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A mosque loaded on a barge on the Mackenzie River on Sept. 13, 2010, appears in a still photo from the documentary Arctic Mosque. (RYAN MURPHY/Ryan Murphy/AFP/Getty Images)
A mosque loaded on a barge on the Mackenzie River on Sept. 13, 2010, appears in a still photo from the documentary Arctic Mosque. (RYAN MURPHY/Ryan Murphy/AFP/Getty Images)

Little mosque on the permafrost Add to ...

For a few precarious moments, the little mosque on the tundra was nearly the little mosque in the creek.

The prefab structure, built in Winnipeg and bound for Inuvik, teetered to one side of a flatbed as two trucks inched it over a narrow bridge near the boundary of Alberta and the Northwest Territories. That’s when a nearby construction crew arrived to even out the load and spirit the mosque safely across.

“Geez, that was close,” recalled Hussain Guisti, whose Zubaidah Tallab Foundation funded the mosque project. “We almost had an underwater mosque, a house of worship for toads and fish.”

Over 23 days and 4,000 kilometres, the mosque avoided several such calamities as it meandered toward the Arctic, capturing records and the national imagination along the way.

That’s what made its final arrival on Thursday evening all the more sweet for the 40-odd Muslims who greeted it, as crews hauled the 1,500-square-foot structure off a barge to a site where it will start welcoming worshippers by the end of October.

“We didn’t clue into the symbolic meaning of this mosque at first,” said Abdalla Mohamed, a local businessman who helped co-ordinate the move of what’s now considered the world’s most northerly mosque. “When the community realized that it was history in the making, it became a huge point of pride. I mean, this is the world’s only mosque on permafrost!”

Some believe the operation may also be the world’s longest land-based building move.

Dr. Guisti knew the relocation would be a logistical nightmare long before it started. He helped design a mosque stout enough to avoid power lines and narrow enough to fit on two lanes of highway.

Even so, the haulers had to design a serpentine back-road route that avoided major highways and idled the bulky load during heavy traffic. They thought they had 30 days to drive from Winnipeg to Hay River, where the mosque would be transferred to a barge, but those plans changed just as the flatbed began its trip on Sept. 1.

“The barge company told us the river was getting too low and that the last barge would leave on Sept. 10,” Dr. Guisti said. “This created a problem.”

It was the first of many challenges. Just as the barge deadline changed, Alberta transport authorities banned the load from highways around Edmonton for a day, citing construction concerns. “That’s when I really began to get concerned that we wouldn’t make it,” Dr. Guisti said.

The truck hit the road again, only to get bogged down in traffic. With 400 kilometres to go, and a few hours to spare until the barge departed, the convoy hit a bridge that proved too narrow for the 30-foot-wide load.

“We had to take the tires off beams that were supporting the mosque and keeping it upright,” Dr. Guisti said.

That’s when the building lurched to one side as it crept across the bridge. Several people darted inside and moved all the furniture, carpet and appliances to level it out, only to watch it teeter in the opposite direction. “The construction crew came and saved the day,” Dr. Guisti said. “They tied some chains to it and we were off.”

Windy weather and swirling currents delayed the mosque’s eventual passage down the Mackenzie, but it finally moored in Inuvik on Wednesday.

Dr. Guisti is now getting calls from towns as far away as Tahiti, Alaska and Sweden with requests that he work the same financial and logistical magic for them.

“What we do next remains to be seen,” he said. “I’m looking all over the map.”

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