Arctic seeks $3 million to rebuild beloved ‘igloo church’

Published July 6, 2006

St. Jude’s cathedral, which was deconsecrated last Easter and demolished June 1, was declared unsalvageable after a vandal set it on fire last November.

St. Jude’s Anglican Cathedral, the “igloo church” that was a landmark in Iqaluit until it was destroyed by arson last December, has been demolished and the diocese of the Arctic is now appealing for help to finance its rebuilding, estimated at $3 million.
The cathedral, which was deconsecrated last Easter and demolished June 1, was declared unsalvageable after a vandal set it on fire last November.

“It is now clear that the total money that we will receive through our insurance will not be enough to replace the cathedral,” said Andrew Atagotaaluk, diocesan bishop of the Arctic, in an appeal letter. “According to the information that our engineers and architects are providing, we will need to fundraise approximately $3 million in order to have a new building that is up to code and has a large seating capacity.” (The building is estimated to cost $4 million; the diocese could receive up to $1 million towards reconstruction from the insurance, said the appeal letter.)

Bishop Atagotaaluk (who is on sabbatical) said that while a fundraising campaign has been launched in Iqaluit and in every parish in the diocese, “it is also clear that providing such a large amount will require asking for special consideration by our supporters.” He added: “The total fundraising is beyond the capacity of Anglicans and residents of the Arctic alone. Our Arctic appeal must go out across Canada and indeed around the world, to both Anglicans and to people of all faiths, who care about the welfare of the Inuit and the people of the North.” The church has hired a professional fundraiser, Doug Little, to run the campaign. Mr. Little said in an interview that $120,000 has been raised since the fundraising effort began a month ago; 2,000 letters of appeal were mailed out already

Parishioners and residents of Iqaluit have been urged to look forward instead of grieving the demise of St. Jude’s. “Rather than look at it as, ‘there is our church building going,’ let’s look at it as, ‘this is the first step towards building the new St. Jude’s Cathedral,” Archdeacon John Tyrrell, St. Jude’s interim priest, told CBC.

It took the demolition firm 45 minutes to reduce the iconic church to a pile of rubble last June 1. Demolition began at 6:15 a.m. and ended at 7:30 a.m., shortly before children headed to school next to where the cathedral stood. The last of the debris was taken away June 5, said Debra Gill, diocesan executive officer.

The church, completed in 1972, was a popular destination for tourists who marveled at its white half-dome, similar to an Inuit snow house, with a spire atop the dome.
Prior to the fire, the diocese had been campaigning to raise $7 million for renovation and expansion of the cathedral; it had raised about $500,000 by April 2005 (current figures were not available from the diocese, but Mr. Little said those funds will be added to the rebuilding of the cathedral).

The project was intended to address the growing membership in the parish. “We are ministering not just to Iqaluit,” Bishop Atagotaaluk had told the Anglican Journal earlier. “We are in the central capital in Nunavut … it’s become a centre for medical services and education and we’re getting all kinds of people, including transients with strong Anglican background who look to the cathedral for services.” A major expansion of the cathedral would now have to be sidelined “for the more urgent task of restoring and reconstructing the cathedral, with a modest increase in capacity, in order to reopen the place of worship that is the centre of the Iqaluit community as soon as possible.” Plans for the construction of a separate soup kitchen building on land owned by the diocese will also continue.

Designed by acclaimed Canadian architect Ron Thom in 1970 and dedicated by Queen Elizabeth II, the cathedral contained “irreplaceable pieces of art,” including six intricately woven tapestries contributed by six different communities, from Kitikmeot to Nunavik. The fire also damaged the altar; the wooden cross that held three narwhal tusks that were stolen the night of the fire have since been recovered. The diocese hopes that the pulpit, a traditional qamuti sled turned on its end, and the communion railing, a qamuti on its side, can be restored.

Church services are currently being held in a nearby parish hall, crowding out some church outreach programs in the Iqaluit community.

A 27-year-old man was arrested after the church fire on Dec. 21 and charged with arson, breaking and entering to commit an offence, and possession of stolen goods under $5,000.


  • Marites N. Sison

    Marites (Tess) Sison was editor of the Anglican Journal from August 2014 to July 2018, and senior staff writer from December 2003 to July 2014. An award-winning journalist, she has more that three decades of professional journalism experience in Canada and overseas. She has contributed to The Toronto Star and CBC Radio, and worked as a stringer for The New York Times.

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