Nain cultural centre to celebrate 'rich history' of Labrador Inuit

The Illusuak Cultural Centre, which is touted as "living room for the community," is now under construction and poised to open within two years.

Nain's new cultural centre

8 years ago
Duration 0:33
Featured VideoConstruction is underway on the Illusuak Cultural Centre.

An ambitious construction project in Nain is starting to pick up steam, with the Illusuak Cultural Centre — which is touted as "living room for the community" — now under construction and poised to open with two years. 

The building was designed by world-renowned architect Todd Saunders, who is perhaps best known in this province for designing the luxurious Fogo Island Inn. Since its conception back in 2010, the project — originally billed the Torngasok Cultural Centre — has undergone something of a rebranding.

An artist's rendition of Todd Saunders' design of the Illusuak Cultural Centre in Nain. (Courtesy Saunders Architecture )

"There was a bit of restructuring going on in the department and Illusuak was renamed," said Sean Lyall, Nunatsiavut Minister of  Culture, Recreation and Tourism.

Illusuak is an Inuktitut word for "sod house" which is a traditional summer dwelling. 

"In the wintertime we used ice to make igloos, and in the summertime we used anything that would be available. So naturally, we used sod," Lyall said, adding that the ability to build using sod "goes to show the fantastic, marvelous ingenuity of the Inuit."

It's not only the centre's name that is inspired by ancient sod houses. The building's exterior is also inspired by the illusuak. Inside, the centre will feature permanent exhibits on the Inuit of Nunatsiavut, as well as a café and a theatre space. 

Lyall said while the building is designed with residents in the mind, he expects it will also be a tourist attraction. 

Funding a challenge early on 

"We do have lots of visitors come to Nunatsiavut and this will also be a place for them to learn about our rich cultural history and who we are as a people."

Crews have been working steadily on the new Illusuak Cultural Centre in Nain, on Labrador's northern coast. (Bailey White/CBC)

Construction hasn't been without its challenges, Lyall admits. The centre was originally conceived it 2010 and slated to open in 2014 but in fact groundbreaking didn't begin until that year. 

"Funding was always an issue with Illusuak," he said, "but right now, it's all a go, and it just goes to show the tenacity of Labrador Inuit to get a project done."

Lyall said construction is moving along at a good pace. He hopes the building will be fully framed and winter-ready so that work can continue even in the coldest months. 

"The construction is on schedule and everything looks good for a summer of 2017 opening."

That's something Lyall says gives him goosebumps to think about. 

"It's giving me personally a sense of pride," he said.

"And to see a lot of local people building it themselves. What better way of doing that? There was a time before  that any government contracts weren't necessarily employing Inuit people, but now you see local people doing it and it just goes to show progress."


Bailey White

CBC News

Bailey White is a senior producer in St. John's.