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

Photo screen-shot from School District 51’s website
COVID-19 infection confirmed in Boundary School District

Those potentially exposed to the virus have been told to self-isolate, says acting Superintendent

Stock image.
Judge tells Grand Forks man accused of theft to guard his personal property

Edward ‘Joe’ Wright is accused of a break and entering at a flood-damaged property in North Ruckle

Photo: Laurie Tritschler
Greenwood man to stand trial for alleged stabbing

Grand Forks provincial court will set a trial date next month

Grand Forks Mounties look on as a tow truck prepares to haul an SUV involved in a Highway 3 crash near the intersection of Spraggett Road Friday, April 9. Photo: Laurie Tritschler
First responders attend Highway 3 crash in Grand Forks

No one appears to be hurt in the two-vehicle crash which highway stopped traffic in both directions

Restaurant patrons enjoy the weather on a patio in Vancouver, B.C., Monday, April 5, 2021. The province has suspended indoor dining at restaurants and pubs until at least April 19 in B.C. due to a spike in COVID-19 numbers. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. sets new COVID-19 daily record with 1,293 cases Thursday

New order allows workplace closures when infections found

Thursday, Feb. 4: RDKB Chief Engineer Darryl Funk hoists a banner commemorating last year’s championship season by the Bantam House Bruins. Photo: Laurie Tritschler
Bantam Bruins honoured at hair-raising banner ceremony at Grand Forks’ Jack Goddard Arena

Asst. coach Mike Tollis said he reluctantly gave in to the team’s victory wish that he cut his pony tale

Facebook screenshot of the sea lion on Holberg Road. (Greg Clarke Facebook video)
VIDEO: Sea lion randomly spotted on remote B.C. logging road

Greg Clarke was driving home on the Holberg Road April 12, when he saw a large sea lion.

Defence counsel for the accused entered two not guilty pleas by phone to Grand Forks Provincial Court Tuesday, Jan. 12. File photo
B.C. seafood company owner fined $25K for eating receipt, obstructing DFO inspection

Richmond company Tenshi Seafood is facing $75,000 in fines, as decided March 4 by a provincial court judge

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

B.C. Finance Minister Selina Robinson speaks in the B.C. legislature, March 2, 2021. (Hansard TV)
B.C. NDP ministers defend ‘air tax,’ latest COVID-19 business aid

Empty home tax doesn’t apply to businesses, but space above them

In Ontario, COVID-19 vaccine clinics have been set up at local mosques. (Submitted photo: Rufaida Mohammed)
Getting the vaccine does not break your fast, says Muslim COVID-19 task force

Muslim community ‘strongly’ encouraging people to get their shot, whether or not during Ramadan

A plane is seen through the window on the tarmac of Vancouver International Airport as the waiting room is empty. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
100+ international travellers who landed in B.C. refused to quarantine

The Public Health Agency of Canada says it issued $3,000 violation tickets to each

A health-care worker holds up a vial of the AstraZeneca Covishield vaccine at a COVID-19 vaccination clinic in Montreal, Thursday, March 18, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
PHAC receives first report of blood clot linked to AstraZeneca

The federal agency says the person is now recovering at home

A real estate sign is pictured in Vancouver, B.C. THE CANADIAN PRESS Jonathan Hayward
1 in 3 young Canadians have given up on owning a home: poll

Data released Monday says 36% of adults younger than 40 have given up on home ownership entirely

Most Read