Where Locals Can Convene In An Igloo Church

In Nunavut’s capital, several notable buildings are designed with traditional Inuit culture and aesthetics in mind.

These days, in Nunavut, there aren’t many snow and ice igloos, or iglus, that are considered permanent residences. But there is one church in Iqaluit, Nunavut’s capital, that was clearly constructed with the traditional ice-block dome abode in mind.

That is St. Jude’s Anglican Cathedral, the seat of the Diocese of the Arctic and the parish church for Iqaluit’s parish. The architecture is designed to look like the traditional half-dome structure, but with an added spire. Services are held in the igloo-inspired building in both English and Inuktitut.

The current “Igloo Cathedral,” as it is called colloquially, was re-constructed and opened in June 2012 after an arson fire destroyed the original back in 2005. In the years just before then, the Igloo Cathedral had been going through some difficult times, with repeated break-ins and an unfortunate death on the premises before the fire.

It took until 2012 for the parish to raise the funds to construct the new and current Igloo Cathedral, which – eight years later- seems to be having better luck than its predecessor.

The first version of this igloo building was designed in 1970 by Canadian architect Ronald Thom, originally from British Columbia. Local volunteers helped build the first Igloo Cathedral in 1972. It was previously named the “Cathedral of St. Simon and St. Jude.”

Besides the Igloo Cathedral, Thom also designed buildings for Massey College and a campus of Trent University.

The Igloo Cathedral isn’t the only example of architecture in Iqaluit that has prioritized a traditional Inuit aesthetic, customs and symbolism in its building designs.

Another example is one of Iqaluit’s four elementary schools – Nakasuk School. You don’t even have to walk very far from Igloo Cathedral to see this building. Located right in the tiny downtown core of the capital, and across the street from one of the two largest grocery stores in Iqaluit, it would be hard to miss this building.

The school is two storeys high, white and with limited windows beyond several little porthole windows. Made of fibreglass, the exterior was built to look like either an ice block or “maqtaq” (the Inuit delicacy: whale blubber), depending on who you ask.

Just a little ways down Queen Elizabeth Street stands the Legislative Building of Nunavut, another unique building in Nunavut’s capital. As the seat of the Legislative Assembly of Nunavut, the inside is perhaps just as – if not more – special than the exterior.

Built of glass and wood, this three-storey postmodern building’s design incorporates many elements important to Inuit. A clear theme in its design revolved around the Inuktitut theme of “qaggiq,” which means “gathering place.” The building opens to a spacious, two-storey atrium, with lots of light and many art pieces created by Nunavut Inuit. The mace of the Legislative Assembly is stored in a case outside the assembly hall.

On the exterior of the Legislative Building of Nunavut, you see design details that often look like a “qamutiq,” or dog sled. The entrances are most obviously shaped as a sled, but the general slanted shape seems somewhat inspired by the way a sled would be shorter at one end – where the dogs are.

Architecture inspired by the qamutiq isn’t rare in Nunavut. In fact, only metres away from the Iqaluit’s Legislative Building, at the “Four-Corners Intersection,” stands the building actually named after the traditional Inuit dog sled.

The Qamutiq Building has an upturned facade that mimics the the curve of a wood sled. This building houses some Government of Canada offices, Service Canada, and the Workers’ Safety and Compensation Commission.

One last unusual building in Iqaluit has been another pretty important one – it housed several municipal services as well as the city hall and fire hall, for years. Just this month, however, the City of Iqaluit moved to a new location at a newer building that is less unusual in design.

This move was meant for two reasons – to start the much needed repairs required to make the building accessible, and to make room for more office space so the city can fill nearly 30 positions it was unable to for years due to lack of space.

It is not quite clear what the old city hall building was supposed to represent visually, except, perhaps another ice block. The ice block-style of architecture has been pretty common in Iqaluit and the rest of Nunavut over the last few decades. Even the local high school, Inuksuk, is shaped quite similarly.

It seems that this design approach is less about symbolism and style, and more about practicality. These are sturdy buildings, constructed with one thing at the front of mind: to withstand the harsh elements of the Arctic. To be blizzard-proof.

All illustrations by: Megan Hunt, an Inuk illustrator and animator based in Iqaluit, Nunavut.
Feature photo: Wiki Commons