No stranger to working in the North, the Montreal firm of Blouin Orzes architectes has designed an energy-efficient multi-purpose facility for Polar Bears International (PBI) in Churchill, Man.
The $2 million Polar Bears International House is being constructed on donated land on the main street in Churchill, known as the polar bear capital of the world.
The two-storey, 3,000-square-foot facility will provide space to educate visitors about polar bears and climate change and support polar bear research and outreach efforts.
The house will also host visiting scientists and educators from around the globe whose work and support are critical to polar bear conservation.
The project is being funded in part by a $1 million donation by Dani Reiss, president and CEO of Canada Goose Inc.
“This facility will function as PBI’s base camp for research and educational activities,” said architect Marc Blouin, a partner in Blouin Orzes.
The building will include a workspace, dormitory and an equipment storage area. Live cams will be provided to observe the polar bears.
Blouin, whose firm recently designed a wildlife field research station in Pond Inlet, Nunavut, said he was approached by PBI after personnel from the organization visited that facility.
The station, located on northern Baffin Island, will support Environment and Climate Change Canada’s Arctic wildlife programs, including polar bear monitoring. It opened last summer.
“PBI called us and proposed that we work with them on the Churchill project,” Blouin recalled. “It was about the same type of building, located in a similar climate and environment.”
PBI was concerned, Blouin said, about the potential impact on material shipments posed by the closing of the rail link between Churchill and the city of Winnipeg, 1,000 kilometres to the south.
The track was washed out in 2017, cutting off the only land link.
“There now is no way to get to Churchill except by boat and plane,” Blouin said. “I think that was another reason that PBI asked us to work with them, because we are used to shipping materials by boat to our sites.
“They needed a team that was used to working this way.”
Blouin Orzes has been working in the North for close to 20 years. Its portfolio includes small hotel facilities, commercial structures and a few institutional buildings.
The firm, formerly Marc Blouin architecte, was retained to design the PBI House last December.
Blouin said the building has been designed as “a compact and well-insulated facility,” given the harsh climate in Churchill. The town is located on the western shore of Hudson Bay.
“Strong winter winds are a major issue in addition to the cold,” Blouin said.
The building, which has a wood structure, will house a second-floor dormitory for visiting scientists and others.
It is being built by FCNQ Construction Inc., a subsidiary of Federation des co-operatives du Nouveau-Quebec, a long-term partner of Blouin Orzes.
“We teamed up with them on the Pond Inlet project,” Blouin said. “I think that inspired PBI to retain us as well.”
First shipments of materials to Churchill left Montreal by boat at the end of June. Blouin said the ice breakup on Hudson Bay was late this year, impacting deliveries.
“We have to work with that (reality) as well,” he said.
In undertaking the project, Blouin Orzes received “on the ground” assistance from Winnipeg-based Verne Reimer Architecture when it came to meeting local building code requirements, obtaining necessary permits and the like.
Verne Reimer also lent a hand in sourcing Winnipeg-based engineering consultants and local subcontractors.
The project team includes civil engineers KGS Group Consulting Engineers & Project Managers, mechanical-electrical engineers SMS Engineering Ltd. and structural engineers Crosier Kilgour & Partners.
“Given that this was our first time working in Manitoba, we wanted to have as many people as possible on the team from that province,” Blouin said.
PBI hopes to hold the official opening of the facility at the peak of polar bear season this fall. Prime viewing season is October to November.
“For us, the schedule is also a challenge,” Blouin said. “Every day the ship is late, you lose a day of construction. But we are going to make this work.”
PBI is a non-profit conservation group.