We have been running our Yurt Building Workshops since 2005 to share our knowledge of yurt building. One of our goals is to support and create a network of people who are building their own yurts. It's not always easy doing something different, so that's why it's even more important to learn from and connect with others that are doing the same thing!
Sharing our stories is one way to do ensure that our experiences don't get lost or forgotten. At Little Foot Yurts we are so excited to have complied stories of people who have built their own yurts. We are even more excited to be able to showcase them here on our Yurt Hall of Fame page! Thank you to all of you who have taken the time to write your stories. If you have built your own yurt and want to be part of this amazing collection of inspirational people, please get in touch with us. Enjoy and let the stories inspire you to build your own yurt.
I was totally inspired after my weekend workshop with Alex & Selene in 2013. My yurt dream turned real and I began visualizing how to create it. Choosing/cutting/carrying the poles was done every day on my dog walks that winter. I also skinned and bent them in cradles I made. Then I started researching materials. You see…….I love the light and one thing that bothered me was how dark a traditional yurt can be. I also wanted a year round yurt. How naive of me! Anyway my heart said light - my brain said how and my wallet said wow are you kidding! Spring turned to summer and now I had the structure up and shaky taking up one whole open part of the back yard. A carpenter friend of mine helped me frame up a floor and I added pine shelf planks to finish it and a 4” collar at the base to accommodate the lattice frame to keep it in place.
My materials research took me to New Brunswick for a clear acrylic dome and Dartmouth to have a 12 sided aluminum collar I designed as a template for my clear greenhouse roof panels that I ordered from Halifax Seed. They came in a size big enough for me to cut long wedges that fit up onto the aluminum collar. What undid me in this whole crazy design was not being able to…. as the saying goes,” bend it like Beckem”. The first three winters had at least one panel go flying. I now have it glued and tied so well that this winter it didn’t budge an inch.
The walls are padded with 1/2" grey felt that I covered with cheap white painters drop cloth canvas. I also made roof panels with the same material that created a star. Winter only. And the outside walls I purchased corrugated plastic panels that glued and screwed to complete the yurt. Because my yard space was angled I also had to design a porch and steps on one side which was needed because that was the door side. I originally wanted a 20’ circumference but ended up with 18’. It tucks nicely into a raised area of my back yard and although I live very close to the road in Halifax, you would never know it as you sit with me on my yurt porch. Plenty of mistakes were made. And yes I tore my hair out in frustration because 90% of the time it was just me with two hands and half a brain on the best of days. I love my yurt and use it to meditate and pretend to exercise. I read and dream in it mostly. The greatest lesson I’ve learned is to be in gratitude to Gaia for all the wood she gave me. It took a long time to get over the guilt of cutting down so many young trees. I asked forgiveness and did ceremony and every day I say thank you.
The first time I saw a yurt I fell in love with the beauty of the structure. It seemed something that would not be that hard to build but I didn't know where to begin.
A few months later I saw that there was a yurt building workshop organized by Little Foot Yurts in Wolfville, Nova Scotia and I registered in 2007. The workshop was two days and confirmed that the frame was a project that I could build. The materials were accessible and easy to prepare using simple hand tools. The central wheel however needed more skill and equipment than I had at the time. Thankfully another participant from the workshop had also built a frame and we decided to do a wheel workshop under the guidance of Alex. This was the hardest part of building the yurt but with Alex' help and patience we finished the wheel and had a completed yurt frame!
I choose to have my canvas fitted to my frame by Little Foot Yurts as well. I find that the cotton canvas has a much better look and feel compared to vinyl canvas. Also, I was aiming for a structure that used mostly natural materials. The canvas is very well made and has resisted ten seasons with some yearly maintenance.
The yurt served as a camp on my land before I build my house and now it's our guest cottage in the summer months and as a ski cabin in the winter. It's a remarkable structure that can take good snow loads, strong winds and rain. I highly recommend working with Little Foot Yurts. They are always ready to answer my questions and gave good service.
