Under the dome: 1958 plan for Iqaluit was town under concrete shell

Present-day Iqaluit could have looked a lot different if a 1958 plan for an "attractive small town based on English town planning" with shops, banks, churches and schools, all beneath a thin concrete shell, had gone ahead.
This 1958 design for a domed settlement accommodating 4,500 people was designed for the federal Department of Public Works as a possible plan for Frobisher Bay, later Iqaluit. (Department of Public Works)

Present-day Iqaluit could have looked a lot different if a 1958 plan to build the Arctic city under a dome had gone ahead.

The proposal called for a "attractive small town based on English town planning... in direct contrast to the bleakness of the surrounding countryside" with shops, banks, churches and schools, all beneath a thin concrete shell, within which the air would be heated to -6 C in winter.

A series of 12-storey round apartment towers would have been built around the dome to house the city's residents. An elevator in the towers would have let residents off right inside the dome so there would be no need to go out in extreme winter weather.

"It is expected that the occupants will be required to wear winter clothing but not overshoes," states the proposal.

The planners recommended looking into nuclear power for the town, though "until advice is given it is thought that the best location for this unit would be away from the town centre due to the effects of radioactivity." 

Amenities in the town were to include a primary school and a high school, a swimming pool, a curling rink, one Protestant church and one Roman Catholic church and a funeral parlour.

The plans also allotted parking space for 50 vehicles in a basement. 

"It looks like something that belongs on the moon and not Frobisher Bay," says Ambrose Livingstone, an architect living in Iqaluit.

A view of Iqaluit from last winter. Architect Ambrose Livingstone says he can't imagine people in Iqaluit living cooped up indoors all the time. (Sara Statham)
"To be inside, to be cooped up all the time, it's not really the way I would see people living all the time, especially with the Inuit and the connection to the land. I really don't see it as a very viable solution."

He's happy the dome  which would have been almost three football fields across  was never constructed. He estimates it would cost $15 billion to build it today.

Former mayor Bryan Pearson remembers other plans for a two-kilometre geodesic dome that would have covered the entire town. Pearson says he wouldn't want to live there.

"We all live in little domes of some sort, but this idea of an opaque dome? Artificially lit with an atomic power plant?"

Resident Sunvar Mortensen says he thinks the dome "looks pretty cool."

But would he like to live in it?

"No, probably not live in it. But in the winter it would probably be very practical to have such a thing."

Resident Dawn Scott is also wary of dome living.

"It sounds like Stephen King's book [Under The Dome]," she says. "No, I'm outdoors all the way. I'd rather be outside."

The dome was never built as technology at the time would have made it difficult and a couple of years later the government looked at other options for town planning. By that time, houses were already being built so the chance to design a complete town from the ground up had passed.