NUNAVUT: CANADA’S ARC­TIC

Canada’s Arc­tic

Travel Guide to Canada - - Table Of Contents - BY MARGO PFEIFF

The size of West­ern Europe, Nunavut is the big­gest and least pop­u­lated of Canada’s prov­inces and ter­ri­to­ries, 2,093,190 sq. km (808,185 sq. mi.) cov­er­ing one-fifth of the coun­try’s to­tal area and reach­ing al­most to the North Pole. With a pop­u­la­tion that could fit into an av­er­age sports sta­dium, it means there is one sta­tis­ti­cally soli­tary per­son for every 55.09 sq. km (21.27 sq. mi.).

TRA­DI­TIONS LIVE ON

While the cap­i­tal of Iqaluit is an in­creas­ingly mod­ern fron­tier town with a pop­u­la­tion of 7,082, the 25 other com­mu­ni­ties scat­tered across the ter­ri­tory are much smaller, some home to just a few hun­dred res­i­dents. No roads link the tiny set­tle­ments, nor are there roads con­nect­ing Nunavut to the rest of Canada.

In the re­mote ham­lets, life is of­ten still lived ac­cord­ing to age-old timeta­bles and tra­di­tions. Though snow­mo­biles, boats and guns have largely re­placed dogsleds, kayaks and har­poons, many Inuit con­tinue to hunt and fish to sup­port their ex­tended fam­i­lies. Once no­madic, they love to go out “on the land,” camp­ing through­out sum­mer, col­lect­ing bird eggs and pick­ing berries. Women

wear home­made amauti jack­ets that keep their ba­bies tucked against their backs.

Drum danc­ing, throat singing, sto­ry­telling, sewing tra­di­tional clothes and carv­ing are still prac­ticed through­out Nunavut and lo­cals are happy to share the ex­pe­ri­ences.

OUT ON THE LAND

While the com­mu­ni­ties are cul­tural out­posts, most vis­i­tors also want to ex­pe­ri­ence the mys­ti­cal Arc­tic wilder­ness with its dra­matic scenery and wealth of wildlife. Even though there are cer­ti­fied lo­cal out­fit­ters in most ham­lets, it is im­por­tant to book well in ad­vance as many guides are of­ten hun­ters and won’t al­ways be avail­able on short no­tice. South­ern­based out­fit­ters of­fer a va­ri­ety of ad­ven­tures from ca­noe­ing and hik­ing to dogsled­ding and cul­tural vis­its with spe­cific dates, and us­ing some lo­cals as guides.

An in­creas­ingly pop­u­lar way to ex­plore Canada’s Arc­tic is via cruise ships that hop­scotch along the coast, stop­ping at sev­eral com­mu­ni­ties where lo­cals wel­come guests with per­for­mances, feasts and hand­made art­work and sou­venirs. Of­ten, Inuit el­ders, artists and cul­tural ex­perts will travel on board to en­hance the ex­pe­ri­ence.

EX­TREME TER­RI­TORY

Tem­per­a­tures range from +30 °C (86 °F) in sum­mer to -50 °C (-58 °F) in win­ter when much of the ter­ri­tory lies in al­most 24-hour dark­ness as skies shim­mer with the mag­i­cal colours of the aurora bo­re­alis. So most vis­i­tors come dur­ing the short sum­mers, when pleas­antly cool days are lit around the clock by the mid­night sun and the tun­dra comes to life with wild­flow­ers and wildlife and the wa­ters teem with whales, wal­rus and seals.

WHAT’S NEW?

The newly opened Iqaluit Aquatic Cen­tre con­tains a pool, wa­ter slide, whirlpool, sauna and fit­ness cen­tre (www.city.iqaluit. nu.ca/res­i­dents/re­cre­ation/fa­cil­i­ties/ aquatic-cen­tre).

The new Ki­valliq Re­gional Vis­i­tor Cen­tre, com­plete with arts and crafts dis­plays, a gift shop, and cul­tural pre­sen­ta­tions on the Ki­valliq re­gion’s seven com­mu­ni­ties, opened in Rankin In­let. Overnight fish­ing trips are avail­able out of Iqaluit to York Sound on Fro­bisher Bay with Po­lar Out­fit­ting (www.po­larout­fit­ting.ca).

