Open for Business

City of Iqaluit

Situated on the northern tip of Baffin Island, Iqaluit, the Territorial Capital of Nunavut since 2001, (the Territory of Nunavut was established in 1999), has a population of 7500, and is Nunavut’s fastest growing community.

Iqaluit’s mayor John Graham shares an affinity for inuusig or ‘way of life’ to the Iqalummiut, because he has experienced it firsthand. Iqaluit International Airport’s General Manager prior to becoming mayor in 2012, John has lived in Iqaluit close to 40 years. He knows this place called home and has witnessed the steady transformation of his city, once known as Frobisher Bay. John maintains that Iqaluit’s way of life is essential not only to him but to the Iqalummiut who share the land. He hopes to keep the area’s cultural heritage alive, but as always, with growth comes change and its accompanying challenges.

“Since the establishment of the Nunavut government in 1999, the town has almost tripled in size, so it has been a tremendous challenge in terms of trying to keep up with the required infrastructure in order to support that,” says John.

Meeting Housing Demands

Over half the public housing in Nunavut is provided by the Nunavut Housing Corporation (NHC), which has been continuously providing additional construction to meet housing demand. Many families are on a waiting list, says John and, “People wait upwards of five years to get a house.”

One solution may be found in prefabricated homes which were popular forms of construction in Canada’s north in the 1950s. Prefabricated homes can be erected quickly, cutting construction costs. Although the NHC’s focus is on the more economical multi units, it is considering all forms of affordable housing such as prefabs. A recent federal government budget of $100 million was allotted to housing, not only in Iqaluit, but the Territory of Nunavut John adds. “That’s going to help fill a much need gap.”

Of course, Iqaluit’s locale on the tundra permafrost necessitates a great deal forethought in construction planning. “That’s what actually drives the cost of living,” adds John.

Advanced Planning Requirements

Many of the residential and commercial buildings in the city sit atop steel piles drilled as much as 30 feet into the frozen rock. For the concrete foundations that are built, there are unique challenges especially in the city’s cold climate. But the real challenge is in the shipping of construction materials. Iqaluit has no roads aside from over 20 kilometres of road in the city itself and to the nearby community of Apex.

“Everything basically has to be brought in on a ship during the sealift season from July to the end of October when Frobisher Bay is open,” explains John. “You have a really narrow window of opportunity to use sea lift services. You only get one chance to do that.”

Advanced planning is necessary and materials have to be ordered in April and May. “If you want to have it on the first ship you have to have [cargo] at the dock in Montreal in June. You want to get on the first sailing which is around the first week of July,” says John. “Of course that’s always ice dependent.” This holds true for all cargo whether it’s cars, snowmobiles, ATVs or household contents.

There are three companies operating sealifts including Nunavut Eastern Arctic Shipping, Nunavut Arctic Transport and N3 Alliance, each of which provide four shipments to Iqaluit annually during the ice free season. Air freight is always a possibility, but it is by far the most expensive means of transport.

Maintaining Essential Infrastructure

Iqaluit International Airport is a modern facility owned by the Nunavut Government, built as a base in the 1940s to support the war efforts of WWII. The airport was used by both Canada and the United States for transportation purposes. It was converted into a civilian airport in 1963.

Iqaluit Airport is crucial not only to the city as its largest private sector employer but to communities within Nunavut, providing at least 30 percent of aircraft services in the Territory. “This is our contact to the south,” John explains, relating that Iqaluit receives flights daily from Ottawa and routine flights three times a week from Montreal. “Fifty per cent of all Nunavut people rely on Iqaluit Airport for their perishable foods and their mail,” he says.

Traffic to Iqaluit International Airport has grown steadily at five percent since 2000, and upgrades to the airport to accommodate Nunavut’s growing population and economy are expected to cost an estimated $250 to 300 million. Construction is anticipated to begin in 2014 with a 2017 completion date. “The airport is the lifeline not only for Iqaluit but also for the eastern arctic,” adds John.

