The Town of Inuvik is Canada’s largest community north of the Arctic Circle, 2000 kilometres northwest of Edmonton, and was the first completely “engineered” northern community. Inuvik is situated on permafrost, which proved to be a significant challenge to engineers and contractors. Design and construction of Inuvik pioneered cold region engineering practices such as pile construction, freeze protection of water and sewer systems and construction techniques associated with isolated northern communities.

The engineers and contractors expected to find a metre of permafrost, but discovered that Inuvik sits on 350 metres of ground that is frozen year round. To prevent heat from warm buildings thawing the permafrost, and causing them to sink, most structures, including water and sewer, were designed to sit on timber piles drilled five metres into the ground with about half to one metre of space between the ground and the bottom of the building. Inuvik’s ground is also thaw sensitive (warm) permafrost, which means that the temperature of the permafrost is only a few degrees below zero. Small variations in the ground temperature caused by the
removal of the ground cover or by excavations will cause the permafrost to melt.

The design and construction of the Town of Inuvik was pioneering work in the area of cold regions engineering. Previous cold regions engineering work was limited to linear structures such as the Alaska Highway of the 1940’s, and this work was undertaken in a region of intermittent permafrost. This was the first time that a permanent settlement was to be designed and constructed above the Arctic Circle in permafrost conditions.