Western Nunavut hub plans for big growth spurt

Cambridge Bay’s landscape is changing with the construction of new buildings and roads

The sun sets over Cambridge Bay, with the North Warning System radar in the background. Someday soon two hotels will share this view as the area is built up. Hotels, a recreation complex and conference centre are all part of this western Nunavut’s plan for the future. (Photo by Jane George)

By Jane George

CAMBRIDGE BAY—Surprise, surprise: the western Nunavut hub of Cambridge Bay, whose official population was about 1,760 in 2016, has recently ballooned to perhaps as many as 2,000 or so residents.

When the location of the Canadian High Arctic Research Station was first announced in 2010, things started to change for the community, says Cambridge Bay’s senior administrative officer, Marla Limousin.

“It was an impetus for development,” Limousin said of CHARS, whose castle-like science building is so tall that its round turret peeks above roofs around Cambridge Bay where you least expect to see it.

With CHARS, Cambridge Bay became a priority for new infrastructure, such as the $11-million hamlet office, which opened in 2015.

The community also received a new water treatment system, tank farm and airport expansion, as well as new garbage and sewage trucks and a fire truck.

CHARS “changed the game,” Limousin said.

Marla Limousin, the SAO of Cambridge Bay, points to some of the areas slated for development under the town’s updated community plan. The hamlet plans to take a census of all the residents who live in the community to get a better idea of its actual population. (Photo by Jane George)

And, for the municipality and territory, this meant that demand for services increased. Along with that came a growing need for more housing for staff to deliver these services.

To meet that need, 75 units have been built in the past three years.

The town continues to grow: there’s a new subdivision, now dubbed Aurora Heights, where already you can see a modular eight-plex under construction.

It’s being built by a local company called Illu Inc. whose owners, Cynthia Ene and Solomon Amuno, say their goal is to build affordable staff housing for tenants.

Rent for a 1,140 square-foot, two-bedroom, two-bathroom unit in the new building will come in at about $2,500, including utilities—inexpensive by Iqaluit standards.

  • Cynthis Ene of Cambridge Bay's Illu Inc. points to the new modular eight-plex now going up quickly on the outskirts of Cambridge Bay. It's designed for energy efficiency, she said, and they plan to watch that over the coming winter. (Photo by Jane George)

Right now, the new eight-plex sits at the edge of an empty subdivision that someday soon will also contain some of the tiny homes—or “smart homes, small homes” as Limousin calls them—Cambridge Bay wants to build to deal with its chronic lack of housing.

These affordable homes could be overseen by a non-profit society, Limousin said.

Soon, not far from that new subdivision, there will also be two 40-bed hotels. These will be built by local companies, one by Illu and the other by Bruce Peterson’s Inuksuk Enterprises Ltd. which owns, among other ventures, the Green Row suites and other businesses.

Limousin said the municipality also has plans to build a conference centre and recreational complex.

“We can pull more (meetings) from Yellowknife because in Yellowknife you can’t even get hotel rooms, and we’re only an hour and a half away (by air,)” she said, referring to the crunch on hotel rooms in the Northwest Territories capital due to, among other factors, an increase in tourism from Asia.

Another task for the municipality will be to clean up the town’s aging core. That will involve cleaning up the moldy former town office and arena, and seeing whether the curling rink, which has been thought of as a possible new recreational space for children, can be transformed into a greenhouse.

Not everything has been smooth as Cambridge Bay forges ahead: a recycling program stalled not long after it started in 2015, although you can still see the grey and blue bins everywhere.

And a pilot project that would use gasification, a process that uses high temperatures to convert organic materials and biodegradable waste into energy, encountered technical issues right from the start.

But now Limousin said “we have a vision of where we’re going.”

“That vision is being created by a planning process with the public. We’re not making any of these decisions in isolation,” she said.

Another community development meeting is scheduled for Oct. 15 in Cambridge Bay, from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the Luke Novoligak Community Hall, where people will continue to discuss process and planning.


This story has been updated to specify that the $2,500 rent for a two-bedroom unit includes utilities.

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(17) Comments:

  1. Posted by Westerner on

    $2500 is not affordable staff housing. Usually it only becomes affordable if say the GN subsidizes this down for their employees. As a private rental, $2500 is by no means affordable. This isn’t Iqaluit, this is Cambridge Bay and it must be competitive to our market as Iqaluit is irrelevant to the story. I know it’s just to put perspective to Iqaluit readers. Personally I’d rather see them being sold to increase home ownership like Inukshuk’s homes and Chao’s condos but everyone seems to want Chars rental money rather than contributing to the solution which is home ownership.

