The Inuit ‘qalgiq,’ or gathering house, is a traditional structure that allowed communities to come together through acts of storytelling, drum dancing, shamanism, and the intergenerational transfer of knowledge. While the practice of building qalgiit largely disappeared when Inuit began living in towns, many elders still have fond childhood memories of gathering inside the giant snow houses for celebrations.
In 2008, an archaeological excavation of an early Thule era (14th century) site near Cambridge Bay turned up one of these structures. Unlike more recent gathering houses made of snow, this building had been constructed with a stone base and hide roof upheld with poles. Being one of the earliest known community houses in the Canadian Arctic, this qalgiq started an interesting discussion about how Inuit once used these structures, and what forms of community celebration have replaced those traditions in modern times. Working with a team of archaeologists, elders and museum workers, the Kitikmeot Heritage Society began the task of reconstructing the ancient qalgiq as an exhibit inside the heritage centre. Using a combination of archaeological blueprints and contemporary materials, our team developed a structure that allows for community to gather and express itself in both modern and traditional ways.
It was decided that the best way to represent the story of the qalgiq was to use it for showcasing the different voices and stories that exist in our community. The qalgiq was reconstructed as a movie theatre that houses the numerous documentary films, oral history interviews and traditional technology videos created during our many programs and workshops. Some of these videos are in the Inuinnaqtun language and serve as resources for language revival. Other videos are created by local youth about such topics as climate change and culture loss, and function as an important reminder that these concerns play a strong role in modern communities. A touch screen program for browsing and selecting videos through visual icons has been put in place to help individuals choose which movies to project on the theatre’s large format screen.
In addition to being a theatre, the qalgiq provides a space for community members to gather for meetings and celebrations. On a daily basis, the structure is used as a classroom, an after-school reading corner, and a setting for workshops and interviews. A diorama in the corner of the qalgiq highlights the structure’s original function of intergenerational learning. Exhibit panels on the outside of the building detail its archaeological history and can be accessed as a virtual exhibit on this website.
Many of the movies that are screened in the qalgiq theatre can be found under this website’s featured videos tab.
Funding for the qalgiq project has been provided by the Department of Canadian Heritage Museum Assistance Program.