'I would rather live here than anywhere else.'

Let's hear it for the humble dome


BATHURST INLET – With the recent demolition of the Kamotiq Inn in Iqaluit, there's one less igloo-like dome left in the Arctic.

But many in the Kitikmeot region know that three small geodesic domes still stand in the small community of Bathurst Inlet.

One of these domes still has a seasonal tenant. Page Burt, naturalist at the Bathurst Inlet Lodge, has spent every summer inside her dome since the early 1990s.

"I love living here," Burt says. "I would rather live here than anywhere else."

Burt's dog, a lively white Samoyed called Esker, shares the 16-foot-by-16-foot dome, which is simply furnished with a double bed, a single bed, a desk, dresser and drying rack for a closet.

Esker usually spends her days lying in her plastic kennel – except when a lemming taunts her from one of the dome's slanted windows. Then, she leaps up to the window and barks.

For Burt's books and clothes, there are specially built shelves that fit on to the slanted walls. Light streams into the dome through a ceiling skylight – 24 hours a day during the summer.

There's no doorknob on the front door because it fell off years ago. The place where it once fit is now stuffed with a paper towel. A rope serves as a door pull these days.

Pulling open the door reveals a small passageway. In a small room to the right, a bathroom contains a honey bucket and a sink that gets its running water from a garden hose strung from the lodge.

Straight ahead, the passageway leads to the front door, which is locked with an old clasp that once belonged to a dog leash.

Built in 1971, Bathurst Inlet's domes (then in much better condition) were used as homes by local residents, until they were replaced by more conventional homes in the early 1990s.

The metal-clad domes were the brainchild of Glenn Warner, a former Mountie who opened the Bathurst Inlet Lodge in 1969.

Warner said he wanted to get better housing for the people of Bathurst Inlet, who lived in shacks on the beach, so he went to see Stuart Hodgson, then commissioner of the Northwest Territories.

Hodgson told Warner that he didn't have any specific budget set aside for social housing in Bathurst Inlet, but could find $27,000 from a so-called slush fund and cover the shipment of construction materials to the community.

With this commitment, Warner submitted two possible housing designs to the community – one for a "normal" house and another for a dome.

Everyone opted for the domes. These were prefabricated in Alberta and brought north to Bathurst Inlet by a Hercules aircraft that landed on the sea ice outside the community.

For years, members of the extended Kapolak and Kamoyoak families called the domes home, with each dome providing shelter to five or six adults and children.

Heated by propane stoves, the domes had electricity. They lacked plumbing although there was a separate small room for a honey bucket and washing.

Allen Kapolak, now 43, lived in one of the domes during the 1970s and 1980s.

"It was good for the first couple of years," Kapolak remembers. "Then, condensation formed on the ceiling and dripped down."

Sam Kapolak, 49, says he didn't like dome living because the structures lacked insulation. He recalls how ice formed on nails inside the houses. The only advantage of a dome over an igloo was that the dome didn't collapse in the spring as the ice melted, he says.

When new houses were built, the domes were quickly exchanged for boxy one-bedroom units.

One dome has since been torn down. The others all need major repairs, although from the outside they still look solid.

The Bathurst Inlet Lodge, which is jointly owned by Warner's family and the residents of Bathurst Inlet through Kingaunmiut Inc., now own the remaining three domes in the community.

Dome structures became popular elsewhere in the Arctic during the 1970s because the shape resembled a snow house.

But many of these domes have been torn down, casualties of structural problems and changing tastes in architectural design.

Iqaluit's blue dome, or "ugloo," which was owned by the Qikiqtani Inuit Association, was demolished a couple of years ago after being plagued by structural problems.

Puvirnituq's dome, which once housed the Saputiq museum, has also been torn down. Other domes, built for residential housing in Cambridge Bay and Iqaluit, are no longer standing.

The Daniel Weetaluktuk museum in Inukjuak, which still survives, dates from this era too.

The dome was conceived in 1949 by R. Buckminster Fuller, an early environmental activist, who was devoted to "applying the principles of science to solving the problems of humanity."

Fuller's dome, called "geodesic" after the Latin word meaning "shortest line between two points," uses a network of triangles to create a self-supporting framework.

Cheap and easy to build, these geodesic domes became fashionable during the 1960s and 1970s.

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