ILLUSTRATION: NATALIA BALCERZAK

Project Northbound to Nunavut

In Communities /

By Sidney O’Reilly

In a small community in Nunavut just off the shore of Hudson Bay, grocery costs are nearly six times the amount of prices in Toronto. Because of this, more than half of the people in the community are unable to feed their families from week to week. A group of Ryerson students are hoping to change this.

“Being a proud Canadian, seeing and hearing of poverty in our northern communities makes me sick,” said Ben Canning, first year co-project manager of Project North.

Enactus Ryerson, a student-run organization that allows students and faculty to work together on innovative and economic projects across Canada, is embarking on Project North this summer in hopes of alleviating the struggles many residents in this community face.

A team of five Enactus members are making their way to Repulse Bay in July for about three weeks to build a wind and solar-powered greenhouse. They’ve partnered with an organization called Growing Spaces that specializes in greenhouse technology for cold climates. The unconventional dome shaped structure will provide fresh vegetation — sustaining fruit, vegetables, herbs, spices, flowers and houseplants at an 80 per cent price reduction for the citizens living in the isolated community of about 748 people.

The project itself has a budget of about $300,000. The team is working on securing the grants they need and have talked to previous dome-owners to avoid potential unforeseen costs.

But the greenhouse isn’t the only project the team will be undertaking —they’re also hoping to educate the community on maintaining the gardens year round.

“We’re going into high schools to teach agriculture and the benefits of ‘off-the-grid’ farming,” said Sonya Noronha, vice president of human resources and member development for Enactus Ryerson.

Since Repulse Bay is so far north, the group will experience periods of 24-hour darkness and 24-hour sunlight. Because of this, the greenhouse needs to be “off-the-grid.” It doesn’t rely on electricity, but rather wind turbines and solar panels that power the dome during the summer months and store energy for the dark winter months.

“We initially contacted almost all of the remote communities in the area and we got an overwhelming response,” Noronha said. “The reason we chose Repulse Bay is because it’s small enough and there is a huge need there based on income alone.” 

The average household income in Repulse Bay is just over $10,000. The greenhouse will create six new full-time jobs.

Though Noronha says it’s possible that smaller, privately owned domes may exist, this will be the first time a dome of this scale has been constructed as a farming and community project. It will also be the first greenhouse as far north in the Arctic Circle as Repulse Bay.

This project will serve as a test run for the group — if the team is successful, they’ll perfect the process and consider expanding to other communities.

“It’s time that their needs are addressed and their standard of living increases,” Canning said. “I feel personally responsible for making this change happen as a Canadian helping my fellow Canadians.”

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