CITY LIGHTS

Nunavut’s cap­i­tal of Iqaluit can eas­ily be strolled on foot. Visit the igloo-shaped Angli­can church and the Nu­natta Su­nakku­taan­git Mu­seum with its Inuit arte­facts, as well as carv­ings and prints for pur­chase in the gift shop. The Unikkaarvik Vis­i­tor Cen­tre fea­tures wildlife and cul­tural ex­hibits, while the Nunavut Leg­isla­tive As­sem­bly build­ing dis­plays tem­po­rary art shows along­side their per­ma­nent north­ern art col­lec­tion in­clud­ing the Leg­isla­tive Mace carved from a nar­whal tusk. Check the Iqaluit Vis­i­tors Guide for lo­cal events and places to stay, eat and shop.

THE GREAT OUT­DOORS

Nunavut has five na­tional parks, 15 ter­ri­to­rial parks and spe­cial places, four Cana­dian Her­itage Rivers, as well as mi­gra­tory bird sanc­tu­ar­ies and wildlife re­serves. But in re­al­ity, un­touched Arc­tic wilder­ness starts on the doorstep of every ham­let.

From June through Sep­tem­ber there is hik­ing, kayak­ing, white­wa­ter raft­ing and ma­rine mam­mal watch­ing for nar­whal, bow­head and bel­uga whales as well as wal­rus, seals and po­lar bears. Many of these ac­tiv­i­ties can be ex­pe­ri­enced on day trips from com­mu­ni­ties. Sport fish­ing is pop­u­lar, with fish­ing lodges and camps ac­ces­si­ble by boat and float planes. In win­ter, there is ice fish­ing and trav­el­ling

across the frozen tun­dra and sea ice by snow­mo­bile, on cross-coun­try skis and via dogsled. Choose a ham­let ho­tel base, camp on the tun­dra with an out­fit­ter, or en­joy the com­fort of lux­ury wilder­ness lodges in­clud­ing Arc­tic Watch, Arc­tic Haven and Bathurst In­let Lodge (www.arc­ticwatch.ca; www. arc­tichaven.ca; www.bathurstarc­tic.com).

More ad­ven­tur­ous trav­ellers can ca­noe the Soper River in Katan­ni­lik Ter­ri­to­rial Park on South­ern Baf­fin Is­land or the Th­elon River on the Bar­ren Lands. Rock climb gran­ite peaks in Auyuit­tuq Na­tional Park, BASE jump from cliffs in Clyde River, or pad­dle Alexan­dra Fjord and hike in Qut­tinir­paaq Na­tional Park on Ellesmere Is­land (www.black­feather.com).

HER­ITAGE AND CUL­TURE

Through­out Nunavut are sites once used by no­madic Inuit. Stone rings mark­ing the

lo­ca­tions of skin tents used in sum­mers are com­monly spot­ted. In Qaum­maarviit Ter­ri­to­rial Park, near Iqaluit, semisub­ter­ranean sod houses used by Thule peo­ple be­tween 1200 and 1700 AD can be seen (www.nunavut­parks.com/parksspe­cial-places/qaum­maarviit-ter­ri­to­ri­al­park). There are also many Hud­son’s Bay Com­pany trad­ing posts, rem­nants from the 19th cen­tury whal­ing era and, on Beechey Is­land, the graves of three men from Sir John Franklin’s ill-fated 1845 search for the North­west Pas­sage. In Sep­tem­ber 2014, one of Franklin’s ships, the HMS Ere­bus, was found by a re­motely op­er­ated un­der­wa­ter ve­hi­cle near King Wil­liam Is­land and, in Sep­tem­ber 2016, Franklin’s sec­ond ship, the HMS Ter­ror, was dis­cov­ered off the shores of King Wil­liam Is­land. The North­west Pas­sage can be ex­plored on ex­pe­di­tion cruises staffed with artists, aca­demics and Inuit (www.ad­ven­ture­canada.com; www. oneo­cean­ex­pe­di­tions.com/arc­tic; www. quark­ex­pe­di­tions.com/en).

