Nunatsiaq Online
FEATURES: Iqaluit May 25, 2017 - 10:00 am

The Arctic building where it’s summer all year long

"I look at all of them and I think, what did they do before the aquatic centre?"

JANE GEORGE
Got you! Parents and tots frolic in the Aquatic Centre's leisure pool during the Friday morning swim time. To encourage more participation, the Iqaluit Parents and Tots Association is offering free taxi vouchers and free swim-diapers to those who want to join in the fun. (PHOTO BY STEVE DUCHARME)
Got you! Parents and tots frolic in the Aquatic Centre's leisure pool during the Friday morning swim time. To encourage more participation, the Iqaluit Parents and Tots Association is offering free taxi vouchers and free swim-diapers to those who want to join in the fun. (PHOTO BY STEVE DUCHARME)
A view from the top of the diving board at the pool area, with its 25-metre, six-lane pool and leisure pool. (PHOTO BY STEVE DUCHARME)
A view from the top of the diving board at the pool area, with its 25-metre, six-lane pool and leisure pool. (PHOTO BY STEVE DUCHARME)
Iqaluit Mayor Madeline Redfern speaks to Amarjeet Sohi, MP for Edmonton Mill Woods and the federal minister for Infrastructure and Communities, on a tour of the Iqaluit Aquatic Centre May 5.
Iqaluit Mayor Madeline Redfern speaks to Amarjeet Sohi, MP for Edmonton Mill Woods and the federal minister for Infrastructure and Communities, on a tour of the Iqaluit Aquatic Centre May 5. "Very impressive" was Sohi's comment on the centre, which received money from Ottawa to help with its construction costs. Sohi, on his first visit to Nunavut, said the centre is particularly important in a community where 60 per cent of the 8,000 population is under 25 years old. (PHOTO BY STEVE DUCHARME)
A duck's-eye view of the leisure pool during an event held to raise money for the centre by racing rubber ducks down the water slide. (PHOTO BY STEVE DUCHARME)
A duck's-eye view of the leisure pool during an event held to raise money for the centre by racing rubber ducks down the water slide. (PHOTO BY STEVE DUCHARME)

Planning a trip to Iqaluit?

If so, make sure you pack your swimming suit and be ready to enjoy temperatures of 28 C all year round.

That’s because this Arctic city’s new $40.5 million aquatic centre means swimming suits are now as essential as warm boots and parkas.

A peek inside the centre reveals its pool with six 25-metre lanes, kept at 28 C, plus a leisure pool, with even warmer water at 31 C, a curled water slide, climbing wall, and “Tarzan” rope—all in yellow, blue and white.

Narrow windows provide a view of the outside, where the average annual temperature stands at around minus 10 C and ice covers Frobisher Bay for most of the year.

That helps you better appreciate the 28 C air temperature inside.

During a recent weekend public swim, when the big pool reached its 160-person capacity and the leisure pool was full at 110, teenagers waited to jump off the diving board, parents floated around with their tots in lifejackets, and small children ducked in and out of a water spray feature in the leisure pool.

Another group lounged in the 38 C spa. The saunas were full.

A multi-use room next to the pool (booked months ahead) was decorated with bouquets of helium balloons for a birthday party.

“I just love seeing everyone and people are clearly using it and loving it,” said Iqaluit Mayor Madeleine Redfern.

Before the public swim, a line had formed in the corridor on the centre’s first floor to get into the pool area upstairs because hundreds wanted to come in.

According to figures collected by the city, the Aquatic Centre’s opening weekend in January racked up about 4,000 visits. That number now stands at roughly 1,500 visits per weekend, with weekday attendance at about 150 visits per day. And between 20 and 50 people per day also use the first-floor fitness centre during peak hours.

The city’s goal: to make sure the Aquatic Centre is accessible to all residents, no matter what language they speak or how much money they have.

To help those with lower incomes, people have donated towels and swimming suits to the thrift store—and one teacher brought up a suitcase of new swimming suits from the South to hand out.

And a fund now assists low-income families with free passes to the pool.

An annual family pass to the pool—for five or fewer people—costs $1,680, while a family pass for both the pool and fitness centre costs $2,100 per year.

But for some children, $4 for a one-time drop-in fee can be too much.

