The sun shines down through a ceiling still being assembled. Blocks of carved snow are carefully passed up ladders and finessed into place, the smallest and lightest on top. Soon this monumental structure of Inuit ingenuity will be fully enclosed, the scaffolding—perched on qallupilluit sleds—will come down and the celebrations will begin. Welcome to the qaggiq.
The giant, 65-square-metre iglu was built in Sylvia Grinnel Territorial Park this past March by a team of master builders including Solomon Awa and Jacopoosie Tiglik. At 30 feet in diameter, it can hold 100 people inside shoulder-to-shoulder. Or, in this case, it can host a stage where over 50 performers delighted crowds during a two-day festival.
The QAGGIQ2021 celebration was put together by Qaggiavuut!—the arts and culture non-profit that’s been fundraising for the past few years to build Nunavut’s first permanent performing arts centre—in collaboration with the Alianait Arts Festival and Tukisigiarvik. Over the vernal equinox, crowds gathered to take in performances by dozens of local and visiting artists, including drum dancing, throat-singing, comedy, plays, and lots of good music.
A qaggiq is a traditional performance space that would be built for large gatherings of Inuit to come together and celebrate their culture. Like the smaller iglu, it’s entirely composed of snow and ice. Such architecture takes skilled precision to assemble and a lot of experience.
A dozen men spent four days putting this qaggiq together; cutting several hundred blocks of snow, shaving them with a snow knife to fit snug, and sealing any cracks by pouring over warmed water that quickly turned to ice. It was the first time in recent history that a qaggiq has been built in Iqaluit. It was also the first major festival in Iqaluit in almost a year.
Qaggiavuut! received special permission from the territory’s chief public health officer to hold the event, which took place almost exactly a year after COVID-19 put a sudden halt to social gatherings here in the North and around the country.