How a 1950s experiment brought foam igloos to Kinngait, Nunavut

Within the black-and-white photographs in Canada’s nationwide archives, it appears to be like similar to an igloo on Kinngait’s rocky shores.

However one thing is off: there is not any snow on the bottom. Boats within the water and scrubby tundra grass show that is no winter scene — it is the center of summer season.

That is as a result of it isn’t blocks of ice forming the partitions of those igloos, however a polystyrene known as Durofoam — the product of a wild experiment in a single northern neighborhood within the late Fifties.

Although at present the notion of froth housing could also be seen as, within the phrases of 1 researcher, “laughably insufficient and even callous,” former residents bear in mind the experiment for instance of a spirit of collaboration within the northern communities of the Fifties.

Throughout that point, Canada was growing its efforts to exert sovereignty within the North by encouraging Inuit to desert a conventional nomadic life-style and settle in everlasting communities.

Key to this undertaking had been northern service officers or NSOs. Usually among the many first white residents in these new communities, they had been charged with representing the federal authorities, delivering social applications, and creating native economies that might justify these settlements’ existence.

The primary of those officers was James Houston, who arrived in Kinngait, Nunavut — then known as Cape Dorset, N.W.T. — by dogsled along with his younger household within the early Fifties.

“He had the duty for representing all authorities departments in that space,” stated John Houston, his son, who grew up in Kinngait and now makes movies concerning the North.

A foam brick igloo on the rocky shores of Kinngait. The open water exhibits this can be a summer season scene. (Library and Archives Canada/Nationwide Movie Board of Canada fonds/a114847)

“So one of many issues was financial improvement, and one other a part of it was housing, tourism, you already know, probably even … analysis and improvement.”

All these issues got here collectively when James Houston travelled south with Peter Pitseolak, a Kinngait man who John Houston described as “type of a genius.”

For a summer season exhibition, Pitseolak was requested to make an igloo out of laborious foam bricks to exhibit the way it was carried out.

“Someplace alongside the road, my father bought the thought — ‘Wait a second, possibly these items might be used within the Arctic in some way,’ ” Houston stated.

Jimmy Manning, Pitseolak’s grandson and Houston’s shut buddy, stated at the moment in Kinngait, an increasing number of households had been leaving the nomadic life and settling in the neighborhood, resulting in a significant housing scarcity.

Pitseolak builds a polystyrene igloo utilizing pre-cut items of froth. The thought got here from an illustration igloo constructed for a Canadian expo, Houston stated. (Submitted by the Houston household)

Houston stated his father instantly noticed the potential of Pitseolak’s design.

“Perhaps they may assist to increase the housing inventory,” he stated of the froth brick creations. “Perhaps they might be helpful in tourism, [or] possibly Inuit who had been nonetheless type of transitioning between a nomadic life-style and neighborhood life-style might … use these, as a result of they had been moveable. They might be used on the land.”

After Houston negotiated a provide of Durofoam with an organization in Kitchener, Ont., that wished to cold-test its product within the Arctic, Pitseolak reduce the design and introduced the items to Kinngait.

As an adolescent in Kinngait, Manning remembers watching native crews assemble the igloos utilizing tar to bond the items.

“It was so attention-grabbing to see,” he stated. “It was up very quickly.”

A foam brick igloo sits on a Kinngait highway subsequent to western-style housing. As Inuit households deserted a nomadic life-style and settled in Kinngait, the neighborhood suffered a significant housing scarcity. (Library and Archives Canada/Rosemary Gilliat Eaton fonds/e010835896)

Housing and internet hosting

For some time, the igloos loved a short heyday. A couple of households had been housed in them, together with an area elder, Andrew Kingwatsiak, and a few of Manning’s associates.

“We might go to and we would go for tea and heat up and in wintertime,” stated Manning. He remembered how gentle would filter via the froth, even at night time, lighting up the within.

Some had been used to host vacationers at a close-by camp, a part of an early try at “journey tourism,” Houston stated. The Nationwide Movie Board even used one as a set, in keeping with Manning.

“It was type of part of the panorama in a bizarre method,” he stated.

