Could a few thousand cheap, cute, igloo-shaped geodesic domes solve the Canadian Arctic’s housing crisis?
Looking at the history of domes in this region, the answer has to be… maybe not.
Just ask people who have lived in Arctic domes about what they’re like.
“It was good for the first couple of years,” Peter Kapolak told me in 2008, as we discussed his dome-living memories from Bathurst Inlet back in the mid-1970s. “Then, condensation formed on the ceiling and dripped down.”
Sam Kapolak, who also lived in one of several domes built in that western Nunavut community, said he didn’t like dome living because the domes lacked insulation, and ice would form on nails inside. The only advantage of a dome over an igloo was that the dome didn’t collapse in the spring when the ice melted, he said.
Built in 1971, Bathurst Inlet’s domes were replaced by more conventional homes in the early 1990s.
But the metal-clad domes — of which three still stood in 2008 — were the brainchild of the late Glenn Warner, a former Mountie who opened the Bathurst Inlet Lodge in 1969.
Warner told me in 2008 that the Government of the Northwest Territories was delighted with the dome house idea, because in 1971 building a dome cost much less than other types of housing units in the territory.
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 NWT commissioner.
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 to cover the shipment of construction materials to the community. That’s how the territorial government, minus today’s bureaucracy and legislative assembly, operated in those days.
So, 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. When more new houses were built, the domes were quickly exchanged for boxy one-bedroom units.
Dome structures became popular elsewhere in the Arctic, too, during the 1970s, mainly because the dome shape resembled that of a snow house.
In the western Nunavut community of Cambridge Bay, there were also domed-homes, built in the dome-home-craze and then torn down in late 1980s. You can seem them in a photo recently posted on Facebook, which prompted a woman to recall that it “would whistle like crazy during winter storms.”
In 2009, I was excited to find a dome that was being used as a church in Baker Lake — and others have told me of domes in other communities.
But most of these domes have been torn down, as in the case of the Cambridge Bay domes.
Iqaluit’s blue dome, or “igloo,” was finally demolished in 2006 after being plagued by structural problems.
The $1.4 million blue structure opened amid much fanfare and controversy in 1993, but the building cracked, leaked, sagged and reacted badly to extreme changes in temperature.
The dome served as an office for the Baffin Regional Inuit Association. It also housed the Office of the Interim Commissioner and, after April 1, 1999 and the creation of Nunavut, the dome provided temporary accommodation to Nunavut’s executive and intergovernmental affairs department.
A youth centre that then operated there had to close its doors in 2002 after vandals entered and trashed the interior.
Iqaluit’s Kamotiq Inn, site of many long beer-and-cigarette-infused meetings among Nunatsiaq News staffers during the 1980s and 1990s, was torn down in 2008. Built in 1980, its red dome stood as a landmark at what’s now the traffic-congested Four Corners intersection in Iqaluit. I watched the bulldozer smash into it. Soon, only the sign was left. Farewell to plates of deep-fried maktaaq whale skin and Kamotiq burgers.
Used to be from inside the “K-Inn” you could admire the lines (‘though somewhat grimy )of the geodesic dome, conceived in 1949 by R. Buckminster Fuller, the 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,” used a network of triangles to create a self-supporting framework. Cheap and easy to build, it’s no wonder domes became fashionable.
Back in the mid-1950s, there was even a plan to put a geodesic dome over Frobisher Bay (now the city of Iqaluit), stretching half a mile in diameter. Because the proposed dome would have blocked out the sun, streetlights would have had to remain on 24-7, even during the long sunlit days of spring and summer.
In the Nunavik community of Puvirnituq— when it was then called Povungnituk, the museum built in the 1960s, now long-gone. was built as a dome.
Today, you can still find domes around Nunavik and Nunavut, but not necessarily geodesic ones. These include a museum in Inukjuak, a dome in Sanikiluaq and the dome that holds crushed rock at the Meadowbank gold mine in Baker Lake.
The Arctic dome-dream hasn’t yet died: a former Pangnirtung resident recently proposed lowering price of food in this Nunavut community by growing vegetables locally in dome-shaped greenhouses. And, at one time, Makivik Corp. hatched a plan to build prefabricated green mini-domes for use by Nunavik hunters.
And the drive to find a good fit for domes in the Arctic continues: a company called Inter-shelter says its domes “provide shelter for camping, hunting, military command centers, disaster relief, temporary labor lodging even as a bugout shelter for the doomsday prepper in you.”
Have you read my last blog post?
The seven natural wonders of the Arctic world
And then there’s the “Like an iceberg” series about my experiences in the Arctic during the 1990s.
Like an iceberg: on being a journalist in the Arctic
Like an iceberg, 1991…cont.
