Although John Laird was born in Saskatchewan and spent his early years in five different regions of Canada, he loved the landscapes and people north of 60, and made Iqaluit his home. John graduated from the University of Guelph in 1976, worked on park planning in Ontario and B.C. for a decade, and then headed north, establishing Laird & Associates (Iqaluit and Yellowknife) in 1986, thereafter devoting his considerable energy to the landscapes of the Arctic during a period of rapid change.
The protection of many wildlife areas and Heritage Rivers rested in no small part on his planning and design (Hiukitak River, the Coppermine Heritage River). Wherever he worked – whether planning spectacular territorial parks on Baffin Island (Sylvia Grinnell and Mallikjuak), or working in the rugged fjord landscapes of Clyde River, or designing the urban square in the heart of Iqaluit – John Laird effectively pioneered a renaissance in the way that planning occurs in the north. He championed planning from a northern perspective, helping Inuit and northern communities tell their own histories to the world.
John approached the founding of the Nunavut Association of Landscape Architects (NuALA) with the same spirit, bringing together a small group of Nunavut LAs over lunch in 2002, and setting out his vision for a new component organization that respected the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement and the place of Inuit and Traditional Knowledge in LA work.
Even while seriously ill, John worked to promote the landmark CSLA Congress in Iqaluit, graphically envisioning the poetry and beauty of inducting new Fellows in the northern landscape: “I can already imagine the picture of the 2011 cohort, taken out on the tundra in the land of the midnight sun,” he wrote.
Although John Laird did not live to experience Congress, his friends promised that his infant son would know that his father had led an exciting and fulfilling life that included travels that ranged from Africa (with the Nunavut Youth Abroad Program) to some of the most remote regions of the Arctic, by dog team, snowmobile and boat, on his own or in the company of hunters with whom he developed warm friendships. He was an avid dog sled owner and he shared his musical talents with the community by fiddle and bagpipes.
In 2011, he was posthumously awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award by the CSLA.
All Photos: Courtesy Chris Grosset
1. John C. Laird
2-4. Iqaluit Square
5. Clyde River Concept Map
6. The Investiture Ceremony, 2009