'By Inuit, for Inuit, about Inuit': CBC Iqaluit says goodbye to Astro Hill station

Inuktitut broadcasting has a new home in Iqaluit, as CBC makes a 'bittersweet' move after 30 years.

'It's the bittersweet thing that you always have when you make a move,' says station manager Patrick Nagle

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      After 30 years on Astro Hill, Inuktitut programming in Iqaluit has a new home. 

      Starting Monday, CBC Iqaluit will broadcast out of a brand-new station on Queen Elizabeth II Way in the city's downtown.

      "It's the bittersweet thing that you always have when you make a move," says Patrick Nagle, CBC Nunavut's program manager.

      CBC Iqaluit Station Manager Patrick Nagle poses in front of a wall in the old studio, signed by staff. (Elyse Skura/CBC)

      "It's leaving behind things that you know and you're comfortable with, but it's also an opportunity for fresh starts and a new future and new ways of doing things."

      After working out of a Butler Building called the T-1 building, the old federal building and then the Brown Building, CBC bought the Astro Hill building from the Hudson's Bay Company in 1984 and completely redesigned it. 

      The "bittersweet" move has brought up a lot of memories for staff.

      More than a station, Awa and Nagle say the doors to CBC Iqaluit were open to the community who regularly dropped in to share some country food or sell crafts — and that will not change.

      "It's more of a family," says co-ordinating producer Salome Awa. "Because we always seem to joke around, laugh a lot, getting to know people's children.

      "It's a very welcoming place, a very family-oriented type place."

      In fact, it was not uncommon to see community elders in the studio and children in the recording booths.

      Ooleena Nowyook (left) greets visitors to CBC Iqaluit during a celebration to open the building in 1985. (CBC)

      Reporters 'grew up here'

      When Madeleine Allakariallak was first hired as a reporter she was 22 years old and mother to two children under the age of two.

      "Sometimes they needed to come here with me because I was hosting the morning show," she says.

      Madeleine Allakariallak hosts the Qulliq morning show live from the CBC Iqaluit lobby. (CBC)

      "Sometimes they would sleep under my desk. And sometimes they would drive them to the babysitters for me. It was teamwork. And I know that won't change when we move. But in this building — I grew up here."

      Often considered the CBC Network's 'farm team' many well-known journalists had their start in the small station — including Vik Adhopia, David Michael Lamb, Curt Petrovich and Asha Tomlinson. 

      With many staying only a few months, Nagle estimates that several hundred journalists have worked in the Astro Hill building.

      "New reporters quickly become part of the family," Awa says. 

      Television team Archie Angnakak, Henry Nowdluk, Harris Taylor, Paul Irngaut and Emily Karetak in the CBC Iqaluit station. (CBC)

      Reporting 'for Inuit, by Inuit'

      For staff from Nunavut, broadcasting out of this station has been a passion, and even a duty. 

      "People tune in every day to hear the daily news in Inuktitut," says Awa. "Inuktitut is very important in radio, still to this day. It means a lot to Inuit."

      While CBC Iqaluit has become a surrogate family for countless journalists, for some the family connection is literal. 

      Jasen Kelly followed the footsteps of his father Jonah. 

      Salome Awa decided to join the CBC after seeing what her sister Joanna, brother Simon and uncle Andy were accomplishing. 

      "I think that stories by Inuit, for Inuit, about Inuit are very important," says Allakariallak. "What better way than by sharing the stories through the media." 

      Some former CBC Nunavut broadcasters have gone on to be major decision makers in the territory, including Paul Quassa and Monica Ell-Kanayuk.

      In 2002, CBC Iqaluit's Joanna Awa, Jonah Kelly, Karliin Arreak and Moses Attagoyuk (clockwise from left) did a three-hour live Inuktitut broadcast of the Queen's visit. (CBC)

      Elections, royal visits and the birth of a territory

      Over the years, CBC Iqaluit cameras have captured a number of significant moments for Inuit, including elections, a royal visit and, of course, the birth of a territory in 1999. 

      "It was a very important moment. A very proud moment. And the people across the territory heard us through radio," says Awa. 

      "That was a big deal."

      Madeleine Allakariallak, the host of Igalaaq, tries out the television set in the new CBC Iqaluit station. (Salome Awa/CBC)

      But among the more auspicious moments are the mundane and the comical, like the time Nagle rushed to the studio at 3 a.m. to bail water off a leaking roof and the time a child pulled his beard to check if he was the real Santa at a community Christmas party. 

      For Allakariallak, welcoming Igalaaq to Iqaluit from Yellowknife with an open house and hundreds of people is one of the most important memories. 

      "It was so many feelings in one. It was so exciting, everyone was happy," she says. "Having that space to allow that many people to come in and celebrate with us was incredible, to say the least."

      Starting on Tuesday, CBC Igalaaq will now be hosted out of the new downtown station — with another open house set for the near future.

      About the Author

      Elyse Skura

      Elyse Skura is an associate producer at CBC Ottawa, reporting on the Ontario Election. Find her on Twitter at @eskura or contact her at elyse.skura@cbc.ca.