Reflection: The battle to build Larga Baffin
Nunatsiaq News reporter Madalyn Howitt looks back at the ongoing struggle to construct a bigger facility in Ottawa
This article is one in a series in which Nunatsiaq News journalists reflect on a story from 2022 that they loved to tell.
Dealing with a serious medical issue can be a stressful experience for anyone.
Having to travel thousands of kilometres from home to find treatment for it can be even more nerve-racking.
One of the benefits of living in a large city is that, usually, specialized medical services aren’t too far away.
But for Nunavummiut, accessing treatments for cancer or having a complex surgery often means travelling thousands of kilometres from their homes and support systems, and staying away for a long time.
This month marks one year that Nunatsiaq News has been following the ongoing saga of the battle to build a bigger Larga Baffin temporary care facility in Ottawa.
The care home supports Nunavummiut who have to travel south for medical services and who need a place to stay. Some clients are there for just a few days, but others have to stay for months at a time.
When clients arrive at the Ottawa airport, they’re picked up by one of Larga Baffin’s shuttle buses and brought to the centre. Those same shuttles ferry clients to and from medical appointments and procedures.
Staff at the centre provide language support and culturally specific care for the Inuit clients and their family members, who often travel and stay with them throughout their treatments.
Similar care homes exist in Winnipeg, Edmonton and Yellowknife, underscoring just how limited health-care services can be across Nunavut, especially outside of Iqaluit which houses the territory’s only hospital.
In December 2021, we picked up the news that developers representing Larga Baffin had filed an application to build a six-storey facility closer to the airport. It would have 220 rooms and 350 beds, up from the 195 people who can be accommodated at the centre’s current Richmond Road location.
It’s a significant size increase, but one the organization and many clients say is necessary.
Larga Baffin’s current space is often overflowing and clients have to stay in nearby hotels instead, the organization says.
The most recent estimates from Statistics Canada put Nunavut’s population at 40,000 and growing, meaning travelling for medical care will remain a necessity for a long time.
But there is tension among the locals who live in the neighbourhood where the proposed building will be, at Hunt Club Road and Sieveright Avenue.
In April, a virtual public meeting attracted hundreds of residents who shared their concerns about the size and location of the centre and, especially, what impact it could have on local traffic.
Some participants spoke in support of the centre and said they are keen to share their neighbourhood with an organization that supports Inuit.
But others became heated at the prospect that they’ll be neighbours with potentially hundreds of Nunavummiut attending appointments throughout the city.
“We were here first,” said one homeowner, who wanted to see the centre built somewhere else entirely.
After Larga Baffin’s application was ultimately approved by city councillors in July, things appeared on track until a group called the Upper Hunt Club Community Association, which opposes the build, filed an appeal of council’s decision.
A hearing before the Ontario Land Tribunal, where the group will argue against Larga Baffin’s application, has been scheduled for April 2023.
Following this story has underlined for me what a big task it is to run a specialized space like Larga Baffin that caters to clients travelling from far away, all while navigating neighbourhood concerns and the complicated delays that come with new builds in a city like Ottawa.
For now, the future of a larger Larga Baffin remains on hold, but I’m keen to see what twists and turns await in the new year.