Expansion offers growth opportunities for Iqaluit French School


The people of Iqaluit are coming together this weekend to celebrate the $32.9 million addition to the city's French-language public school.

The new wing of the École des Trois-Soleils was opened in September.

Michael Philbin, interim executive director of the Nunavut Francophone School Board, spoke to Nunatsiaq News this week about what the expansion means for his community.

“I think it fits … into the long-term vision of the school board and also into French education in Nunavut, where we promote continuity of education from the early years,” he said.

“From kindergarten to 12th grade, [it] It's very important to have that continuum and essentially house it in one building.”

Philbin is new to Iqaluit. He started his job in March and moved to Nunavut after working in Ontario's French-language school system.

The École des Trois-Soleils currently has 94 students, Philbin said, 12 of whom are at the high school level.

Previously, French instruction was only available to primary school students. A senior wing allows students to complete their education in French.

“I think overall it’s good for the community of Iqaluit and also for Nunavut,” Philbin said.

The original building had a footprint of 1,300 square metres, but the expansion more than doubled the size to 3,500 square metres, said Matthew Illaszewicz, director of stakeholder engagement for the Nunavut Ministry of Education.

The costs of planning and building the school expansion were shared by the Nunavut government and the federal government, Illaszewicz said.

The new wing features several facilities, including a science lab, craft classes, learning areas, a daycare center called “Petits Nanooks,” and a gymnasium that can also serve as an event center and community gathering space.

The gym has already been used for community sports and cultural events.

Throughout the school, pictures and biographies of famous Inuit hang on the walls, and Philbin says their display is “of utmost importance.”

Inuit featured include former MPs Nancy Karetak-Lindell and Leona Aglukkaq, artists Tanya Tagaq and Elisapie Isaac, former National Hockey League player Jordin Tootoo, and historical figures such as Nakasuk, the paddler who helped the U.S. military build a military base that eventually became the city of Iqaluit.

“It's very important to show that you know the Inuit who developed Nunavut and Iqaluit, and that it is because of them that we are here today and can grow as a community,” Philbin said.

The opening ceremony on Saturday, which begins at 6:30 p.m., is planned as a celebration of community and culture, he said.

There will be traditional food and visitors will be treated to performances by Inuksuk Drum Dancers Terry Uyarak and Jens Jeppesen.

The ceremony was originally scheduled to take place in December but was cancelled due to weather.

“We hope to expand our reach and focus on post-secondary education in the coming years, but right now we are really focused on strengthening our elementary and high school boards,” Philbin said.

“We are in our first year as a high school, so it takes time to grow, but I am confident that the programs and services we offer will attract more students.”

Jeff Pelletier, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Nunatsiaq News