Semlin (Sod House)

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Due to its uniqueness, this replica of a dwelling often inhabited by early Mennonite immigrants was built on site in 1993 and is a favourite amongst PTM visitors, young and old alike.      

Mennonite settlers first arrived on the Manitoba prairie in 1875.  These immigrants first became familiar with this structure when they settled in Russia nearly a century earlier.

The semlin was often divided into two sections:  one for the people and one for the livestock.  This system helped to conserve heat in winter, as well as making the care of the animals easier.  As well, considering the situation of early immigrants and the necessity of both a house and barn, construction of one large building was certainly easier than that of two smaller ones. 

The semlin was made by digging a hole approximately one meter deep and then building a wall of sods up around the hole.   Poles were extended across the walls and covered with sods, creating a roof.  The average size of a semlin was 15' by 35', with the family section taking up a little over half the area.  This area was often lined with shiplap purchased at Emerson. 

The semlin served as a 'safe haven' from the elements.  It provided a relatively warm shelter for the settlers in the winter, protecting them from the fierce blizzards common on the open prairie as well as the unshaded heat of the sun in the summer.  They would serve only as temporary dwellings though and were usually replaced within a few years.

A story is told of the skeptical settlers who lived in the Pembina Hills.  They strongly doubted that anyone could settle and survive on the southern Manitoba prairie without any trees to build a house or provide shelter.  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!

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