My desire to build a yurt came from a deep calling to be both place based and transient. I love the idea of building a home in hours and then being able to move by simply untying knots and taking down poles. The yurt has given me freedom. It was my seasonal home for several years and is now a part of my income. During the warmer months it sits on an island in Blue Rocks and is a getaway for travelers, tourists, and locals who need time away by the sea. It is also my getaway!
Building the yurt was a beautiful and grueling undertaking. I wish I had more photos of those months. I was working full time and spending all spare moments cutting down roadside trees and shaving poles. I always had my drawknife and billhook at my side. I spent long nights stripping bark by candle light. I was determined!
My yurt needs care. It needs me to oil its poles, clean it's canvas and be put it away each winter in a safe dry place. There are times when I resented it's need for care and dreamed of a stable cabin that didn't need maintenance. Those thoughts have drifted away. I now have so much love and appreciation for my yurt. It is a part of me. My dear ones who help me put it up and take it down every season are woven into it's structure. I know it's parts. I remember cutting down specific trees. I love putting it up in the spring and remembering our journey together. And I love most of all that the poles may outlive me and that when the time comes they will go back to the earth to decompose and create life once again.
In 2008, I was a sunburn university drop out in quest of real rural living, of connecting with living natural cycles. Mid-winter browsing through the woofing catalog, I found Little Foot Yurts. Called them up and we set out an apprenticship to start early March. The day before my planned arrival, I pulled a ligament in my knee while sliding. Ended up recovering for a month in Montreal, at Marie-Anne’s apartment. Its then that we went from flirters to lovers.
No more cane in hand, I finally headed to the Gaspereau Valley for 3 months, from late winter into early summer. Selene, Alex and their baby Yara where wonderful and so welcoming. Learned a ton about building and working with my hands, which I wasn’t too good at yet. It was my first contact with homesteaders. In my last weeks there, Marie-Anne joined and we sewed a tipi canvas together with Selene and Alex helping advice.
That summer, we worked on the Gaspe North Shore in Quebec and lived in her new tipi. In fall, Marie-Anne was finishing her last year at the National School of Theater and I couldn’t imagine living in Montreal but couldn’t imagine being too far from her either. Her uncle lent me his shack in a beautiful hardwood forest, 4 km from the plowed road of Mansonville in the Eastern Townships, about 2 hours from Montreal in a car.
I had a bucksaw, a billhook, a drawknife, a drill, a hatchet, clamps and lots of time. I spent the winter contemplating, carrying water and slowly building a yurt frame. A 16 footer. I decided on that size so it could fit into a small vehicle. All maple, birch and beech saplings.
The crown was made of white ash, split in half with an axe and hand made wooden pegs. It was steamed in a flue pipe connected to a big pot of water on a fire. It was bended with lots of clamps on a jig, just plywood with pieces of wood screwed in. It wasn’t well done, had a bunch of serious cracks. I ended up building another two years later with white birch split the same way but bended on an old agricultural wheel, which works a lot better. This time I used an old tractor tire grip for a gasket on the flue pipe steamer, which worked pretty good.
Being on an extreme budget, I called and emailed every sailing club of West Montreal for used sails for our yurt cover. I sewed the sails in Marie-Anne’s apartment and did the measuring in the woods. It was not really practical nor ideal. Luckily spring came early and the road cleared fast. It worked! Well kind of… sails are large piece of material but they are not flat nor are they really waterproof, I learned later. They let UV and heat up a lot in summer. But it was free.
The yurt got installed for the first time around late April. A week latter I moved it to the Outaouais, where I worked a few months at an organic veggie farm. We spent the summer hitchhiking the Maritimes and then ran out of money in September. We moved into the yurt for about 6 weeks for the apple picking season in south-east New Brunswick. It fit snuggly into our Daewo Lanos (looks like a 2 door Honda Civic). The roof poles where almost right up against the windshield. Had a flat tire on the highway, had to take out the yurt to get at the spare tire and then put it all back in again! Tetris Round #2!
