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Bidding on a dream
Energetic entrepreneur purchases Iqaluit building for dance, yoga and wellness business

Daron Letts
Northern News Services
Published Saturday, August 17, 2013

Building No. 754 in downtown Iqaluit doesn't look very remarkable, but the near-100 square metre, rusty-orange-coloured house is now home to an ambitious entrepreneurial idea.

NNSL photo/graphic

Business owners Gary Philip, left, and Christine Lamothe, and Philip's sons Isaiah McKeown-Philip, 17, and Qamo McKeown-Philip, 15, and dogs Thor and Chloee stand in front of a house Lamothe purchased in Iqaluit earlier this month. The building is the future home of the couple's new business, Saimavik Studio. It will be a venue for yoga and dance classes, among other wellness services, they said. - Miranda Scotland/NNSL photo

"It's a tiny little prefab house from the 60s -- a cute little thing and it needs to be completely renovated. We're going to clean it up and make it slick," said Christine Lamothe, aka Lil*Bear, who teaches yoga and dance in the community.

The humble, two-bedroom abode is the future site of Saimavik Studio, Lamothe's new yoga, dance and wellness company, which she launched with her business partner and boyfriend, Gary Quinangnaq Philip, this past spring. Saimavik is an Inuktitut word Lamothe roughly translates as "a place of calm."

"It's a place to go to be happy and have no anger," she explained.

The building, which Lamothe describes as "tough,' and "built to last," has already made its owners happy.

"I think this is an absolute prime location," said Philip, with a smile. "It's right downtown -- you've got everything from the stores to the post office, to the banks and the beach within walking distance."

Saimavik Studio may look like a modest fixer-upper today, but according to Lamothe, by this time next year it will be undergoing a 140 square-metre expansion.

"We're going to build a beautiful, fully-equipped yoga and dance studio," she said. "We'll have Pilates, yoga and dance workshops, wellness retreats, and we'll work hard to get some daytime programming and we're looking into after-school programming for kids."

The studio will include accommodations for tourists and retreat participants, she added.

The healthy-living advocate purchased the house at an estate sale earlier this month after her friend Pascale Arpin pointed it out as a charming property.

"I figured out how to put my name down and I bid on it and someone bid higher than me and then I bid again and I won," Lamothe said. "I didn't pay a lot, but I paid a lot more than my original bid. We paid more than what they were asking ($185,000). I was the first person to bid and I was the last. I felt I really needed to act fast."

Lamothe, 36, may be leaping into her new business venture this summer, but only after working for six years as a dance instructor and teaching yoga in the community for the past two years. Along the way, she studied and earned various wellness-teaching accreditations.

She began practising yoga to help heal from a dance injury in 1998 and earned her certification as a yoga teacher in 2011. Her background is in Kundalini, Ashtanga, Vinyasa, Vipassana meditation and Yin Yoga. She moved to Iqaluit from Ottawa six years ago.

"As far as I'm concerned, Christine is one of the most energetic people I've ever met -- period. She's thrown herself into this community with abandon," said Brian Pearson, a longtime Iqaluit business-owner and former MLA and Frobisher Bay mayor. "This latest project of her's is certainly worthy of support from the community. There are people now who are very conscious of their health and this kind of activity is very beneficial."

The community is indeed supporting the emerging business, Lamothe said.

Three of her friends who work as architects are helping her design the renovations, and other friends and neighbours are pledging donations of time and labour.

"Lots of community members have offered to help," she said. "I say, 'You know this is a business?,' but people want to see it come to fruition. It's inspiring that we're going to have a health and wellness community grow around this."

Philip, a musician and heavy equipment operator with the City of Iqaluit, is working behind the scenes on the renovations. Originally from Arctic Bay and an experienced hunter, Philip, 39, speaks Inuktitut and English, which are skill-sets that may come in handy as part of on-the-land programming the owners plan to develop in the next couple of years.

"I'm happy about this opportunity because there is really no place in town that's going to provide what we're talking about," Philip said. "It's like a mini-wellness centre and a place for dancers and people that do yoga to have a permanent place to practise instead of jumping from one place to another."

Lamothe currently teaches two yoga classes in the Catholic Church Hall and, during the school year, in the Joamie Ilinniarvik School gymnasium. She also teaches breakdancing to children and youth as part of the Hip Hop Spot, a free program in which she introduces fitness, self-expression, teamwork and other social skills to youth through dance.

At her day job, Lamothe works as a physical activities specialist with the Government of Nunavut, collaborating with communities to develop opportunities for increased physical activity for all ages.

The business owners hope to welcome their first guests to Saimavik Studio early in the new year.

-- with files from Miranda Scotland

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