When the first arrivals came to the Wetaskiwin area, there were no apartment buildings or homes for rent. The community was still being built up and for more their first Wetaskiwin home was nothing more than a tent.
For Fred Spencer and his son Tom, they arrived in 1899 to file a homestead near Battle River. Upon their arrival, a late April snow had left the snow covering the ground. The father and son then had to clear away an area for a floor and put up their tent. For most people, like the Spencers, living in a tent was not a comfortable experience and they would quickly get to work building a more permanent home.
Those first homes were log houses, built with poplar or spruce, with notched corners and sealed with moss or clay. There were no separate rooms for these homes. They were just one large room with a roof, and maybe a sleeping loft if the size of the family required it. Usually, there was nothing on the floor and the roof was covered with hay and sod.
Such a roof was capable but not always reliable. Often families would see garter snakes moving around in the roof and a long period of rain or an early thaw could cause a roof to become nothing more than a disaster waiting to happen. One good example of this was the home of J.W. Bailey, which went through an early February thaw that caused the roof to disintegrate over them, leaving the family standing in mud to their ankles.
Even with those annoyances, a sod roof was an excellent insulator and it kept the families warm in the winter and cool in the summer.
Privacy was not something the families would have in those sod houses. The one room was the kitchen, the living room, dining room and bedroom. Privacy was only made through the hanging of blankets to create what would resemble a room.
Some settlers, and this was usually a bachelor, would live in a dugout. These were shelters built into ground with minimal effort. One such dugout was used by a man named Felix from Kansas, who lived near Millet in 1898. His sod dugout had a door on one end and a hole at the other where he threw potatoes down to eat. Inside, he had two sawhorses with a wooden plank. That served as his table during the day and his bed at night. L.P. Wright recollected that one time he went to the home of Felix to help with the potato harvest and Felix made a meal while Wright slept. Wright suddenly awoke to the scream of Felix who was dealing with a snake dangling in from the ceiling over the cooking pot.
Even a nice home was not perfect. K.C. Berge moved to the area in 1899 with his family and while the home on the property was well-insulated, it was infested with bed bugs and the family had to live in a tent while a new home was built.
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Information for this article comes from Siding 16.
Craig Baird writes a regular local history column for The Wetaskiwin Pipestone Flyer.