Cathedral ‘can’t be restored’

Published March 1, 2006

St. Jude’s Anglican Cathedral in Iqaluit, Nunavut – known as the “igloo” church for its distinctive dome-and-spire shape – has been declared structurally unsafe following a Nov. 5 fire and cannot be restored, said Archdeacon John Tyrrell.

“The building inspector examined the building and declared the laminate beam structure unsafe and it will have to come down,” he said in an interview.

The nighttime fire badly charred the building’s interior and its furnishings. Many of the cathedral’s artifacts, including wall hangings by Inuit artists, a historic crozier (bishop’s staff), a narwhal-tusk cross and altar rails in the shape of dogsleds, were also destroyed, said Mr. Tyrrell.

On Dec. 21, Litanie Pitsulak, 27, was arrested and charged with arson, breaking and entering to commit an offence and possession of stolen goods under $5,000. He appeared in court in Iqaluit on Jan. 23, but at press time, a plea had not yet been entered.

The congregation is “mourning the loss” but “worship has never stopped,” Mr. Tyrrell noted, adding that services are taking place in the parish hall, which is next to the cathedral but was undamaged. He said he has had no contact with Mr. Pitsulak, but that the congregation had a “service of healing” as a way of coping with the emotional effect of the fire.

The diocese of the Arctic is currently in discussions with the cathedral’s insurer, Ecclesiastical Insurance Office plc, a U.K.-based insurer with offices in Toronto, Calgary, Vancouver and Halifax. “The claim process is underway, but it’s too early to conclude the exact numbers,” said Stuart Rowley, underwriting manager for Canada, who said he could not comment further.

Mr. Tyrrell said various rebuilding options are being discussed. A retired priest from the diocese of the Yukon, he is serving as interim rector until May 31, during a search for a new dean. The previous rector, Rev. Ron McLean, moved at the end of January to serve Holy Trinity church in Yellowknife.

In 2004, the Arctic’s diocesan bishop, Andrew Atagotaaluk, launched a $7 million fundraising campaign for an expansion and renovation of St. Jude’s, which was built in 1972 and had seen hard use in the northern climate. About $500,000 has been collected under the campaign and will likely be put towards rebuilding, said Debra Gill, executive officer at the diocesan office in Yellowknife.

Meeting in the parish hall, which holds the same number of people – about 200 – as the church did, is “a stopgap measure, for sure,” said Mr. Tyrrell, noting that the building is used for many church and community activities.

“Some people would like to rebuild exactly what they had, but we need to be building for 30 years ahead,” he said, since Iqaluit, as the capital of the new territory of Nunavut, is growing in population. “This place will rise again and be a beacon to the community again.”


  • Solange DeSantis

    Solange De Santis was a reporter for the Anglican Journal from 2000 to 2008.

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