Latter that winter, we had a new cover sewn. To be honest, I did not enjoy sewing large piece of canvas so I decided to contract Atlantic Canvas in Moncton who had the right machines. They didn’t know what a yurt was though, so I did all the cutting, numbering and preparing. Basically, I told them, sow this piece to this one here. It took 3 sessions to have a custom fit as I was measuring on the yurt frame between sessions.
The next spring it was moved back to the Outaouais. Didn’t have a car, so I posted an add on Kijiji for a ride from Moncton to Montreal and it worked. A friend helped for the rest of the way. I lived in it from May till October, then again in spring. It served as Marie-Anne’s theater troup (www.ttemoin.com) headquarters while preparing their first play before we toured all summer.
Then we moved to the Gaspe…We stayed in it from October 2012 to January 2016.We loved the first two years but the last one was pushing it. 16 feet diameter is 200 square feet, that’s a pretty good test for a couple. Before that, we hadn’t lived in the same town for more than a few months at a time.
All in all we lived in the yurt for 48 months. Total cost around $1500, that’s $31,25 a month without wood, propane and a small off grid electrical installation. Let’s say about $100/month max all cost included. Now its about 30 feet from our hand built log home and it serves as housing for friends, family, workers who come help in my seaweed picking operation (www.varechphareest.com) and artists who collaborate with Marie-Anne’s theater company.
A yurt is the perfect housing solution for rural folks who are not yet settled on a piece of land. Also great for a studio, workshop or guesthouse. If you want to build one, get Paul King’s book, The Complete Yurt Handbook and take Little Foot Yurts workshop. It is a good accessible challenge for newbies of construction and a piece of cake for people with a little experience. Contrary to log building, there is no heavy lifting, so it is accessible to people of all ages and shapes. Or buy one of their yurts, they are a class apart in beauty, strength and durability.
Thank you Alex and Selene for the inspiration!
In the winter of 2008, my partner Cam and I decided that we wanted to experiment with alternative building practices, and to pursue a more sustainable lifestyle. We were renting a house in a small Ontario town, and we decided we would begin the adventure there. Over the winter we began planning and building to be able to spend the following spring/summer/fall living off the grid in a friend’s field.
We did a lot of research online and decided that a yurt was what we wanted. It turned out the company we were most interested in, due to their commitment to land stewardship practices and their attention to environmental considerations when choosing materials to build with, was based in Nova Scotia, where I am from. The idea of heading to Wolfville for a Little Foot Yurt Workshop was very appealing! My Dad agreed to join me for the workshop, and the two of us began the adventure in the best possible way- in the woods, living and working in yurts. The fact that we were cozy and comfortable in yurts in a Wolfville winter gave me the confidence that what we were learning to build was going to be a successful shelter, and not only that but beautiful to boot.
Over the next few months Dad worked away in Dartmouth building a beautiful tono, the door frame, and 2 wall sections, while Cam and I collected trees and worked on a wall section and roof poles in Ontario.
We designed our off grid compound, got permission from the township to put up the yurt (which was not easy due to comprehensive by-laws) and then in the spring we assembled the frame and I began sewing the cover.
I borrowed an industrial machine from a friend and we bought a used army tent for the fabric. We were trying to avoid buying fire retardant treated canvas, because of the chemicals involved. We felt that re-using something would at least mean were not furthering the production of more chemical products, and that for our own health concerns perhaps most of the chemicals world have already off-gassed over the years. In hindsight, I would not recommend this route because it was very difficult and time consuming to re-sew something that large, and in the end it leaked. We ended up having to order new fabric and I had to sew a second roof. The walls leaked as well but we left them because it was not as problematic as the roof leaking.
We had the most wonderful time creating our yurt, and loved living in it as well. Since that fall it has been up several summers as a guest cabin and was the matrimonial suite for our wedding in 2010.
We are currently working on a new cover, as mice destroyed the army tent version two winters ago. Still on the hunt for a chemical free, UV and mould resistant material, we are experimenting with a roll of organic hemp canvas that we purchased from Romania.
I want to thank Alex and Selene for their inspiration and also their follow-up support and encouragement. They are a great team!