Woman allowed to stay in log house at centre of family dispute in Tuktoyaktuk

A judge has decided, at least for now, who will live in the house that once belonged to local businessman Eddie Gruben.

House belonged to Eddie Gruben, prominent community member and businessman

The Tuktoyaktuk shoreline in September 2019. On Friday, N.W.T. Supreme Court Justice Andrew Mahar decided who could stay in a log house at the centre of a family dispute. (Mario De Ciccio/Radio-Canada )

A judge has decided, at least for now, who will live in a large log house in Tuktoyaktuk, N.W.T., that's at the centre of a family dispute.

The house belonged to the late Eddie Gruben, a prominent community member and businessman who founded and built up E. Gruben's Transport Ltd.

On Friday, N.W.T. Supreme Court Justice Andrew Mahar gave custody of the house to some of Gruben's daughters until a final decision on it is reached in the dispute.

According to court documents, one of Eddie's grandsons, Justin Gruben, is arguing the property was transferred to his father in a verbal arrangement sometime during 1995. One of Eddie's daughters, Maureen Gruben, says she was entrusted with the property in Eddie's final will, so she and her sisters are the rightful owners. 

Maureen's sisters have large families that she says are in need of housing. One of her sisters, she says, desperately needs a place to stay in because she is currently homeless. 

Justin's mother, Sharon Gruben, has lived in the house during the summers. She has a permanent home in Alberta, but when she's in Tuktoyaktuk she uses the log house to take part in traditional activities.

The interim decision requires Sharon to vacate the home by Oct. 1. After October, Maureen and her sisters will be able to live there until a decision is made. 

In affidavits, family friend, Russell Newmark, alleges that Eddie's daughters pressured him to revise his will when he was 90. The daughters say their father knew what he was doing and the changes reflect what he wanted to happen with his estate.

Eddie Gruben founded E. Gruben's Transport Ltd., one of the largest contracting companies in the Western Arctic. (Submitted by Maureen Gruben)

Newmark, considered Eddie's "adopted son," says he was the only other person in the room when Eddie gave the log house to Justin's father in a trade. The transfer was never formalized in writing.

According to Newmark's affidavits, Justin's father had built a smaller home for his budding family. Eddie suggested they swap homes because the growing family needed more space and he felt the smaller home would better suit his needs.

Justin's father had also taken upon leadership roles — acting as the "head of family" and led the successful family business — so Newmark stated he felt it wouldn't become an issue. 

In court on Friday, Justice Mahar said that the core issue was not whether the revised will could be considered void, but that the claim was about the complicated transfer of ownership. 

Mahar stressed that the home must be kept in the current condition, especially considering that the final owner has not been determined.