    But who am I to say how to run their business, they are a new company and need to do what’s best for them.

    • Posted by Staff Houser on

      My two bedroom staff housing is over $1600 per month and it’s a run-down piece of garbage that needs new windows, a new door, a new kitchen (must be 40+ years old), new appliances, a coat of paint, etc. Half of the baseboard trim is missing, the hot water is inconsistent, the list goes on. So, $2500 for a nice new unit makes it seem like I’m not even in a subsidized unit.

      • Posted by Westerner on

        I am also a staff houser and I know that you can request to move and be granted pretty quickly. TBG has those colourful 2 bedroom unit plexes that the GN leases. Pretty much brand new, and for about $1500 a month subsidized. But $2500 to pay someone else’s debts, why don’t you just buy a house and pay off your own debt? (Houses are considered good debt, unlike vehicles which are bad debts and depreciating assets).

        Below is the mortgage calculator I use to determine what I can afford:


        Just for fun I plugged in $450,000 with 10% down-payment in home price and the bi-weekly mortgage is $982. ($1964 per month – not factoring in fuel, internet, power which will increase this but you get the idea)… To me the private rental price of $2500 is more of a price they would charge the GN or CHARS who will need to subsidize.

        What sucks is the casual system the GN abuses, these employees can’t qualify for staff housing or qualify for a mortgage at all, so they are left with options such as this.

        • Posted by Staff Houser on

          Not easy to get into 1 bedroom staff housing. I’m a single income worker paying over $1600/month while people complain about $2500/month on a dual-income.

          • Posted by Westerner on

            They are 2 bedroom units… Also, the most expensive GN unit in town is a 3 bedroom unit at $1800 so from a GN perspective, it’s unheard of to pay $2500. No one is complaining, just stating that if you’re paying $2500 in rent, you’re essentially paying someones mortgage when you could be paying your own.

            • Posted by Staff Houser on

              I’m aware they’re 2 bedroom units. You said it’s easy to be moved in staff housing, but not into a 1 bedroom.
              You also said $2500 is by no means affordable, and I was refuting that. I pay over $1600/month, with a single income. With two incomes at $2500/month, you’re paying $1250, which means more than $350/month less per person. And that’s before taking into account monthly Canada Child Benefit payments and tax deductions for having dependents. $2500/month between 2 working incomes is affordable, but the people you’ll see saying it isn’t are the same people you’ll see taking their family for brunch every weekend and dropping $100 when they could’ve made food at home themselves for $15. Manage your money.
              But if you really want to get into it, you don’t know much about home ownership. I agree that ownership is a good way to go, but with only a 10% downpayment, you forgot to factor in mortgage insurance. Also forgot about tax, water/sewer, home insurance, general repairs and maintenance (adds up when labour is $150/hr), and the opportunity cost of your downpayment.
              And how many homes in Cambridge Bay are for sale for $450,000 right now?

              • Posted by Westerner on

                Lol ok here it goes.

                I just wanted you to know that the GN Leased TBG units are nearly brand new and are cheaper than what you pay now and way cheaper than $2500. Since you were complaing about living in a jalopy. As for the 1 bedrooms, yeah there aren’t many and those that are in them enjoy the cheap rent and are less likely to move.

                Secondly, I used my own opinion on $2500 not being affordable when I should have said, if other means are available to you such as GN staff housing or buying a house then $2500 can be better spent.

                10% down was an example. But yes you are right, if you don’t put 20% down on a house, you’ll have to pay what’s called mortgage default insurance (2.8%-4% or $10,000-$15,000+). So save up for that 20% people and avoid mortgage default insurance.

                I don’t know much about home ownership lol bold assumption there stranger. I’ll gloss over that as I was not trying to provoke you.

                Tax is 5% in Nunavut.

                This summer there were 6 houses on the market in Cambridge Bay, ranging from the 300’s up to the 600’s but those higher priced homes have been coming down. The houses are there and I’m sure $450,000-$500,000 can nab you a house.

