Chapter: Challenges and Hardships

Semlin (Sod House)

"Sod off"
Semlin Sod House Semlin (Sod House) ext


In 1875 when Mennonite settlers were first arriving on Manitoba's prairie they had limited resources to build houses and barns. A lack of trees did not make building any easier. The Mennonites lived in Semiln or Sod Houses -- a type of housing they had first become familiar with in Russia.

A meter-deep hole was dug and then walls of sod were built up around it. Poles were then laid across the walls and covered in sod creating the roof for the dwelling. The house was divided into two sections. One for the people and the other for the livestock. This made it easier to heat and look after the farm animals. Though sod houses provided much needed protection from the elements, they were still temporary and usually only needed for the first few years.

The Pembina Threshermen's Museum tells a story of skeptical settlers who lived in the Pembina Hills. They doubted that anyone could live on the southern Manitoba prairie without any trees to build a house. "When these settlers saw the semlins built by the Mennonites, however, they decided that of course they could survive ... if they dug themselves a hole in the ground like the gopher did!"