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Ikaarvik House: a bridge to the community

June 28, 2024
Carved stone panel with walrus, polar bear, and narwhal

Kootoo spends a lot of time in the carving shed behind the building. He makes two carvings for every piece of stone he is given. One he sells. The other he gives to Ikaarvik House as a form of payment for the stone.

Kootoo is one of 13 residents who live at Ikaarvik House in Ottawa’s east end. He has lived there for the past three years. It is where he is transitioning from prison to the community. The majority of residents at Ikaarvik House are Inuit, like Kootoo.

Unique residential facility

Ikaarvik House is a large, three-story building that sits unobtrusively between other townhomes in a residential district. It is a community residential facility, often referred to as a halfway house. Ikaarvik is operated by the John Howard Society in partnership with Correctional Service Canada (CSC). Ottawa has the largest population of Inuit outside of the North, so it is appropriate to have a residential facility here that focuses on Inuit.

“Most people know halfway houses are the bridging stones from the institution to the community,” says Ikaarvik’s Director Joe Morin. “In the Inuit language (Inuktitut), Ikaarvik means from one side to a better place. Gives you an idea in terms of how we are looking at it.”

Joe welcomed Kathy Neil, Deputy Commissioner for Indigenous Corrections, and gave her a tour of Ikaarvik House when she was in Ottawa in April.

“Ikaarvik takes day parolees, full parole, stat release with residency, and LTSO (long term supervision order). Majority of our individuals are stat release with residency,” Joe tells Kathy. “We have individuals that run from six months to several years. Currently, I have an individual who has been here since we opened in 2017.”

head and shoulders of woman standing beside a man

Kathy Neil Deputy Commissioner of Indigenous Corrections with Joe Morin, Director, at Ikaarvik House.

Connection to residents’ culture

When Kathy arrived, seal was being prepared for lunch in the large kitchen. Country food, or traditional food, such as arctic char, seal, walrus, and caribou is an important connection to resident’s culture. Though it is often hard to come by in southern cities.

The kitchen is not only where meals are prepared but where residents can comfortably meet with Elders. As well, counselors from Tungasuvvingat Inuit come in to meet residents and discuss trauma or substance abuse. Tungasuvvingat Inuit is the main resource for Inuit living in the Ottawa region. The organization provides a variety of community supports and helps urban individuals keep connected to their northern culture. Elders are a big part of helping maintain that important connection.

Inuit support worker Mary Alainga sits at the long kitchen table speaking with a few residents.

Joe explains, “She acts as an interpreter, often with their conditions. Some individuals can’t read or understand them, so Mary steps in and helps with that. She helps us ease the new guys coming in.”

One day a week, Tungasuvvingat Inuit, an Inuit-specific urban services provider that offers community supports for Inuit in Ottawa, are on site to meet with residents.

“Over coffee or tea, they discuss whatever subject was on the docket for that day,” says Joe. “And if more intense counseling is required. They will proceed to the program room with either the Elder or the trauma counsellor.”

The residents also benefit from John Howard Society’s programming. They learn employment skills and have access to any counselling that John Howard provides.

“Ikaarvik House really brings a sense of the North to the city,” says Kathy. “Offering culturally relevant programs, such as a carving shed, country food, and the companionship of other Inuit with similar backgrounds, benefits residents. It reinforces daily living skills and access to training and employment opportunities. This holistic approach not only helps reduce recidivism but fosters a supportive community environment where residents can thrive.”

Carving and community

Kathy spoke with two of the residents. She asked what they like about Ikaarvik House.

“The community with other Inuit. A good mixture of people from different areas in Nunavut,” says Kootoo. “Carving is one of the main things here. Twice a year they take us out fishing and just enjoy being by the water.”

Joe expands on the outdoors trips.

“We normally try to get out on the land. We do an ice fishing run every winter,” Joe says. “A few staff and a parole officer and I take the guys out on the ice for overnight and back the next day. In the summer, we do a canoe trip, a day trip. And in the fall, we do kayaking.”

Kathy’s tour finished at the carving shed where Kootoo and others make art out of stone or caribou antlers. The men used to carve outside when the weather was good. Then incarcerated Indigenous individuals at Joyceville Institution in CORCAN’s Work to Give construction program, built them a carving shed in the fall of 2022.

Jackie, the other resident Kathy spoke with, makes uluit (plural of ulu), a traditional Inuit women’s knife with a curved blade. Jackie carves the handles out of wood. Both Jackie and Kootoo have been carving and practicing their skills for years. They teach the other residents who are interested. Both also plan to sell their work when they are released as part of their livelihood.

Man wearing hoodie with Nunavut flag on it, holding a small ulu

Ikaarvik resident Jackie holding one
of the ulus he made.

“Our community residential facilities provide a non-judgmental, supportive environment where success is not just hoped for—it  is expected. Ikaarvik House is a good example of that,” says Kathy. “Every interaction at Ikaarvik House demonstrates our belief in providing what residents need: encouragement, understanding, and the conviction that they can succeed.”

Ikaarvik House provides the residents with positive opportunities to build skills and prepare to return to their communities in the North or to stay in the southern urban centres.

Carving of narwhal mounted on a stick and stone.

Kootoo’s carving of a narwhal was presented to Kathy at the end of her visit to Ikaarvik House.
Selling carvings like these will help him support himself when he is released.

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Let’s Talk is a publication of Correctional Service Canada (CSC). Let’s Talk shares stories new and old of the people and programs at CSC. These stories provide an engaging window into how CSC fulfills its mission of contributing to public safety and assisting in rehabilitation. Let’s Talk is your home for informative articles, podcasts, and videos about CSC.

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