Canadian High Arctic Research Station prepares for opening in 2017

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Copper-toned sheets of metal are installed on exterior sections of the Main Research Building. (September 2016) © INAC

As construction of the Canadian High Arctic Research Station (CHARS) progresses in Cambridge Bay, Nunavut, plans are underway for the Station’s grand opening in the fall of 2017.

In 2007, the Government of Canada announced plans to establish a “world-class” research station in the Arctic that would be on the global cutting edge of science and technology research in the North. Now in its final year of construction, CHARS is on track to be a hub for innovation, both in research and design.

The amount of planning to get to this point has been tremendous. As the federal department leading this construction project, Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) has worked diligently over the past few years to ensure CHARS will live up to its “world-class” mandate.

In designing the Station, consultations were held with Indigenous organizations, northerners, academics, industry, and territorial governments with the goal of creating a state of the art campus that will be a big part of the Cambridge Bay community.

The result is an innovative campus, consisting of a Main Research Building, a Field and Maintenance Building, and two Triplex accommodation buildings, with a sophisticated, sustainable and environmentally-friendly design.

INAC has registered CHARS with the internationally renowned Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) system. The goal is to make CHARS the most northern structure in the world to achieve the LEED gold certification of excellence in green building. The goal is ambitious, as building a large-scale project in the North comes with unique challenges.

Cambridge Bay residents look at the model for the proposed CHARS site. (2013) © INAC

“Unlike a typical project in southern Canada where contractors can plan a project assuming they will work year-round, scheduling is not always under control in the North. There are a lot of factors to consider, like climate, the distance to ship materials, and the time it takes to get to Cambridge Bay,” says Matthew Hough, Chief Engineer of the CHARS construction project.

INAC has also worked with architect Alain Fournier’s Montreal-based firm, EVOQ (formally known as Fournier, Gersovitz, Moss, Drolet et associés architects, or FGMDA), in a joint venture with NFOE Architects, to incorporate traditional Inuit culture and technology into the design of CHARS. The firms have hosted several community consultations in Cambridge Bay to ensure CHARS reflects the vibrant culture of Inuit in Cambridge Bay.

The feedback from the consultations, particularly from the community’s elders, led Fournier to focus his design on the history of Inuit in Cambridge Bay, along with Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit (IQ), which articulates the pillars of traditional knowledge: Piliriqatigiingniq (collaborative relationships), Avatimik kamattiarniq (environmental stewardship), Qanuqtuu­rungarniq (resourcefulness and problem-­solving), and Pilimmaksarniq (skills and knowledge acquisition).

Measuring approximately 52,000 square feet, the Main Research Building uses copper-toned accents to reference the Copper Inuit, the ancestors of current Inuit in Cambridge Bay. The Copper Inuit created innovative tools for hunting, and passed their knowledge of the land from generation to generation — a practice that is reflected in the communal Knowledge Sharing Centre for information sharing between scientists and community members. The curved exterior shape of the building draws inspiration from the qaqqig, the traditional communal igloo at the heart of an igloo cluster.

“What is rewarding is that, when we’ve presented our plans, Inuit of Cambridge Bay have immediately understood these references, reassuring us that we have been able to apply IQ principles and values in practice,” says Fournier.

Once complete, CHARS will be the headquarters of Polar Knowledge Canada (POLAR), the federal organization that works with Northerners to strengthen Canada’s position internationally as a leader in polar science and technology. POLAR has already welcomed visiting researchers who have used the CHARS triplex accommodations during their visits.

“The Triplex units are an ideal facility for visiting scientists. They enable an extremely comfortable and equipped location from which to conduct Arctic science,” says Lucianne Marshall, a Master of Science student from the University of Victoria. Marshall visited Cambridge Bay to conduct field research on the progression of phytoplankton blooms over the sea-ice melt season in the Arctic coastal region, in partnership with the university’s Varela Lab, Ocean Networks Canada and POLAR.

“By living on campus I was able to integrate both with the POLAR team but also had easy access to the local town for all my necessities where many friendly faces also welcomed me. It not only made my research possible, it also made it far more enjoyable.”

The entire CHARS campus is set to become operational in time for Canada’s 150th anniversary in 2017.

Submitted by Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada.