'Not a very nice place to put someone you love': Gjoa Haven using shed as morgue

Gjoa Haven, Nunavut has been using an old storage shed as a morgue. A community member wrote a letter to Gjoa Haven's MLA outlining a horrific experience with the morgue.

'Our loved ones, our people when saying goodbye to this world, deserve respect' says community member

An old storage shed is being used to story bodies after someone dies. Gjoa Haven's MLA, Tony Akoak, says the facility is inadequate. (Submitted by James Dulac )

An old storage shed with no heat or electricity is where the bodies are kept in Gjoa Haven, Nunavut. 

"It is not a very nice place to put someone you love," said the community's MLA, Tony Akoak to CBC. 

Tony Akoak, MLA for Gjoa Haven has been raising the issue for years. Still nothing has been done. (Courtesy Tony Akoak)

The shed is used as the local morgue with none of the convenience of a real facility. 

"It's not a pretty sight to see if you go into that building," said Akoak, in the legislature Thursday.

The interior is covered in dust and there is cut up wood on the floor. The lack of electricity makes it cold and dark, said Akoak.

This shed has been the local morgue ever since he can remember. He brought the issue to the legislature in 2019 and again this October.

Still, nothing has been done. 

Resident said he was shocked at the condition 

Akoak received a letter from a Gjoa Haven resident, James Dulac, in January, outlining a horrific experience with the building. 

A friend of his died by suicide and with the family's permission he was going there to dress the body for the burial. 

"I was shocked for what I saw," said Dulac, in the letter. 

His friend lay on the floor in an plastic RCMP bag, and a different body lay on his friend's feet. 

Dulac opened his friend's body bag to find him covered in blood with his shoes still on, his arms and legs twisted and frozen in place. 

It was a "clear indication that he did not get cleaned properly prior to be taken to the [morgue]," Dulac wrote.

His friend's body would not fit into the coffin, because of how his friend was placed. They had to use a large plywood box, he said.

The inside of the shed used as a morgue. Empty boxes are piled to the roof. (Submitted by James Dulac )

"Our loved ones, our people when saying goodbye to this world, deserve respect, deserve to be treated with dignity, deserve better treatment," said Dulac in the letter. 

"Having a morgue at least with all the necessary needs, it is not a [luxury], it is a right, it is a need," he wrote. 

Dulac said he brought the issue to the municipality but has not seen any solution yet. 

In an email to Akoak, Dulac offers two weeks of his salary to be put toward getting a proper morgue. 

Akoak says this space has been used as a morgue ever since he can remember. (Submitted by James Dulac )

Government has unused portable morgues 

The Department of Community and Government Services bought two portable morgues in May 2020. 

The morgues cost $77,520 and the department said they are part of an inventory the government is building to respond to community emergencies. 

The containers arrived in June and have been sitting in Iqaluit ever since. 

Community and Government Services Minister Jeannie Ehaloak committed to contact the municipality of Gjoa Haven about the issue.


Jackie McKay


Jackie McKay is a Métis journalist working for CBC in Nunavut. She has worked as a reporter in Thunder Bay, Yellowknife, Whitehorse and Iqaluit. Jackie also worked on CBC Radio One shows including The Current, Metro Morning, after graduating from Ryerson University in 2017. Follow her on Twitter @mckayjacqueline.