Owner & Community Built Vernacular Houses in Canada

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"Vernacular Architecture" is a difficult term to define. It has been used to describe folk architecture (mostly of ethnic origin); pioneer homes; "native" dwellings (e.g., Inuit, Indian tribes); company houses in single-resource towns; urban tract housing built for (not "by") the "common man"; and quite large, expensive houses based loosely, but not always accurately, on "refined" architectural styles. For the purpose of this bibliography, the term has been restricted to "owner-built" or "community-built" houses (e.g., pioneer building "bees") -- that is, primarily simpler houses, usually built by non-professionals. Even that definition proved somewhat difficult, since so many authors spoke of a house "built by.....", when they mean "built for.....". When that problem arose, a house was usually included if the style was simple, and the size reasonably small.

Please note that first or second houses of the early settlers in Canada are well-covered in the bibliography. After the settlers became a little more prosperous, most owners used professional builders, architects, etc. for their houses, although some vacation cottages continued to be constructed by owners -- particularly by those using prefabricated products. A few back-to-the-land philosophers also built their own cottages or log cabins in spite of the trend toward professional construction. And, in the last quarter of the century, solar houses gained prominence, and many publications were addressed to owner-builders. All of these examples of owner-built domestic architecture are included.

Material Covered

This bibliography covers books, pamphlets, reports, theses or other student papers, individual reprinted articles or essays. Publishers include commercial firms, societies, government departments, etc., and even occasionally the individual responsible for the content, e.g. author. Journal or magazine articles are NOT included. Topics include:

  • individual houses or groups of houses that fit the category
  • building instruction (i.e.., "how-to "books published by individuals or government departments, societies, etc.)
  • construction methods (e.g., colombage) or materials (log, skin, fabric, sod, brick, stone, etc.)
  • individual features of the houses, such as windows, doors, floors, etc.
  • architectural styles, ornamental details, etc. of the houses
  • tools used in construction
  • repair and maintenance
  • some household goods used to decorate or furnish the houses
  • heritage preservation/conservation
  • housing design catalogues, pattern books, etc.


Only publications in either of the the two official Canadian languages, French and English, were included. If you notice any missing French accents, please let the compiler know (address below). However, none of the capitalized French words have accents, in keeping with a new system.

Time Period

This bibliography attempts to cover publications from early Canada up until (and including) the year 2000.


Because illustrations are so important to this topic, publications which contained good photographs, drawings, or paintings, etc. were included, even if architectural/historical detail in the text was sparse. These are mentioned both in the annotations and in the keywords. The term "art reproductions" was normally used for reproduced watercolour or oil paintings, prints, etchings, etc.; on occasion, the actual type of artwork is defined: e.g., paintings. However, artwork produced specifically for a publication is more precisely identified, e.g., drawings, paintings, floor plans. Where possible, the use of colour or of black and white illustrations has been indicated. The term "archival" has been used to describe illustrations which are contemporary with the historical period under discussion.


Annotations include the following: primary focus (brief term such as "pictorial history", "domestic architecture in Quebec", etc.); level (e.g., scholarly, general. juvenile, professional); brief description of relevant information contained in the book; time period covered if not obvious in the title; geographic location (if several towns or broader areas were discussed, a regional designation was normally used); illustrations (photographs, art reproductions, drawings, maps, floor plans, site plans, etc.); materials where known (e.g., wood, including log construction; stone; brick; skin used in wigwams and tents; fabric used in tents; sod used for pioneer dwellings on the prairies; snow used in igloos); ethnic or native origin of the builders (e.g., Mennonite, Doukhobor, Micmac, Inuit, etc.); specific terms used for dwellings where necessary (e.g., mamateek, wigwam or tipi, Mennonite house/barn combination, shanties, tilts, subterranean or semi-subterranean dwellings, etc.); construction methods (e.g., colombage, masonry, prefabrication, etc.); and other information where appropriate.

Keywords/Subject Headings

Generally, subject headings reflect the information in the annotations. Examples include: geographic area (e.g, "Melville Region, Sask.", "Oshawa, Ont.", "Alberta", "Canada"); type of construction (e.g., "log construction", "skin construction", "wood construction"); special type of structure (e.g., "shanties", "tilts", "tents", "cottages", "wigwams and tipis", etc.); type of publication (e.g., "building manuals", "research guides", "analysis or appreciation", "reports and studies", "housing designs", etc.); special purpose (e.g., "description and travel"; "discovery and exploration", etc.); illustrations (e.g., "art reproductions", "drawings", "photographs", "site plans", etc.); priorities (i.e., priority one or priority two).


Priorities have been assigned to each entry in the bibliography, and indexed as keywords. Generally, if a book is focused exclusively on a vernacular house or houses, the book was considered to be Priority One. If a substantial section within a book is devoted to the topic, and/or if the information is particularly useful, then priority one was assigned to that work also. Priority Two material consists of books which provide good illustrations, several pages of useful information, or unusual material such as descriptions given by explorers or early travellers in the region. Occasionally, even slightly off-topic material is included in the second category: for instance, books which give instructions to early settlers on decorating log cabins (e.g. Catharine Parr Traill), or which list and map early properties, etc. These books are more selectively listed, but are designed to add a little subsidiary information to the bibliography.

Waiting for Review

Please remember that this bibliography is under construction. There are at present approximately 2,000 titles contained therein, but some have the notation: "Waiting for Review". This term is used in the subject headings to indicate a publication that has been identified, but not yet reviewed. The priorities, and other subject headings, assigned to these items are therefore just reasonable estimates -- the publication may ultimately be upgraded or downgraded in priority, or even deleted if the actual material turns out to be irrelevant for the bibliography. These titles are nevertheless included, so that the researcher at least knows that they are possibilities.

Native Dwellings

The majority of the huge number of publications focused on native life and culture included discussions of dwellings and/or tools, crafts, etc., as chapters or essays. Because of this, an attempt has been made to include only those publications specifically devoted to the material culture topics in this bibliography.


Little attempt has been made to assess the "truth" or comprehensiveness of the material found in each book or pamphlet, or the analytic abilities of the author. This bibliography is based on the premise that researchers would want to review as much material as possible, and draw their own conclusions as to the accuracy or importance of the information. For example, descriptions of early explorers are not always considered perceptive or truthful; as well, they may be described as racist by historians. Finally, scholarly opinion changes over time, so that even well-known anthropologists, folk or architectural historians, or archaeologists may be later criticized for their once highly-regarded works. I leave those assessments to the researcher.

Please send any suggestions for addition to the bibliography to: lscott@mun.ca

L. Scott, compiler.