Like an iceberg, 1991…more
Like an iceberg, 1992, “Shots in the dark”
Like an iceberg, 1992, “Sad stories”
Like an iceberg, 1993, “Learning the language of the snows”
Like an iceberg, 1993 cont., “Spring”
Like an iceberg, 1993 cont., “Chesterfield Inlet”
Like an iceberg, 1993 cont., more “Chesterfield Inlet”
Like an iceberg, 1994: “Seals and more”
Like an iceberg, 1994, cont., “No news is good news”
Like an iceberg, 1994 cont., more “No news is good news”
Like an iceberg, 1994 cont., “A place with four names”
Like an iceberg, 1995, “More sad stories”
Like an iceberg, 1995 cont., “No place like Nome”
Like an iceberg, 1995 cont., “Greenland”
Like an iceberg, 1995, cont. “Secrets”
Like an iceberg, 1996, “Hard Lessons”
Like an iceberg, 1996 cont., “Working together”
Like an iceberg, 1996 cont., “At the edge of the world”
Like an iceberg, 1996, more “At the edge of the world”
Like an iceberg, 1996, cont. “Choices”
Like an iceberg, 1997, “Qaggiq”
Like an iceberg, 1997, more “Qaggiq”
Like an iceberg, 1997, “Qaggiq” cont.
Like an iceberg, 1997 cont., “Qaggiq and hockey”
Like an iceberg, 1997 cont., “Brain surgery in POV”
Like an iceberg, 1997 cont.: “Masks on an island”
Like an iceberg, 1997 cont., “Abusers on the pulpit”
Like an iceberg, 1998, “Bearing gifts”
Like an iceberg, 1998 cont., “At the top of the world”
Like an iceberg, 1998 cont., “A bad week”
Like an iceberg, 1998 cont.: more from “A bad week”
Like an iceberg, 1998 cont., “Memories”
Like an iceberg, 1999, “The avalanche”
Like an iceberg, 1999 cont., “An exorcism, followed by a penis cutting”
Like an iceberg, 1999 cont., more on “the Avalanche”
Like an iceberg, 1999 cont., “Robins in the Arctic”
Like an iceberg, 1999 cont., “Fossil hunting”
Like an iceberg, 1999 cont., “Where forests grew”
Like an iceberg, 1999 cont.,”And then there was Nunavut”
Like an iceberg … the end
8 thoughts on “Arctic domes for homes: the dream goes on”
In 1972 with the help of friends I constructed a 26 foot diameter geodesic dome in Qikiqtarjuaq, My family lived in it for three years and then it became the coop managers home. It was in use until about 1985 when it was moved and subsequently torn down. It was insulated with 4×8 sheets of foam insulation. It served us just fine.
Do you have a photo of your dome? Would be great to see it! Do you know why it was torn down? Thanks for sharing the news of your former dome-home, Bert.
I was recently in Bathurst Inlet and was very curious about these exact domes! Was thrilled to find your post about the same ones. they look very different now, totally falling apart on the inside. I am surprised to learn how recently they were built. Thank you for the insightful post, this and your other entries have been very helpful to my research when there aren’t alot of resources like this about the north! From what I’ve found, there is still no decent solution to the housing crisis, do you know of any alternatives that are being put in place?
Here is a photo of the inside now if youre interested
Thanks for the photo of the inside…to learn more about housing options you could do an advanced Google search on the nunatsiaqonline.ca website as I know we have written there about housing and housing alternatives. I haven’t heard of new domes going up though.
Hello, Joanne and Jane,
In researching a short article on dome houses for Up Here magazine, I ran across your post from 2017. I’m the only person in Bathurst Inlet who still uses one of the old dome houses, I have lived in it every summer for the past 25 years. I love it, but it has its problems. Mold is a problem, and so is a shift in the permafrost that is causing it to slope downhill. Otherwise, it’s a lovely place to live. There were originally four dome houses. One burned down, one was used one summer by an exploration company for washing alluvial gravel when they were looking for alluvial diamonds (the humidity from the washing and flooding of the floor destroyed that one), the third is still there but unused and over the years has deteriorated badly and should be torn down. Mine is the last one in use. Inside, it’s not fancy, but is “home” to me and my Samoyed, Frosty, the third of three Samoyeds who has also called it home. I can supply photos of the inside of my house, which certainly doesn’t look like the one posted. I’m currently living in Yellowknife, and Bathurst Inlet Lodge has not operated since the Covid pandemic closed the North. We are hoping to operate in 2022 if all goes well and entry to the NWT and Nunavut is possible. I don’t know how to post photos to this site but if you email me, I can send digital files so you can post the photos. Thanks so much.
There is a house in Pond Inlet made of a “Y” shaped set of three water drainage pipes. Each arm is about 12 feet in diameter. It has minimal foot print and stands on about 6 legs. It was constructed between 2005 and. 2010. The owner is an engineer and works for the Gn.
The domes in Bathurst Inlet were built in about 1974. I saw them when I was there in 1985. They were only about 20 feet in diameter. They have been basically abandoned since the late 90s or earl 2000. They had problem with moisture build up and mold growth. Page Burt in Rankin Inlet knows their story exhaustively.
There were three domes her in Iqaluit. One was about 40 feet in diameter and three stories high. It was used by QIA as an office building. It had problems with leakage due to expansion and contracting in sunlight. The second was built as a house. They built the dome on top of straight walls making it a two story. Inuit did not like the staircase. I was never inside it. The third was the now gone Komatic Inn restaurant which stood where the Aboriginal bank is today. It lasted from about 1984 until about 2005
Joanne an I also have a 26 foot diameter dome the same size as the one we built in Qikiqtarjuaq at out summer place near Saskatoon. We built it in 1978 as a garage for about $1,000. It has been resigned once in the subsequent 39 years.
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