After living two years or so in a bordei or possibly a small hut built totally above ground, most families built sizeable log houses on their own homesteads. The architecture was simple and nearly all their homes had similar characteristics.
Each house was built of long straight tamarack logs hauled from the forest to the north bordering the Saskatchewan River although poplars were used too. These logs were hewn on four sides, then dove-tailed at the corners when put in place. Holes were drilled at appropriate places and wooden pegs were pounded in securing the last log to the one below. Windows and doors were cut out where necessary.
The typical house faced south with a door in the centre of the structure, two windows with small panes appeared on each side of the main entrance. In addition there was at least one window on the east side of the house counterbalanced by one or two windows on the west. To the north there were no windows for obvious reasons. The rafters for the roof were made of straight rails from coniferous trees. Likewise, the ceiling was constructed from rails which were later covered with plaster. The roofs were thatched at first with slough hay, then later with rye straw. When more money became available and especially when the C.N.R. was built through Vegreville in 1907 and it was easier to procure lumber, shingles replaced the thatch. On the south slope of the roof two breathers were inserted to allow the smoke to make its lazy exit.
Once the log structure was completed a claca (bee) was held for the purpose of mud plastering the walls and ceiling. The gospodar (owner) would haul enough clay soil, straw and water needed for the plaster. The clay had to be spread out and mixed with water so that there were no hard chunks anywhere. To this would be added straw and more water and the whole mess mixed and trampled on. Sometimes a young lad on horseback rode the animal up and down and around making sure that the horse stepped on every spot in the gooey mixture. If there were no horses the women and children would do this work while the men would turn the plaster over so that in the end it was soft, pliable and easy to handle.
Then began the plastering. Some of the helpers would haul the plaster while others applied it to the walls by throwing handfuls of the soft mixture into the cracks of the walls and then flattening it out so that it would be fairly smooth. The interior walls were done the same way. After a week or so when the walls were completely dry a second coat would be applied. This was much thinner and easier work. The mixture this time was made of clay, finer straw and even fresh horse manure if there was any available. These added ingredients along with some sand prevented the clay from cracking when drying. All this required a good deal of hard labor. When the women felt that the walls were smooth enough they would whitewash the whole house inside and out. To add to the beauty of the building the women would search for huma (clay) that was blue grey in color. To this they added some bluing and water and then painted a three-inch border around the base of the walls. Some ambitious women would even paint crosses just below the eaves all around the house. Others would make little crosses out of busioc (sweet basil) and arrange them below the
wide eaves on the walls. The whole building when completed looked clean, bright and homey.
The main entrance was on the south side, so if a visitor entered he would find himself in the tinda (porch). To the right was a door which led to the “casa cei mare” (the big room). Once inside this room the visitor would notice a long table at the far end reaching almost from wall to wall. Above this table on the wall there would be a number of icons hung just below the ceiling. These icons included generally the Last Supper, the Virgin Mary, Jesus Christ as well as some of the apostles. Along the sides of the walls there were benches usually covered with tapestries. This room was always kept clean and used for weddings, hrams, parties or any other large festivity. Most women also used it as a storeroom and a pantry since it was always cool and clean. If the family was crowded for space, this room was also used for a bedroom.
If on entering one opened the door to the left, he would find himself in a fairly large room that served as a family room, dining room, bedroom, and initially as a kitchen too. There was always a table near the south windows. In the northwest corner there was a
bed and above a beam suspended from the ceiling. On this beam the housewife stored pillows, bedding and pieces of linen. In the jog created by the walls of the vestibule the famous clay oven (cuptor) would be built with a §parhat (clay stove) next to it. The oven besides being used for baking excellent bread also served as a bed. Although the cuptor was hard, it was very cozy and warm after the baking was done especially in the long cold winter nights. The smoke from the fires made its way upwards into the attic through a hole in the ceiling and then out through the breathers. In time chimneys made out of wattles and clay were built into this opening. These too, were replaced in time by genuine brick chimneys.
These houses were solidly built and very practical for their time. They had low ceilings which helped conserve the heat and wide eaves that kept the sun’s rays out in summer, yet allowed the same sunshine to penetrate the small window panes in the cold winter months. Most homes were warm and cozy in winter, yet cool and comfortable in summer.
The Romanian pioneer houses in some cases lasted two generations, being gradually replaced by modern wood and stucco buildings. If one drives in the area today, one may still see the remnants of these structures that housed such large families not so long ago.