12 years after being destroyed by fire, Iqaluit's igloo church is finally debt-free

Twelve years after it was destroyed by arson, five years after it was rebuilt, and after fundraising $11 million, Iqaluit's iconic igloo church is debt-free, and people in the parish are breathing a sigh of relief.

St. Jude's Anglican Cathedral rebuilt through massive fundraising efforts

Darren McCartney, Suffragan Bishop of the Diocese of the Arctic, leans against the qamutik-inspired pulpit at St. Jude's Anglican Cathedral. The rebuilding debt has been paid off after a 2005 arson. (Angela Hill/CBC News)

Twelve years after it was destroyed by arson, Iqaluit's iconic igloo church — St. Jude's Anglican Cathedral — is debt-free, and people in the parish are breathing a sigh of relief.

"It was a large weight on our shoulders, the debt that we had owing on the cathedral," said Darren McCartney, Suffragan Bishop of the Diocese of the Arctic. 

The last payment was about six weeks ago, he said.

Fundraising started back in 2004 with a plan to renovate the existing cathedral, which was build in the early 1970s. Those efforts had to be expanded to rebuild the cathedral from scratch in 2005, after a fire, which was later determined to be arson, gutted the building. 

The build was completed and church services resumed in 2012.

In 2013, the church ran into further financial issues when the contractors who rebuilt the church, Dowland Contracting, went into receivership, leading to the receivers asked for immediate repayment of $3 million remaining on the cathedral.

The Nunavut Construction Corporation Investment Group assisted by stepping in, taking out a loan so the church could repay over a longer period of time.

"I think if you're faced with eviction potentially... and then to know that that's not going to be the case, there are people there who are prepared to help, that was pretty amazing," McCartney said.

The community came together to help pay down that debt as quickly as possible.

"Every month we would have rummage sale, a craft sale, we would do chili bake offs, run the canteen during Christmas games in the community. It takes a lot of work," said Edward Picco, chair of the fundraising committee.

Support came in from across the world — Europe, England, the United States, and every province and territory in Canada, he said.

"Small communities in Nunavut and Northern Quebec would send donations of $300, $200. It was quite heartening."

Iqaluit alone was able to fundraise $1 million of the entire $11 million it took to rebuild the cathedral, the hub for the Anglican church in the Northwest Territories, Nunavut and Nunavik.

Now, about 250 people attend regular Sunday services at the church, but that population swells for holiday celebrations. People come from other communities and stop by the church when they are in Iqaluit for business, health appointments or just visiting, McCartney said.

"I think it's a icon. People know this building and I hope that people will know that they are welcome here no matter who they are."

The final celebration of the rebuilt cathedral is set to happen in October, when the church will be consecrated, something that couldn't happen until the they owned the building.

"People are going to come from across the Arctic, across Canada, to come and celebrate with us," McCartney said.

Now that it's all over, Picco said there is relief for the volunteer committee, who have all worked together for the past 13 years to realize their dream. 

"I really want to thank people from across the North... and down south for supporting us, not only financially, but with letters of support and so on," he said. "That was really appreciated."

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