How did you research living in a soddie?

Adeline's Dream, a 1910 prairie immigration story, by Linda Aksomitis.
Adeline’s Dream, a 1910 prairie immigration story, by Linda Aksomitis.

Adeline’s Dream was my first historical novel for young readers. It came out as part of my publisher’s celebrations for Saskatchewan’s 100th birthday in 2005.

I’ve been thrilled to visit many schools and public libraries to talk about this book and how I did my research. The events of the story are based on real historical happenings in the town of Qu’Appelle, where I went to school and live today. However, I also had to research a lot of other things. Today I’m going to answer the question, how did I research living in a soddie.

Until I was nearly seven my family lived in a tiny little house without power, or running water, or even much of a road. There was a root cellar under the kitchen floor, that you lifted a lid to get into.

I remember going down into the root cellar to get things up for my mother–there were boards for shelves along the sides. In the summer food stayed cool in the root cellar and didn’t spoil, and in the fall we packed potatoes and carrots down there to stay warm over the winter. So, I still remember that place and what it looked like.

I also updated my research by going into my friend’s outdoor root cellar. She has one that is dug into into a hillside, with a door on the outside. There is a short corridor into this storage area (she grows potatoes to sell), so when you’re inside you’re really under the hill. It is cool and dark and filled with the smells of the dirt.

The final thing in my research was to find historical letters and documents written by people who lived in sod houses on the prairies in the 19th and 20th centuries. 

In order to write about how Adeline felt living in the soddie I thought about how the soddie smelt, and felt, and what it looked like, so that I could imagine her response. That’s why she says she dreampt she was a long, wiggly worm on her first night lying beside the dirt walls.

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