Iqaluit's new cemetery wins design award despite past flooding issues

Iqaluit's flood-plagued cemetery has been recognized by the Canadian Society of Landscape Architects as one of the year's top projects.

Design 'celebrates the landscape,' said Erik Lees, with Lees and Associates Landscape Architects

The new Iqaluit cemetery in Apex has been recognized by the Canadian Society of Landscape Architects as one of the year's top projects. (Angela Hill/CBC News)

Iqaluit's flood-plagued cemetery has received a 2017 award of excellence from the Canadian Society of Landscape Architects.

"Well of course it's nice to have that recognition for something that is uniquely beautiful, the site without a doubt has an excellent view," said Iqaluit Mayor Madeleine Redfern.

But she is quick to point out that it is a design award, and doesn't have to do with operations.

Erik Lees is the principal of Lees and Associates Landscape Architects, the firm behind the new cemetery in Apex that opened in October 2014. It features an arch made with bowhead whale bones. 

"It celebrates the landscape, especially with the bowhead whale bones and the first hunt in many years," he said. "It's a celebration of that event and a connection of the community to the land."

The gates at the Iqaluit cemetery are part of the award-winning design. (Angela Hill/CBC News)

The firm continues to work with the city and others with respect to operations at the site, Lees said. 

For the past two years the low-lying piece of land has seen ponds of water on the surface of graves and plots that have flooded before burials. City crews have needed to pump water out of plots to allow caskets to be lowered into the ground.

This year things should be different, said Jaffar Gebara, owner of Qikiqtani Funeral Services and the city's only funeral director.

The city has contracted out the maintenance of the cemetery to Gebara and has equipment available to him on site at all times so graves can be dug in a way that avoids them filling with water.

"If the graves are dug an hour or more before the service, we'll have at least a foot or two of water in the plot. In the holes being just dug, I come down with the procession, there will be no water. I figure this will solve all of the problems," he said.

Gebara said he's glad for the opportunity to make a difference and run the cemetery with dignity. He was happy to hear of the award.

"Actually, I'm quite pleased... it's a gorgeous site. We have the ocean behind us and landscaping that makes it look quite handsome. There are challenges with the land and actually digging of the plots, but on the whole, it's nice."