“When you are already marginalized, access to these programs can make even more of a difference,” said Redfern, suggesting that a piece of infrastructure like the Aquatic Centre can act like a suicide prevention program in a city that suffers from the same acute social problems as other communities in the territory.

Not to mention the centre’s impact on physical fitness.

“There are a lot of children who come here and particularly for the public swims after school hours,” said part-time lifeguard Sheila Lumsden, one of two Inuit among the centre’s 16 lifeguards.

“I look at all of them, and I think, what did they do before the aquatic centre?”

Lumsden is known in Iqaluit for being a finalist among 24 contestants in the fourth season of the Canadian edition of CTV’s MasterChef series— and the program’s first Indigenous contestant.

“It’s the kids who draw me working here, especially the young girls,” said Lumsden, dressed in the yellow and red outfits worn by the centre’s lifeguards.

Each time Lumsden lifeguards, she comes home with a story.

“What I think is cute is when little girls come up to me and they’re shy. They look at me and say ‘are you Inuk?’ It’s apparent they are. So I say, ‘Well, yes I am. Are you?’

“That’s the icebreaker with me more often than not,” said Lumsden, who often hears young swimmers calling out “Sheilaaaaa!” from the other end of the pool.

But it wasn’t that easy to get the pool in place.

In a 2006 vote, ratepayers told the city they didn’t want to risk taxes being raised to pay for a recreation centre. The plan met opposition from those who thought the city should be spending money on roads, water and sewage and other much-needed infrastructure instead. Then, in a 2012 referendum, about 60 per cent of ratepayers who cast ballots voted in favour of borrowing the millions needed for the centre‚ which will cost at least $2 million a year to operate.

“Because we’re ratepayers, I voted ‘no,’” Lumsden said.

“But that’s water under the bridge now. Ever since the outcome of the referendum was ‘yes,’ it was just like, okay, just accept it. I understand that there could still be people in our town who have an issue with the aquatic centre, but I would say people see this as a positive addition to our community, a social aspect to our community, a way to get together outside of what little else there is to do in this town for grownups and particularly for the children.”

Since its opening in late January, the centre has sold the equivalent of 800 monthly or annual packages—that is, meeting its goal of attracting 10 per cent of the city’s population on a regular basis.

Not to say there haven’t been some rough spots—despite swim-diapers, one child closed down the leisure pool after he pooped in the water.

Then, a swimmer, in trouble due to a medical condition, needed resuscitation.

Children playing hide-and-seek in the locker rooms have bent the metal locker floors—and there have been some incidents of theft and vandalism.

As well, there’s discussion about whether fitness courses, such as yoga and aquafit, should be included in the cost of a pass, or at an additional cost. Right now, some fitness courses offered at the centre are free-of-charge with a pass and others require a higher fee.

Overall, recreation director and lifeguard Amy Elgersma said it’s going well as they work out the kinks and the facility, designed by Stantec Architecture Ltd, and pool—sustained by a complex mechanical system on the first floor—remain under warranty.

A new batch of lifeguards are also finishing up their training, Elgersma said.

But, of course, the centre is not just the pool: it’s also about encouraging fitness and health in a place where poor nutrition and obesity affect many.

Recently elders, who have a room of their own with soft sealskin covered couches at the centre, enjoyed country foods—and an introduction to gentle yoga in the fitness centre.

The Aquatic Centre has already brought new food traditions to Iqaluit, whose population remains about 55 to 60 per cent Inuit.

“Let’s go and get a chicken Caesar wrap,” suggested one teenaged boy to another as they left the pool.

A food concession sells wraps along with smoothies and salads with ingredients like quinoa and lentils—and soft ice cream.

“I love it. I love to swim,” a young girl, whose hair was still damp, as she licked her cone.

You can find out more about the Aquatic Centre here.

The outside of the Iqaluit Aquatic Centre features fish on the outside—the
The outside of the Iqaluit Aquatic Centre features fish on the outside—the "many fish" or iqaluit—that gave the city its name. The building is mounted on piles, with the fitness facility and mechanical room on the first floor and the pool on the second floor. In working on the design, city officials also visited other Arctic aquatic facilities, such as Nuuk, Yellowknife and Whitehorse, to learn what works and what doesn't. (PHOTO BY JANE GEORGE)
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