Monday, 16 April 2012

Iqaluit, capital of Nunavut, an overseas Ultima Thule

Baffin Island is one of the most fascinating arctic islands in the world. Nature and a very rich set of inuit settlements makes it worth a long visit. It has a fantastic park - Auyuittuq Park, with the famous Mounts Asgard and Thor, the Penny Ice Cap... - and settlements like Pond Inlet, Clyde River, Arctic Bay, Pangnirtung, Cape Dorset, Kimmirut - some of them already reported here in Ultima Thule - and Iqaluit, the Nunavut Capital, make this large arctic island a place of wonder.

This time I'll be focusing on Iqaluit, a rather unusual capital, mixing different architectures and cultures with imagination.

Iqaluit (pop. 7000 ), on the south coast of Baffin Island, at the head of Frobisher Bay, is the territorial capital and the largest community of the Canadian territory of Nunavut.

At 63°44′N , 68°31′ W, Iqaluit is just a few miles south of the Arctic Circle.

Iqaluit is one of the world's most interesting capital cities. The only one of its kind is Longyearbyen, in the Svalbard Islands.

The town center: at far, the yellow airport; closer, the hexagonal school and the igloo-church.

The shore of Iqaluit, facing Frobisher bay.

The main reasons why Iqaluit developped : easy access by sea (Frobisher bay) and by air (the very good airport)

An Airbus A380 visits Iqaluit airport for tests.


In the 1950’s the U.S. government built an exceedingly long air strip in Iqaluit, also as an emergency landing strip for the space shuttle program. The Canadian government bought the airstrip and out-buildings in the late 70s, and turned over governance to the Inuit when the Nunavut territory was founded in the late 90’s.

The Hudson Bay Company took advantage of the construction and operation of the airstrip and the local people this attracted to the area, and floated over on barges several small warehouses and a store from a near-by community. The buildings still stand to this day.

The Hudson Bay Company building now houses ancient Inuit artifacts and new works of art - tools, clothing, toys carvings, prints and paintings.


In these perennially frigid areas, the subsoil is frozen most of the time.
All the buildings must be on stilts, to prevent sinking in the melting permafrost. This gives a particular profile to the town:

The blue house on the rock

But this is far from being the only architectural curiosity here. Iqaluit seems to be a field of experience for new ideas in building houses:

Most residential areas have been carefully planned to be coloured and atractive:

Of course having a view over the bay is a privilege:

This was for some time the world famous and local atraction, the anglican cathedral of St. Judas, or igloo church:

The church burned down in 2005 and was demolished; a new one, in a similar architecture, is being built and will be finished in June 2012.

Also unusual is the elementary school:

An hexagonal building that saves energy an maximizes internal confort.

Or the secondary school:

Or the RCMP departement:

And the magnificent Iqaluit airport:

Now that's a terminal building!

The Legislative Assembly of Nunavut, also with an architecture that is sure to impress:

This is where many decisions about the territory are made, located on Federal Road, in the heart of Iqaluit.

In front, this stone celebrates the autonomy of Nunavut

The main street in Iqaluit is Queen Elizabeth II Way :

Among other central buildings, the spectacular Qamutiq:

and the Royal Bank of Canada:

Also in Queen Elizabeth II Way is the Nova Inn, one of the best hotels in town:

The Road to Nowhere

Another original feature in town is Iqaluit's famous Road to Nowhere sign.

This private joke of Iqaluit natives often changes place...

In fact, road signs here are also quite unusual and worth a look:

Strange as it may seem, road traffic can get intense sometimes. There is even a busy crossroads - the Four-corners intersection - that deserves a very particular road sign:

Four-corners intersection , with Qamutiq building, and the unique road sign:

Doesn't it look like he is speeding through town ?

Another typical street scene


The Nunatta Sunakkutaangit Museum and the Unikkaarvik Visitors Centre and Library

These two buildings (white and blue) are Iqaluit's main cultural venues. Located side by side at the bay's shore, they provide the experience of Baffin Island's native heritage.

The Nunatta Sunakkutaangit Museum

One of the best places to view examples of what local artists are offering, it displays a permanent exhibit of Inuit sculpture, prints and artifacts.

Whale carving

Traditional native dress

Clothing is an artwork in Iqaluit. Beautiful sealskin kamiks (boots), handmade mitts and traditional amauti (a woman’s parka equipped
with a large pouch beneath the hood to hold ababy) are all works of art.

The museum society was formed in 1969 to ensure that a small collection of Baffin Island historical artifacts would remain in the Eastern Arctic. In the 1980s, an old Hudson's Bay Company building was restored to be the permanent home of the collection.

Located next door to the museum, the Unikkaarvik Centre is an important stop for any visitor. Boat trips, dog sled rides, hiking expeditions, maps, brochures and advice for travellers.

The Visitor Center is also home to the Nunavut public Library.

The entrance, decorated with a lively sculpture of a drum dancer, and this tapestry:


Iqaluit Fine Arts Gallery:

Arctic Home Furnishings:

Arctic Survival Store:

Arctic Ventures:

North Mart
, the local largest shopping:

Fantasy Palace - coffee house and restaurant:

In the summer, the weather is cool, but usually bright, and the sun is up for almost twenty-four hours.

Iqaluit is at any time a place of wonder; but a special magic place at the twilight of a sunny day...