Hillbilly musicians live in tipi all winter in southern Manitoba

Bill Miles and Ciara Latendresse have spent the entire winter outdoors, living in a tipi, ​ just southwest of Portage La Prairie.

The couple does not need to worry about frozen water pipes

Ciara Latendresse and Bill Price have set up their tipi in a wooded valley near Portage la Prairie. (Ismaila Alfa/CBC)

You think you've had a cold winter?

Bill Miles and Ciara Latendresse have spent the entire winter outdoors living in a tipi​ just southwest of Portage la Prairie. 

They set up their tipi in a little wooded valley about half a mile into the bush. Keeping them company, aside from their two dogs Shadow and Sydney, are their instruments. Miles plays banjo, Latendresse plays gutbucket bass and together they're a hillbilly band performing as street musicians. 

The two are most recently from London, On. and are on a project to walk to B.C.. The couple wanted to go on tour and figured the best way to get to know people and get to find all the little quiet corners was to go by foot and to dawdle. 

On their backs are their tipi, bed rolls and small kitchen set-up with a little stove. Plus their instruments.

"Food is the big one, too," said Miles. "It's heavy."
Price and Latendresse have enough to keep them warm and stimulated in their tipi. (Ismaila Alfa/CBC)

They've been on the road since mid-summer and settled in Manitoba in early October. 

"When it got cold we were in Manitoba, so we figured this is a good spot to stop," said Latendresse. "So here we are."

They landed in that particular valley after busking in Portage la Prairie in front of the Dollorama. Their music caught the fancy of a couple of hillbilly-loving locals who insisted they set up their tent on their property.  

"They're fantastic neighbours," said Latendresse. "Carol feeds us all the time, we're gaining lots of weight here in Manitoba."

The tipi has been surprisingly warm through the polar vortex that settled on the prairies this winter. That's partly because of the design. For example, there is little heat loss through the ceiling because it is covered with aluminum foil, turning it into a heat reflector. For water, they have been melting snow.

It helps that Miles is a carpenter. "I've been interested right since when I did my apprenticeship in alternate building designs and geothermics," he said. "So this is sort of a science experiment - the whole lifestyle. It's a little biosphere in here."

Price points out that a band tour is supposed to pay for itself and he is happy to report it's working so far.

"I think we might have a two or three dollar profit," he quipped. "We left London with 80 cents. And a bunch of flour and supplies and just cast our fate to the winds.
Hay bales outside help keep the tipi warm inside. The couple has been set up outside here since October. (Ismaila Alfa/CBC)

"We've got this theory that for a happy fulfilling life, people need nice food that they enjoy eating, they need a comfortable safe place to sleep and they need intellectual stimulation," he said.

So between quick visits to Mennonite Central Committee for used books, listening to CBC Radio, practising music and cooking homey food, Miles and Latendresse feel they've got it made.

What do their friends and family think? 

"They are a little bit impressed that I haven't frozen to death," Miles laughed.