Iqaluit’s St. Jude’s Cathedral “unusable” due to fire

Published November 11, 2005

St. Jude’s Cathedral in Iqaluit

Igloo-shaped St. Jude’s Cathedral in Iqaluit, Nunavut, which was extensively damaged by arson Nov. 5, is now "unusable" as a place of worship, said Arctic bishop Andrew Atagotaaluk.

Bishop Atagotaaluk said that if the church had, indeed, been deliberately set on fire, whoever did it was "really hurting bad." The fire marshal’s office confirmed that arson was the cause. The cost of the damage has not yet been officially determined.

Bishop Atagotaaluk said that the church, completed in 1972, had been broken into a few times last year and last summer there had been a suicide there. "Someone was found hanging inside the Cathedral," said Bishop Atagotaaluk in a telephone interview with the Anglican Journal. He said that an alarm system was to have been installed at the church this week to deter intrusions.

"It’s difficult for us to think about what happened," said Bishop Atagotaaluk. " I’m just relieved that no lives were lost this time. Buildings can be replaced but people’s lives are irreplaceable."

Rev. Ron McLean, incumbent at St. Jude’s, said it remains unclear if the cathedral can be renovated or if it will need to be rebuilt.

"Part of the problem is the smoke has gone in beyond the plywood on the walls. Worst-case scenario, if we had to strip it off then a lot of it is lost of course, and it means we’re basically starting all over," he told CBC. "But we would be still keeping the original footprint of the cathedral." An Arctic landmark and tourist destination, St. Jude’s is a white half-dome, similar to an Inuit snow house, with a spire atop the dome.

Bishop Atagotaaluk expressed the hope that news about the cathedral’s fate would "regenerate interest" in the diocese’s campaign to raise $7 million for renovation and expansion. The campaign, which began in 2004, raised $500,000 as of June. "Hopefully people will see it as an urgent need," he said, adding that parishioners are now worshipping at a parish hall.

The diocese had embarked on the campaign to address the growing membership in the parish. "We are ministering not just to Iqaluit," he had said 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."

Bishop Atagotaaluk said that the church lost a lot of "treasures" because of the fire. His personal favourite had been embroidered tapestries made by communities across the Arctic, which stretched across the sanctuary. They had depicted various aspects of church and community life. Also destroyed were locally-handcrafted furnishings, including an altar rail made of oak sleds, and a pulpit made of a small sled with a fish spear; a holy table and a bishop’s chair, which had survived a previous fire in the Anglican cathedral in Aklavik were also damaged.

St. Jude’s other cherished possessions included a baptismal font with a base made of soapstone from Puvirnituq in the shape of an Inuit oil lamp, a soapstone top in the shape of a cooking pot from the people of Inukjuak and three supporting narwhal tusks from the Baffin Island people.

Bishop Atagotaaluk said that the fire reportedly started in the sacristy and robing rooms for clergy and worked its way to the chancel.

"It was still quenchable. But soot and smoke destroyed wall hangings and wood frames," he said. "The firefighters tired to minimize the damage but the pews and floors were affected by the water."


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