Alphabet Soup

There is a neighborhood in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, locals refer to as “Alphabet Soup”. It got this colloquial name, because all of the streets are simply named by the letters of the alphabet. It is an area that is of great interest to anyone who is captivated by small and tiny houses. The streets in this area of town are lined with hundreds and hundreds of little houses. It looks to me that when originally built, they were all between 300 and 700 square feet. Many of them have not been added onto and remain a perfect example of the earlier part of the century’s moderate non-consumer lifestyle. These little houses are wonderful & are all different styles. Some of them have a lot of attention to detail and character others are basic walls and a roof very utilitarian.

Interested I called the City of Saskatoon, Planning and Building Department and asked if there was a minimum size requirement in Saskatoon. I spoke to three people and truthfully they did not seem to be 100% sure, but they thought that there was not a minimum size requirement. It was interesting that the people who do this for a living seemed fully unaware of minimum size requirements; particularly, because, this area is experiencing a huge building boom. I am sure that this office is busy and active and I was told right off the top that a maximum house size was restricted be 40% of the size of the lot. I am guessing that I am the first person to ask what the minimum house size is. This tells me that most people who build are still choosing McMansions as opposed to tiny, or even small, manageable and affordable housing. Or that those who choose to build moderate affordable homes are unaware that this is an issue in other places.

The person I spoke to stressed that size was not really a huge issue but that a home MUST meet the National Building Code requirements. For example one would not be able to have a ladder up to a sleeping loft and one must use the water and sewage system that the city has if it comes to your lot. They also let me know that one perspective tiny houser asked to build a 97 square foot home with a loft, but this plan was rejected because it did not meet the National Building Code.

I assume that with all those small houses already there, one is allowed to build a tiny house as long as it is within code. Still not sure because the people I spoke to seemed a unclear themselves, I wrote to the Canadian Codes Centre to ask them exactly what the minimum size is. I heard back and was told that indeed it is up to the particular community to restrict the size The technical advisor wrote “In addition, staff at the Canadian Codes Centre are not aware of a study or research report that contains a clear-cut, definitive answer as to whether there is a legal or safe minimum size for a permanent dwelling.” As far as I see this, it is an excellent response that works in favor of the tiny house movement. This is because any community who has a size minimum restriction in place can be questioned as to why and these rules can be changed at a community level. Also because councils are typically elected, so theoretically, any community that elects a tiny house enthusiast in Canada is able to change the building bylaw to reflect an open attitude toward a more manageable home size.

Anyway, good for Saskatoon! Glad to see that at least one community has some smarts about modest living. Remember less money on housing means more money for citizens to spend in the community. No wonder all the cultural centers, cafes, art galleries and the like were totally filled with people. Clearly this is a community that knows its ABC’s and puts them to use in the best possible way!


Laura Moreland is a contributing writer for Tiny House Listings.  She lives in a tiny woodland cottage near Kingston Ontario with a pack of dwarf dogs.  Her woodsman ensures that she never accept apples from old ladies.  You can learn more about Laura through her website “Tiny House Ontario” here.

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Category : Blog

19 Comments → “Alphabet Soup”


  1. Debra Curry

    Feb 15, 2014

    These tiny houses in Saskatoon are seen in many cities in Alberta and Saskatchewan…. most people refer to them as “war time” houses as they were built in that era as far as I know. Simple housing…. makes way more sense than the huge houses people build today… who in the world is going to be able to afford to live in those in the future??

    Reply

    • Laura

      Feb 17, 2014

      You got it! I agree.
      xo L

      Reply

  2. don macpherson

    Feb 15, 2014

    i love these small houses…..when i built my 400 square foot cabin at waldsea lake, there was a shit storm……it would seem as though i had committed some sort of small scale crime……..ironically, waldsea lake got flooded out, and the main ASSHOLE who was busting my balls about my genuine “cabin” lost a shitload on his mega cottage….anyways, I love these small living spaces….we could all take a serious cue from them….

    Reply

    • Laura

      Feb 17, 2014

      One word… Karma.
      xo L

      Reply

  3. Patricia Cone

    Feb 16, 2014

    Hi Laura, A good place to learn more about the history of Saskatoon is the local history room at the Saskatoon Public Library. Also, the city has an archivist, Jeff O’Brian, who seems to know and write about interesting aspects of Saskatoon’s history.