                Opportunity cost, yeah. It is a plunge to drop 20% but if you see this as place you’ll be for the forseeable future, it can pay off in the end. Houses that were $400,000 just 5 years ago are approaching $500,000. Unless we are hit hard with the looming recession, or the market is flooded, similar returns have been proven to happen.

                There are advantages to renting; no worries about major repairs (unless it was tenant damage), water/sewage is usually paid for, tenant insurance is cheap, and the freedom to up and move away if you wanted to.

            • Posted by Consistency on

              Yes you are. but other then the Gov with social housing who is going to build any house to rent and then charge less for the rent then the mortgage. It costs a lot to build a house, and it is not wise to be eternally in debt (even to a mortgage) with no sight of paying it off, so that means charging more rent then the mortgage actually is. Also if you are in a position to save enough (with GN down-payment assistance) to buy a house and pay for your own mortgage instead of rent then that is awesome and you should. Nunavut has a housing shortage anyone that can be organized enough to own their own home should try.
              I know not everyone can afford home ownership right now but that is why we have GN to provide social housing.

              • Posted by Westerner on

                Hear hear!

                I agree those who can afford it should consider buying as this will take one person or family out of staff housing/public housing/private rental and into their own home, which opens up their vacant unit to another. Alleviating some of that housing pressure.

  2. Posted by Down By The Bay on

    Very interested to see how these prefabbed homes do on the outskirts of town, Also what are these guys paying for Hotel salaries that deems $2500 affordable staff housing ?

    • Posted by Consistency on

      Well with $200 to $250/night being a normal rate in a lot of communities that means you only have to fill the unit for 10-13 nights to make it worth while.
      Maybe I should build a shed I can live in and rent out my house for a week each month to pay for my house.

  3. Posted by Northern Inuit on

    how is $2500 a month affordable?

    can you see a single family renting these units for an extended period of time? does this price each month all inclusive? what about fuel, power, water, satellite, and internet? are these separate?

    yes there will be more and more opportunities to rent which is excellent to hear but at what price.

    home ownership needs to be an option but we also need to look at educating new Families at the actual price of what this investment means.

  4. Posted by Consistency on

    So with these builders and Qikiqtaani Corp in Iqaluit using modular building methods it will be interesting to see if the construction in Nunavut is all going going this way. Who is the manufacture of these modular buildings, if they are good might be worth other contractors in other communities doing the same thing just to get more houses up. Maybe modular homes is the next GN home ownership program so that all that is needed in the community is mounting and hooking up the buildings.

    • Posted by Westerner on

      This is quickest way to put up a building before winter so that you can work on the interior during the cold months. Building more of these elsewhere has it’s merits. Old School stand alone timber houses won’t go away though, they are proven. These newer ways of building will show how durable they really are in the years to come and I for one welcome it – at least at reasonable prices. Housing is the hottest topic in the north and at the end of the day, we all want a place to call home.

  5. Posted by Putuguk on

    i polled the minimum salaries of GN positions out for competition in Cambridge Bay today. GN is the largest employer in town, and other employers benchmark wages against the GN. Including northern allowance, of the 10 jobs available, the average minimum salary offered is $106,000.

    In Canada, housing is considered “affordable” if it costs less than 30% of a household’s before-tax income. A person renting a unit for $2,500 a month is paying $30K a year, which is 28% of the average GN salary in Cambridge Bay. Therefore, for a typical GN worker, these new units are considered “affordable”.

    Of course there are GN jobs that pay less than the average. If a person was working in one of those positions, they would be paying more than 30% of their income in rent for one of these new units. However, if that person was part of a couple, and their spouse also worked (which is common), their combined income would allow them to “afford” $2,500 a month in rent. If the person’s spouse did not work, then these established rental costs should be ample incentive for them to seek employment, which is readily available in Cambridge Bay today.

    People making a good living, or entering into the workforce, often make it a priority to buy new vehicles, jump on the plane to YK for the weekend etc. and make other large discretionary purchases instead of investing in a home. This, and the availability of private homes for sale, are more of an issue than the cost of rental properties in town.

    • Posted by Staff Houser on

      Thaaaaank you.

  6. Posted by Joe Silasiut on

    Nunavut housing:
    1-Government gives a subsidy for housing, say $50,000
    2-construction companies automatically raise prices by $60,000
    3-rents go up across the territory.
    4-construction companies make donations to MLAs thanking them for giving home owners a $50,000 subsidy
    5-MLAs and construction company owners party in Vegas and buy hummers

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