Resolute Bay: Arctic City of the Future?
A dome over Iqaluit? There have been stranger ideas
Think wooden posts lining the streets of Iqaluit is a far-out idea? Think again.
If urban planners had their way decades ago, Resolute Bay could have been built like a castle, with high walls surrounding the community to keep out wind and snow, and Iqaluit could have been encased in a giant dome stretching half a mile in diameter.
Ralph Erskine was one man who dreamed of designing the perfect Arctic community. Now celebrated as an influential architect, he died this March in his hometown of Drottingholm, near Stockholm, Sweden, at 91. A book recently published on his life includes pictures of his plans for Resolute, developed between the 1950s and 1970s.
One sketch shows hot air balloons and helicopters hovering over a new Resolute, surrounded by a continuous ring of buildings several stories high. Another drawing shows trees growing inside a sheltered town centre.
“I think that’s just hilarious,” said Ralph Alexander in Resolute’s hamlet office, who says he wouldn’t mind having a few trees in town.
“That might have been the one smart idea they had.”
The circular wall never came to be, and Resolute is still waiting for some of the buildings in the blueprints, such as an arena. “We’ve been whining about an arena for a very long time,” Alexander said.
Only one fragment of the perimeter wall was ever built. Known as the 10-plex, Alexander remembers the building was new when he arrived in 1976. A short time later the furnace room caught fire. To save the rest of the building, someone rammed a bulldozer at the furnace, separating it from the rest of the structure.
What’s left of the building now forms part of the South Camp Inn, as well as several apartments.
Some of Erskine’s ideas could have been ahead of his time. When oil was cheap during the 1950s, he imagined buildings that were energy efficient, with southern orientations and solar panels.
“It was a good plan, but it was for a place with a far bigger population than this,” Alexander said.
Others had big ideas for Iqaluit, then Frobisher Bay, recalls Bryan Pearson, who arrived in town during the mid-1950s.
The biggest involved building a geodesic dome over the entire community, stretching half a mile in diameter.
Because the proposed dome would have blocked all sunlight, streetlights would have been needed at all hours.
“We’d all be walking around in darkness for 24 hours a day,” Pearson said. “People had some pretty strange ideas about the Arctic in those days.”
Another scheme involved building a circle of six or seven multi-storey apartment buildings around the town. The buildings would be connected with tunnels, so residents wouldn’t have to venture outside.
A third plan involved flattening the hilltop where the Frobisher Inn currently stands to build a sprawling complex of apartments, similar to what’s found in Nuuk, Greenland. Plans also included a hospital, water reservoir and nuclear power plant.
Work on that plan started during the early 1960s, although nuclear power was abandoned when the possibility of an earthquake in the area was considered. Bulldozers began to scrape away at the hillside, but when the federal government ran into financial difficulty, work came to a halt.
Today a jumble of rocks lie between the high-rise complex and Inuksuk High. “That’s where the money ran out,” Pearson said.
In 1963, voters booted John’s Diefenbaker’s Conservative government from office, and Lester Pearson’s Liberals, who replaced them, had their own ideas for Frobisher Bay. The hospital, high-rise, water reservoir and high school were built between the 1960s and early 70s, but plans for the apartment flats were abandoned.
A tunnel once ran between the high-rise complex and White Row housing, but problems caused it to close: Residents would leave the bar and pass out, throw up, or have sex inside it, Pearson said.
“It was a bloody nightmare.”