Historic buildings get new life in Cambridge Bay heritage park

The park, a work in progress, will preserve some of the first buildings in Cambridge Bay, Nunavut, dating back to the early to the 1920s and 30s.

Nunavut hamlet saves old RCMP, Hudson's Bay Company buildings from demolition

An old Hudson's Bay Company building is moved to a new location in Cambridge Bay, Nunavut. (submitted by Randy Osmond)

On the frozen shore of Cambridge Bay, Nunavut, Marla Limousin is transported back in time, surrounded by shuttered, weathered clapboard buildings that date back to the 1920s and 30s.

"Every time I stand here, I think about the people who built them. The people who knocked the nails together," reflects Limousin, the hamlet's senior administrative officer.

The community's new heritage park is located just steps behind the hamlet's modern, newly built office.

"It's really about honouring people from the past. Without these building around, that history dies. It's just a story."

The park, a work in progress on land transferred to the hamlet from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, will preserve some of the first buildings in Cambridge Bay during the development of the community in the early to mid-20th century.

Marla Limousin, Cambridge Bay's senior administrative officer, at the site of the hamlet's new heritage park. (Kate Kyle/CBC)

It includes the first RCMP detachment that was later designated a nursing station and then a gathering place for cadets, says Limousin. The "512" northern style of housing — named after its square footage — will also be featured.

Last month crews used loaders to relocate three Hudson's Bay Company buildings, previously located on "prime real estate," to the new site. The buildings had been set for demolition, but Limousin says the hamlet felt the white, weathered timber buildings were worth preserving.

"There's just such craftsmanship and stories of who came before us," says Limousin.

The hamlet got $45,000 funding from the Nunavut Department of Culture and Heritage for the relocation and levelling of the buildings.

An example of the "512" northern style of housing — named after its square footage. (submitted by Marla Limousin)

A delicate move

As a planner in the North, the SAO has experience relocating aging structures. It's all about "treating them with love," she says.

But there were a few heart-stopping moments. One Hudson's Bay building, perched atop a steep slope overlooking the bay, was found nearly frozen to the ground. The back was eroding. When the crew raised the building from its frosty footing, Limousin says her heart was going "bah boom, bah boom, bah boom."

"The guys really had to use all the tenacity and technology they had to move it," she says.

"They had the loaders, pushing it around, kind of like moving furniture. Two feet here, one foot there, this angle."

Randy Osmond was behind the wheel.

"We didn't know if it was going to make it or not," he says.

The Hamlet of Cambridge Bay plans to repair the doors, windows and roofs of the historic buildings, but leave the weathered siding intact. (Kate Kyle/CBC)

Repairs planned

Osmond says they loaded each building onto a skid, raised and then towed them slowly over the freshly frozen ground to the new site.

The buildings are now positioned in a semi-circle that's meant to resemble "muskox in a protective circle" formation, says Limousin, with space for a courtyard in the middle.

The hamlet is now digging into the archives to find out more about them.

While the structures have withstood the test of time, Limousin says the hamlet plans to replace the windows, doors and roofs — though the weathered siding will stay. 

She says it's hoped the heritage park will also serve as a new attraction and gathering place for tourists, especially those coming by cruise ship.