    I don’t know where I read this (I think from one of James Gray’s books) but some of the tiniest houses on the west side of the city and near the main line railway tracks were built by railway workers.

    Thanks for your blog post. Someone from the Caswell Hill community association FB page posted it. I’ll pass it on.

    Reply

    • Laura

      Feb 17, 2014

      Hi Patricia,
      Yes, you are right about that little factoid. The railway workers are responsible for a lot of tiny housing here in Canada.
      Likewise wartime housing was has a lot of great small housing to its credit.
      xo L

      Reply

      • Jana

        Mar 15, 2014

        Lovely little places! In Anchorage, AK we have old FAA housing (and railroad and WW2) housing downtown that is small and desirable. I always love seeing what creative things folks do with them.

        Reply

  4. tobias fernald

    Feb 16, 2014

    this is wonderful. Keep up the good work! Tobby

    Reply

  5. KATHLEEN BOURINOT

    Feb 16, 2014

    Where are they? Already on the market for sale? Pre owned and ready to move into?

    Reply

    • Laura

      Feb 17, 2014

      Yes there are a few for sale. Houses there are expensive – because the economy is flourishing. FYI: for the safer and more desirable neighbourhoods look above 22nd street. If you don’t care about such classist ideas (as I don’t) under 22 there are less expensive prices. Check MLS.ca
      xo L

      Reply

  6. 2BarA

    Feb 16, 2014

    Thanks for doing your research, Laura, and for passing on the info. Those little houses in Saskatoon look quite charming and they obviously are well cared for. Regina also has an area of very small old houses. At one time they were occupied by people of limited means who wanted to spend their money on travel, lessons and other pursuits which they could not afford if they put everything into a big house. Smart living, I’d call it.

    Reply

    • Laura

      Feb 17, 2014

      Indeed! This is why most people want to live in tiny houses even today!
      I agree!
      Smart living!
      xo L

      Reply

  7. KarmaTiger

    Feb 16, 2014

    People call it “Alphabet City” or “the zoo” but in 22 years living here I’ve yet to hear it called “Alphabet soup”.

    Reply

    • Laura

      Feb 17, 2014

      I think it may be a matter “Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off”. The family who hosted my stay are natives of Saskatoon and this is what they refer to it as. Also Wikitravel.org agrees with me.
      None-the-less the colloquial name is not the important part of the story. We are interested here in tiny and small houses.

      http://youtu.be/ya8-ZKcOhiY

      With kind regards,
      Laura

      Reply

  8. E. Gwin

    Feb 22, 2014

    I have fallen in love with small house living. I will never live in a tiny house, but something around 400 to 600 square feet will do nicely. I’d rather spend my time pursuing my hobbies and other interests than constant upkeep on a big home, which I have done. Living in a small house, I find that location is everything. I like these houses, but I will pass on the snow, thank you, been there, done that.

    Reply

  9. Beverley Corey

    Apr 03, 2014

    I moved to Saskatoon in 1976 and lived on Ave. J South, yes the house was very small but cheap. It has also inspired me for my new project of building a tiny house in British Columbia, 8 x 24 for my friend who is on a disability pension.
    We are still in the planning stages and have been asked to build 2 more for friends that work in the Alberta oilfields due to the great expense of renting in Fort MacMurray.
    So at the moment I am scrambling checking on prices of everything required to build these tiny houses on wheels. It should be a little cheaper here as we are using a lumber mill to mill our own wood and my husband works in the logging industry so we have access to lots of raw wood. It should be a very busy and fun summer.

    Reply

  10. Linda Pond

    Dec 10, 2014

    I grew up a Military brat in Canada, and the post wartime PMQs were all Tiny Houses, we just didn’t call them that. Some of these look just like the PMQs I grew up in.

    Reply

  11. Richard

    Dec 14, 2014

    You do not have to be wealthy to pick up garbage, flyers, branches and dog shit around your own house whether you own or rent. This whole alphabet area is oblivious to that. Despite how easy this would be it doesn’t get done much. It is infested with bad dogs and their stink along with many other bad smells. The majority of these small houses will always be dumps because of money or just not being worth it, unfortunately. I work in this area sometimes and am always glad to leave it. I think these houses being small and too close together as well contributes to the social problems there and other crowded areas as well.

    Reply

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