Regional Food-gathering Cabins
Baffin Island region, Nunavut, Canada /// 2011-12

We are an adaptable people. There is no doubt about that. We’ve had to be. That’s how we have always traveled season to season looking in pursuit of animals. We’ve weathered this storm of modernization fairly well - going from dog teams to snowmobiles, and flying jumbo jets and going from igloo huts to permanent homes, and of course, going from our environment - which is our supermarket - to now having supermarket-like stores in communities - all within a few decades.

This has not been without consequences. But through it all, we have always had our land. Our very predictable environment and climate and the wisdom of our hunters and our elders that they have gained through the millennia - and that always helped us to adapt to the situation. Because the hunting culture is not well understood - it is not only about the killing of animals, or the pursuit of animals. In fact, the real process of the hunt is extremely powerful. Eating and hunting personifies what it means for us to be Inuit. These skills and traditions are passed down generation to generation.

Sheila Watt-Cloutier,
Former Chair of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference

Map of indigenous people of the Arctic, percentage that is food insecure, and a comparison cost of "food baskets" in the north revealing the high costs in Nunavut.

A Growing and Youthful People
In the 2006 Census, Canada’s three northern territories—Yukon, Northwest Territories, and Nunavut—posted a combined population of over 100,000 people for the first time in Canadian history with the territory of Nunavut significantly exceeding Canada’s average population growth rate. Approximately 33,000 people (84% Inuit) live dispersed across 23 communities in Nunavut. Populations in the Canadian North are remarkably young; almost a third of the population is under the age of 15, and the average is 25 years of age. The challenges facing circumpolar peoples are urgent and requires fresh thinking with a strong understanding of traditions.

Research cards that have influenced the Arctic Food Network.

Food Distribution Diagram: 1960 – Present (left) and 2014 – Onward (right)

Threatened Northern Culture
With this urgency to expand to accommodate population growth, there is little vision of how to grow beyond economic expediency and efficiency. Historically, the Inuit have had southern models foisted upon them – be it food, housing or education. Some of the greatest challenges facing northern communities are physical isolation, economic marginalization, youth disenfranchisement, and loss of traditional knowledge. The younger generations of Inuit find themselves caught between traditional and contemporary cultures.

Food Culture
The traditional Inuit diet, which is centered on hunting and fishing, has been slowly compromised by an influx of southern manufactured food products, leading to increased obesity and diabetes levels. The health impacts of this diet are amplified in the north, due to the high cost of shipping fresh produce and healthier, perishable goods to radically dispersed and remote northern communities. A typical food basket in Nunavut is twice the cost of the same food basket in southern Canada, while standards of living and salaries are often lower. The Arctic Food Network (AFN) addresses an urgent need for a snowmobile accessed regional network of arctic farms, freezers, and camp hubs. The AFN encircles the large body of the Foxe Basin in Nunavut, Canada, home to a richly diverse wildlife, along the coast of Baffin Island and some 30,000 Nunavummiut.

Ice Fishing

Snowmobile Trails in Baffin from research conducted by Prof. Claudio Aporta (Carleton University).

A Food Highway
The Arctic Food Network utilizes the existing skidoo trails, the only form of ground connection amongst the eleven disconnected Inuit communities of Baffin Island. The project proposes to address the threats of health, poverty, and loss of culture through the integration of communities with a unique infrastructure system. It is a 21st century arctic snow highway, with arctic rest-stop cabins. The AFN trail hubs re-enforce the use of the trails by strategically deploying a regional network of hunting cabins, arctic farms and camp hubs that encircle Foxe Basin and acknowledge the Inuit tradition of temporary enclosure in a cold climate

Arctic Ecologies

Project Calendar showing existing and extended seasonality of traditional foods

Modes of Arctic Mobility

The AFN is a new model for cold climate survival that would assist to sustain the rapidly increasing (youthful) populations in northern settlements, but also potentially offer a future exportable economy for the North. Each of the hubs along the AFN opportunistically negotiates its local ecosystems, emergent biological potentials, and its proximity to communities. AFN hubs are distributed at 160km intervals. Hubs occupy varied sites: land, water/ice, or coastal conditions. Each of these sitings offers a specific harvestable food product.

The Arctic FOod Network proposal exists along the winter trails on Baffin Island, linking communities and ecologies. There are three hub types: A hubs are in the community; B hubs are just outside the community; while C hubs are between communities.

The Inuit currently have a “mixed economy,” one that combines earning a living through employment and activities such as carving or guiding tourists, and other times they are actively pursuing a hunting way of life. Currently, a significant portion of food is imported from the south, by plane, making it very expensive, and typically not very healthy. The more remote the settlement, the more expensive the food. AFN seeks to recover local food traditions, engage increasing and youthful populations in northern settlements. Ultimately, AFN seeks to enhance the production and exchange of local food, to create small-scale local economies.

The AFN project has a variety of architectures and interventions customizable to each community: Project Components: Stacks, Vaults, Meshes and Poles

The network is comprised of what we call sheds, meshes, and poles, which refer to a set of uniquely integrated elements merging architecture, landscape, and technology. These integrated elements assist in negotiating the harsh dark winters and treeless landscape of the Canadian north. The AFN project is equal parts regional agriculture, seasonal camps, data transmission centers, and ecological management stations. In addition to providing a secure food and travel network, AFN seeks to merge new technologies with traditional practices to support an emergent 21st-century economy.

Hub Section showing cabins, kitchens, and underground freezers

Assembly of Parts. The cabins are assembled in a manner similar to the Qamutik (sled), and can be outfitted with solar skin for energy collection.

Food Hub Locations
Each of the hubs is strategically located along the trails in relation to existing food sources, and proximity to communities. The hubs are spaced at intervals that can be reasonably traveled by snowmobile. There are three hub types: Type A, located in towns; Type B located 30-60km from town, and Type C, located out in the land, between communities. Each type is centered on the Inuit way of life through emphasizing country food and making a unique place for food, communication, and mobility.

In collaboration with Nunavut’s Department of Culture, Language, Elders, and Youth, we are developing a set of prototypes for this network to be tested in three select sites along the proposed regional network. Each of the selected sites offers a unique ecological, or traditional arctic diet, opportunity – as well as a specific condition in terms of siting relative to aquatic and terrestrial proximities.

TYPE A-01 – Pond Inlet: community hub

TYPE B-03 – outside of Pond Inlet

TYPE B-03 – cabin interior

TYPE C-01 – between Pond Inlet and Clyde River

TYPE C-01 – cabin interior with floor opening option.

The cabin frames employ ready-made as well as prefabricated joinery. The frames are tied together using a method similar to Qamutik construction (traditional Inuit sled) and Umiak construction (large Inuit canoe). Cabins are made through a collaboration in construction trades between University of Toronto and Arctic College students, facilitating a knowledge exchange from the south to the north and the north to the south. A significant challenge to construction involves designing units that can be transported and built out in the land. All the structures are conceived as a kit of parts that can be transported by traditional Qamutik, and erected by four people on-site easily. A single cabin can be constructed in 3-4 days by a skilled assembly team.

The Arctic Food Network posits, as a departing point, the critical role that architecture and infrastructure will play shaping northern identity – not simply in imagining new northern vernaculars that bridge traditional and contemporary practices, but more significantly, in imaging new roles and programs for social infrastructure – adapted to the unique geography and culture of the Arctic.

Transporting and assembling a cabin

Project Team: Lateral Office
Mason White, Lola Sheppard, Ali Fard, Matthew Spremulli, Fionn Byrne, Nikole Bouchard