Sunday, January 13, 2008

My igloo makes the headline!

During my winter vacation I had some fun messing around in the snow, near Beaver Lake on the Mount-Royal: people asked me what I was building, some knew already, made funny and encouraging comments, but I was unaware of the consequences it would have ...

The Journal de Montréal, Quebec's biggest tabloid, published a full-page story on igloos they 'discovered' on the Mont-Royal mountain. I came across the story on the Spacing Montreal blog that I check occasionally. Here's the blog article with some comments from Inuit people making fun of Southerners' construction techniques :-).

Here's a scan of the article (in French) that I re-recycled from a Green Bin (not being a regular reader). They asked to be contacted about this matter, so I sent them a little note, being interested what would happen. They tried to reach me immediately and wanted to do an interview and send their photographer over. So here's the resulting interview (I should not have agreed to do this ridiculous pose though!). The photographer told me that they have even been watching out at night for the mysterious creator of the igloo, ahahaha!

The inspiration mentioned in the newspaper is actually not from the TV (which I don't watch), but from the excellent archives of the National Film Board of Canada (NFB): Video of Inuit constructing an igloo (10 min., 1949). The perfection with which they are sculpting the snow blocks is something to see. I used a saw instead of a bone knife, and glued the blocks with wet snow when the weather permitted. As soon as the temperature drops below zero again and there is enough snow, I want to try again (it's been very fun!).

I have been wondering if the homeless Inuit in Montréal are building igloos during the winter? Many people in this city do not seem to know that there are several hundred Inuit living here and that their situation is often very precarious. The Native Friendship Centre Montreal has some documentation about it. In 2007 Concordia's Cinema Politica screened a controversial documentary about two homeless Inuit, Be Smile. In the newspaper article the amis de la montagne (who are in charge of activities on the mountain park) were quoted with saying that building an igloo on the mountain is illegal - how aware are they of the history of their country?

Here is a paper I found demonstrating the heat distribution in an igloo. It seems that one can stay inside comfortably, even naked, if the floor is properly insulated (skin, fur).

Another reason for constructing an igloo it is fun for children to play! Passing children who perceived the igloo immediately tugged on their parents to let them go inside and play. I saw later that somebody had even made some window holes in one of the igloos. I think that children want and need to play to encounter different materials, explore what they can construct with their hands (and also destruction is an important part of this learning), they should not be forced into doing only activities with limited potential to explore, such as the ones advertised in the park. I remember that when I was maybe 6 or 8 years old I went skiing with my family in the mountains in Austria and I had the most fun when I discovered the backyard snow cave system with many interloping tunnels that our host family's children had built in the 2 metres deep packed snow.

So I'm looking forward to colder weather and more snow to make further attempts to improve my igloo building skills. Maybe there are other people out there interested in that? Even if many young Inuit don't seem to have those skill anymore I would really like to learn from someone who still does ...