with these people. Exterior walls were lined with reed mats and wall hangings to reduce draft and provide some protection from the elements.

Along the walls on each side about 3' up from the floor was a platform upon which people slept. Below this bench, wood fuel was stored for later use in the fire pits.  Above the platform there were shelves for storing food and other family possessions.

The space was divided into family groupings and around each fire pit circle would be the cedar and treasure boxes containing the wealth of each group.  These areas were about 48' wide running from the front to the back of the building and in this area might live 4 families related through marriage with several generations being involved. An area of 48' by 24' is 1152 square feet, so fairly close quarters depending on the number of people in the family group.

Today, the closest building in the area modeled after the long house shed style described above is the Agassiz Library - a nice nod to the past.

Agassiz Library Shed Roof Styl

The rich cultural and historic background of the Agassiz, Chilliwack and Harrison Hot Spring people makes this a fascinating area.  Imagine living here...

Source Material: The Salish People, The Local Contribution of Charles Hill-Tout Volume III: The Mainland Halkomelem © Ralph Maud, Talonbooks

Stephen Mullock RI is an award winning full-time real estate specialist with 30 years of experience and hundreds of sales. Thinking of buying or selling real estate in the Fraser Cheam communities of Chilliwack, Agassiz or Harrison Hot Springs? Contact Steve (click here) of Royal LePage Wheeler Cheam Realty for experience, local knowledge and friendly service you’ll be happy you did.

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