Master igloo-builder Solomon Awa waits to be passed another block of snow on the third day of building a 700 square-foot igloo in Iqaluit, Nunavut on Thursday March 18, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Emma Tranter

Master igloo-builder Solomon Awa waits to be passed another block of snow on the third day of building a 700 square-foot igloo in Iqaluit, Nunavut on Thursday March 18, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Emma Tranter

‘It’s going to come down to one block’: Building an igloo for Nunavut arts festival

Solomon Awa, now in his 60s, is considered a master igloo builder in Nunavut

Solomon Awa thinks he’s probably built about 150 igloos, or igluit in Inuktitut, over his lifetime, starting when he was 15.

Now in his 60s, Awa is considered a master igloo builder in Nunavut.

On a sunny afternoon in Iqaluit, he slices a long, thin knife through blocks of solid snow, carving them to fit snugly in an igloo’s walls. He steps back, squinting in the warm sun, to eye his progress, a thin layer of frost on his face.

Awa says igloo-building is traditional knowledge that has been passed down through generations of Inuit. There’s no blueprint.

“It’s all up here,” he says, poking a finger at his head beneath his sealskin hat.

But Awa has never built an igloo this big.

Last week, he led a team of 12 men in building a 65-square-metre giant igloo, called a qaggiq or gathering place, over four days. It’s about as big as a studio apartment.

The qaggiq was built to hold a two-day music and arts festival that took place over the weekend. The festival was hosted by Qaggiavuut, an Iqaluit-based organization that is advocating for the creation of a performing arts centre in Nunavut.

“I’ve never done anything like this before,” said Awa, balancing on a folding ladder and shaving the top off a snow block he’d just added to the wall.

Alex Flaherty, owner of the Iqaluit guiding company Polar Outfitting, recruited his team to help Awa and Qaggiavuut. In total, Flaherty thinks they cut out about 700 blocks weighing about 36 kilograms each.

“At one point we just lost count of how many we cut out,” he said.

The structure of an igloo is sort of like a snail shell, Flaherty explained. It starts with thicker blocks at the bottom and spirals into thinner ones as it gets to the top. The blocks are sealed together with ice by adding water in the cracks and smoothing it down.

“Eventually it’s going to come down to one block.”

Flaherty said no one in the group had ever built anything of that size.

The qaggiq is about 14 blocks high. At one point during building, the walls got so high that regular ladders wouldn’t reach, so the men stacked their qamutiik, or traditional sleds, and climbed up.

Pitseolak Pfeifer, Qaggiavuut’s executive director, said a qaggiq is a place of celebration. It’s the perfect venue to not only share performances, but also to welcome spring.

“It’s a place to hold a festival, to share culture as Inuit,” Pfeifer said.

Artists from all over Nunavut performed over the weekend, including drum dancers from Cambridge Bay and a theatre group from Pond Inlet.

Looee Arreak, a singer-songwriter from Pangnirtung and the festival’s artistic director, said it was the first time the artists would have performed in a qaggiq, although the idea isn’t new.

“These traditional songs, the drums, the throat singing, were first introduced in a qaggiq. It is very special,” Arreak said.

“It kind of makes me emotional. The architecture of the igloo itself brings so much pride to our culture.”

Pfeifer said he never thought holding a festival inside an igloo in the middle of a pandemic would be possible.

He said Qaggiavuut received permission from the territory’s chief public health officer. There are no cases of COVID-19 in Iqaluit.

“This might be the only place in Canada where we’re able to hold a festival,” Pfeifer quipped.

“If we have to play outside, perform outside, we can do it. But Nunavut deserves a performing arts centre. Inuit are amazing performers. It carries us through our lives.”

Back at the qaggiq, it’s -45 C with the wind chill outside, but Awa and his team are laughing, facial hair turning to icicles as they build higher and higher.

Emma Tranter, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Wife and husband duo Alexis Esseltine and Timothy Scoon n took over Penticton’s Tin Whistle Brewing in October, 2020 and are making their mark on the iconic brew-spot by announcing a new look and an environmental focus. (Contributed)
Penticton’s original brewery goes eco-friendly under new ownership

Tin Whistle Brewing is now one of the first certified carbon neutral breweries in B.C.

Osoyoos Lake. (File)
Osoyoos recognizes community’s many volunteers

There were 17 nominees and winners for 2019 and 2020

Courtesy of pixaby
A call for after-hour vet care in Penticton can’t be met with crisis level vet shortages

Kelowna is only option for pet emergencies in all of Okanagan

A house fire that sent smoke billowing through a Penticton neighbourhood Wednesday, April 21, 2021 was extinguished before any irreversible damage was done. (Facebook photo)
Residents unharmed in second alarm Penticton house fire

Heavy black smoke was seen coming from the back of the Alexander Street home Wednesday night

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and United States President Joe Biden smile as they say farewell following a virtual joint statement in Ottawa, Tuesday, February 23, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Trudeau pledges to cut emissions by 40% to 45% by 2030, short of U.S. goal

Trudeau announced target during a virtual climate summit convened by U.S. President Joe Biden

BC Hydro released a survey Thursday, April 22. It found that many British Columbians are unintentionally contributing to climate change with their yard maintenance choices. (Pixabay)
Spend a lot of time up-keeping the yard? You may be unintentionally contributing to climate change

Recent BC Hydro survey finds 60% of homeowners still use gas-powered lawnmowers and yard equipment

The Regional District of North Okanagan is asking Vernon-based Tolko Industries to halt a planned cut block 500 metres above the Duteau Creek water intake, which provides 60 per cent of the Greater Vernon water supply April 22, 2021. (File photo)
Tolko urged to halt planned logging above Greater Vernon water supply

RDNO says planned cutblock above Duteau Creek could threaten 60 per cent of Vernon area water supply

Journal de Montreal is seen in Montreal, on Thursday, April 22, 2021. The daily newspaper uses a file picture of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau dressed in traditional Indian clothing during his trip to India to illustrate a story on the Indian variant of the coronavirus. Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press
Montreal newspaper blasted for front-page photo of Trudeau in India

Trudeau is wearing traditional Indian clothes and holding his hands together in prayer beside a caption that reads, ‘The Indian variant has arrived’

Vernon North Okanagan RCMP arrested a suspected impaired driver who took an unauthorized short cut to a Coldstream roadway. (File photo)
Impaired driver on slippery slope with Vernon RCMP

Person caught leaving locked Coldstream parking lot by taking unauthorized shortcut to roadway

A police officer stands by a kayak that overturned on Mission Creek in Kelowna on Thursday, April 22. (Aaron Hemens/Capital News)
Kayakers flip in Kelowna’s Mission Creek, lose two boats

Two overturned kayaks were spotted floating down the waterway on Thursday, kayaker says everybody made it out safely

Are you considering any ambitious home renovation projects? The Okanagan Regional Library can help. (Black Press file photo)
COLUMN: Redecorate your home with help from the library

Plenty of resources in place for home decoration projects

Peyton Slind enjoys the fruits of his labour. Photo submitted
B.C. youngster builds hammock out of 900 plastic bags

“I’m going to enjoy it until it splits in half.”

Most Read