Ways of Life

Longhouses

Prior to European contact, Nisg̱a’a villages were composed of large single-room wooden buildings called longhouses. The average longhouse was between 40 and 50 feet wide by 40 to 50 feet long, and a typical longhouse was home to several families belonging to a particular chief’s “house” (wilp).

Longhouses featured a gable roof (sloping both sides from a central roof peak) that was supported post-and-beam style with generally 2 ridge beams that ran parallel to each other on either side of the roof peak, together with parallel roof beams inside the outer walls.

The ridge beams were generally offset from the roof peak to enable builders to create a hole in the middle for a large roof vent (ala). The vent was needed to permit smoke to escape from a central fire that was used for cooking and heating.
Inside a longhouse, the floor was often excavated for an area approximately 30 feet square to a depth five feet below entry level. At the back of the longhouse opposite the entrance, there would be a raised wooden platform. The platform was typically used to seat chiefs and honoured guests during feasts, but it could also be used as a stage for story telling and other ceremonial purposes.

Looking out of a longhouse
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Picture of longhouse from outside with totem pole visible
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Longhouse from the side with totem pole and a man at the front
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Longhouse and other buildings (taken from across the water)
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Longhouse construction
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