Elder Andrew Kingwatsiak, proper, in one of many polystyrene igloos. Kingwatsiak didn’t have using his legs, and died when an igloo caught fireplace. (Submitted by the Houston household)

The thought even attracted worldwide consideration. Writing in The Dialog, Scott Dumonceaux, a post-doctoral fellow at Trent College who research the Canadian North, described an Australian newspaper fawning over the thought, calling them “higher than snow homes” (albeit within the kids’s part).

At the moment, Dumonceaux wrote, “the thought of housing folks in [polystyrene] huts appears laughably insufficient and even callous … notably when in comparison with housing requirements for non-Indigenous Canadians.”

And certainly, even on the time, residents famous that the igloos had their issues. Houston remembers them as poorly insulated, needing greater than the normal single oil lamp, or qulliq, that heats igloos made out of snow.

Manning remembers the alternative.

“Let me inform you, it was terrible sizzling in there,” he stated. “It’s extremely windproof. And you possibly can probably not put an excessive amount of warmth in there. In any other case you are sweating.”

Manning, far left, and his household in one of many foam igloos. He stated that contained in the igloos it was ‘terrible sizzling.’ (Submitted by the Houston household)

However the concept actually fell out of favour after a tragic accident that exposed a harmful flaw of their design.

“We had been watching a black-and-white 16-millimetre movie in our old style,” Manning recalled, “and after they had been altering one of many wheels within the projector … everybody got here out to have a cigarette and contemporary air, a bit of bit.”

“Then any person noticed a really black smoke taking pictures proper up into the air.”

The igloo owned by Kingwatsiak, the elder, had caught fireplace, and was shortly engulfed in flames. Kingwatsiak, who did not have use of his legs, died within the fireplace.

The accident highlighted the risks of utilizing the froth bricks as a constructing materials. However Kinngait was altering, too — as extra households settled, extra moved into western-style properties.

Pitseolak surveys an incomplete Styrofoam igloo. Dumonceaux, the researcher, says the igloos had been a uncommon and early instance of the Canadian authorities collaborating on native options to housing points. (Submitted by the Houston household)

‘A grand experiment’

At the moment, the igloos are gone from Kinngait. However Dumonceaux, the researcher, says they need to be remembered as a uncommon second in historical past when the Canadian authorities tried to offer “culturally delicate” housing.

“To seek out out that … there was a type of native participation of their designs, and that they had been attempting to slot in with the wants of these communities, was shocking to me,” he stated.

For Houston, the story is illustrative of the wild experimentation occurring in northern communities in that period, as residents tried their arms at all the things from printmaking to industrial eiderdown gathering. Some issues caught, and a few did not.

James Houston exhibits off some native carvings to Inuit kids in Kinngait. Houston can also be credited with encouraging the event of an area carving and printmaking business in Kinngait, considered one of a number of experiments in constructing an area economic system he spearheaded within the Fifties. (From left to proper: Leah Qaqqasiq, Taina Nowdlak, James Houston, Levi Nutaralaaq, Joanasie Maniapik, Sheepa Ishulutaq, Rosie Veevee, Miluqtuarjuk Arnaqquq, Towkie Qappik.) (Library and Archives Canada/Nationwide Movie Board of Canada fonds/a189969)

“All the pieces was a grand experiment again then,” he stated.

“I bear in mind the Kinngait of … my youth, as a spot of large brainstorming between the Inuit and the qallunaat,” or settlers. “They had been saying, you already know, ‘How on earth are we going to prevail? How are we going to invent a method ahead collectively?’ “

“It strikes me that that is one thing that we might use much more of at present,” he stated.

Manning, in Kinngait, agrees. He stated it may not be time to surrender on pre-fabricated igloos simply but.

“That concept … got here up about 10 years in the past when … we had been speaking about, you already know, oh my goodness, we’re actually, actually in need of housing,” he stated. 

“It was the fallacious materials. However, you already know, possibly it is one thing that may be tried once more.”

Houston stands subsequent to one of many igloos in Kinngait. (Submitted by the Houston household)

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