From the city’s beginnings, Iqaluit’s Astro Hill has played a central role in the lives of residents and visitors alike.
As when Nakasuk helped American engineers pinpoint the location as the right reference point to survey the runway for an American airbase – and the hill acquired its name.
That moment in history, and the years since, is now detailed in a 24-page book Nunastar Properties Inc. will release to the public shortly, said the company’s president and chief operating officer Ed Romanowski.
That’s only one way the company is celebrating 50 years of Astro Hill’s role in the community, as Nunavummiut prepare to celebrate the territory’s 20th birthday and the designation of Iqaluit as capital.
July 7, in advance of Nunavut Day, Nunastar is throwing a couple of free community events.
Families are invited to a BBQ and entertainment by Aasiva and Looee Arreak between 2 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. During that time, the company will unveil its Astro Hill 50th anniversary historical exhibit. An evening celebration is then scheduled for the 19-and-over crowd begins at 7 p.m., with the Corey Panika Band and the Inuuqatigiit Band.
But Romanowski says the most important focus this year is completing 50 good deeds in the community.
“Steve Sullivan, the general manager of the hotel, and Mike Powell, the general manager Astro Hill, the residential and commercial side, they and their staff came up with this idea that we celebrate what we’re doing within the community, and for the community, ” said Romanowski.
“We give in the order of $150,000 to $200,000 a year to various groups, in addition to volunteer efforts, and doing a number of things, like donating materials.”
This year, the good deeds are counted. While the plan was to stack up 50 deeds, in honour of the anniversary, the company looks well on its way to surpassing that, Romanowski said, adding good deeds include in-kind donations, employee volunteer time and resources.
A quick look through the 24-page A Vantage Point to History illuminates Astro Hill’s earliest days in the community’s consciousness, and ongoing development.
The publication includes a brief biography of Nakasuk “the philosopher guide,” as well as the ship Effie M. Morrissey’s captain, Robert Bartlett, the seafaring escort for the Americans’ “hunt for an Arctic airbase.”
It moves on to note an editorial published in The Financial Post on Jan. 4, 1969.
“Very obviously both government and private industry share a belief in the future of the Arctic and a growing confidence of their role in it,” stated the editorial.
“When this kind of money talks, northern visions are turning into northern realities.”
The company states in the book that it’s hard to overstate the positive
economic impact of Astro Hill in the 50 years since 1969.
“Estimates suggest that over 3,000 people have worked in its residential, commercial or hospitality operations. Approximately 750 of these were first time jobs, launching many careers. Dozens of local businesses were created by former employees who got their start on Astro Hill,” states the company.
“The Frobisher Inn is estimated to have welcomed over 200,000 guests and rented over 600,000 room nights. Presidents, chancellors, queens, princes, prime ministers and numerous other dignitaries have all been hosted on Astro Hill.”
Edmonton-based entrepreneur Doug Cox acquired the property in 1999, creating Nunastar Properties Inc.
Romanowski says Astro Hill, along with Nunastar, has grown with the community.
“There’s hardly a person in Iqaluit that hasn’t gone to Astro Hill, gone to the Frobisher Inn, lived in Astro Hill, or even been employees,” he said, adding the company currently employs roughly 125 people.
“We tend to invest our profits and the future of our business in the community. For instance, we’re doing a couple of new buildings. We’re constantly renovating our units. We just did a major improvement to the mall.”
The Astro Theatre, owned by Nunavut Entertainment Inc., also resides in the complex, and is a popular location for residents. The theatre, unfortunately, needs to be closed due to surrounding renovations and construction. Set to shutter July 15, it will reopen in mid-October.
The book outlines current and future Nunastar plans, based on a 25-year master plan, to further develop the property.
“The plan ensures Astro Hill will continue to be a major contributor to the growth of a dynamic, modern community that improves the quality of life for residents and guests,” it states.
This includes, in 2019, constructing Astro Hill Gate – 32 apartments and 4,000 feet of retail or office – on Queen Elizabeth Way adjacent to the Creek space. A second storey will be built onto the building CBC once occupied, and the North West Company will establish a new store concept on the main floor.
This work is expected to be completed in 2020.