Additionally, Iqaluit’s Economic Development Committee is marketing the capital to the aerospace community, allowing them the opportunity to do cold weather testing with airplanes. “Iqaluit has maintained a tradition of supporting test missions for 20 years,” says John, noting that all airbus airplanes are manufactured in Toulouse, France. “Every single model has done its cold weather testing here at Iqaluit airport,” he says. “They come with a team of 50 flight test personnel… all the spinoff from those missions is directed right into the local economy… it’s economic development at its best.”

Promoting Active Living

John notes that another current focus for Iqaluit is the new Aquatic Centre which will act as the hub to the city’s recreational culture. The new Aquatic Centre will provide an economic stimulus to the community, creating employment as well as encouraging active living and promoting a healthy lifestyle within the community, especially for the youth.

“We have so many youngsters in the community,” shares John. “Everything and anything that we can do to keep the youngsters active is all in the best interest of the community.”

Iqaluit’s REACH fundraising committee is hoping to raise $4 million for the Aquatic Centre, $200,000 of which has already been raised. Of the total cost, estimated to be $40 million, 10 percent will come from the REACH Committee, and the remaining costs will be obtained through territorial and federal funding, corporate sponsorship, city reserves and donations. Iqaluit’s new Aquatic Centre is expected to be completed in 2016.

A Boom Town on the Horizon?

The last operational mine on Baffin Island was that of the zinc-lead Nanisivik mine, Canada’s first mine in the Arctic. Opened in 1976 and closed in 2002, mine reclamation began again in 2003.

John relates that he is very optimistic about a possible new diamond mine operation at Chidliak, 120 kilometres northeast of Iqaluit. Peregrine Diamonds Limited, a Vancouver-based diamond exploration company controls over 858,000 hectares known as the Chidliak project. The project will be financed through a partnership with Peregrine Diamonds and De Beers Canada Limited, the world’s oldest diamond company.

“We were briefed on a very exciting program by the Peregrine Diamonds people,” says John. “They just brought in their first bulk samples from their camp… those samples are being shipped out on the boat in early July,” to research facilities in the south. Upon sample analysis, “We’re really going to know what’s going to happen, if that’s going to develop.”

Aside from the employment opportunities for residents of Iqaluit, the project would bring funding for cultural and sporting events. “There are some really exciting prospects for the community of Iqaluit if that takes off,” says John, maintaining that, “I’ve always said that Iqaluit is open for business, large and small… Eventually, when Peregrine Diamonds peaks off there will be huge logistics and support services that will have to come into play to support that. It all looks really, really positive.”

A Common Vision

Iqaluit’s sustainability plan is currently in development and within the first draft will be a community feedback overview of the city’s relationship to the environment, social wellbeing and productivity. As a community, Iqaluit shares a common vision for its future; it is community involvement in decision making that will assist in realizing the city’s future.

“People reveal their true value for the community… people expressed what they desire, what they don’t want to see. All that material is being used to develop the long term vision for the sustainable plan,” John says. “Woven into that is the recognition of our Inuit heritage, which is so rich.”

John shares that when he arrived in Iqaluit in 1976, the fur industry was still a major part of the community. Since becoming the capital of Nunavut, Iqaluit has developed a very diverse population, an assimilation of the traditional with the modern as it moves forward. But still, “Right from our mission statement, as a city, we say that we will respect our rich historical and cultural heritage. We’re always going to keep that front and foremost.”

June 24, 2018, 3:00 AM EDT

A Proactive Approach to Resolving a Longstanding Debate

About forty skilled Central and South American workers from Ecuador, Peru, Columbia and Costa Rica came to British Columbia, Canada as temporary foreign workers (TFWs) in 2006. This story incited Labourers’ International Union of North America (LiUNA) call for reforms to Canada’s TFW program (TFWP) and the International Mobility Program (IMP). LiUNA, a powerful voice within the construction industry with over half a million members – 110,000 of whom are in Canada – has been the only Canadian union to address the issue.