Carv­ing is com­mon through­out Nunavut, but Cape Dorset is the epi­cen­tre of iconic Inuit sculp­tures that have been gifted to pres­i­dents, popes and roy­alty (www. dorsetfin­earts.com). Their print­mak­ing is also ac­claimed, as is that of Pang­nir­tung (www.uqqur­miut.ca).

MUST SEE, MUST DO

Dogsled or kayak on a day trip out of Iqaluit (www.inuk­pak­out­fit­ting.ca). Ex­pe­ri­ence an Arc­tic sa­fari aboard a snow­mo­bile-drawn Inuit sled from coastal Pond In­let to the floe edge in spring­time, guided by Inuit. Wildlife, from whales to po­lar bears, take part in an open wa­ter feed­ing frenzy ( www.arctick­ing­dom.com/ arc­tic-sa­fari).

Watch po­lar bears and wal­rus emerge from stone, antler and whale­bone as carvers work out­side their homes in most ham­lets.

See colour­ful north­ern lights flicker across the sky in fall and win­ter.

Ex­pe­ri­ence Inuit throat singing and drum danc­ing (www.alianait.ca).

Taste tra­di­tional Inuit food like Arc­tic char, cari­bou, muskox and fresh, hot ban­nock bread.

SCENIC WALKS

Stroll easy paths through a tun­dra val­ley to water­falls and cul­tural sites at Sylvia Grin­nell Ter­ri­to­rial Park just out­side Iqaluit (www.nunavut­parks.com/parks-spe­cialplaces/sylvia-grin­nell-ter­ri­to­rial-park).

Hike the trail up the peak of 200-m (656-ft.) Mount Pelly in Ovayok Ter­ri­to­rial Park east of Cam­bridge Bay for views, wild­flow­ers and ar­chae­o­log­i­cal sites (www.nunavut­tourism. com/parks-spe­cial-places/ter­ri­to­rial-parks/ ovayok-ter­ri­to­rial).

Ex­pe­ri­enced back­pack­ers can tra­verse the 97km (60-mi.) Ak­shayuk Pass through Auyuit­tuq Na­tional Park, a 10 to 14-day hike amid glaciers, sheer cliffs and river cross­ings. Travel with an op­er­a­tor or ar­range lo­gis­tics with lo­cal boat op­er­a­tors in Pang­nir­tung and Qik­iq­tar­juaq. The less ad­ven­tur­ous can glimpse the pass’ spec­tac­u­lar moun­tain ter­rain on a day’s boat ride up the fjord from Pang­nir­tung to hike to the Arc­tic Cir­cle (www.parkscanada. gc.ca/auyuit­tuq).

FAM­ILY FUN

Head to Iqaluit from Ot­tawa on a fam­i­lyfriendly long week­end be­tween Feb­ru­ary and Oc­to­ber. Flights, ho­tel and a town tour are in­cluded. Ac­tiv­i­ties are sea­sonal and might in­clude hik­ing, boat­ing, kayak­ing, ATV ad­ven­tures, igloo-build­ing, ice fish­ing, dogsled­ding and cross-coun­try ski­ing (www.arctick­ing­dom. com/trip/arc­tic-get­away). While there, take the kids to play with Cana­dian pure­bred Es­kimo dog pup­pies on a two-hour tour (www.inuk­pak­out­fit­ting.ca).

ARC­TIC BAY • DES­TI­NA­TION CANADA/MICHELLE VAL­BERG Ex­pe­ri­ence the real Arc­tic, a wild and dra­matic land­scape of glaciers, tree­less tun­dra, moun­tains and oceans that re­main frozen most of the year. Meet lo­cal Inuit who make up 84 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion of Nunavut—“our land” in Inuk­ti­tut. And get to know their cul­ture in this unique and lit­tle-known ter­ri­tory— Canada’s new­est.

38,000Iqaluitwww.nunavut­tourism.comFlights to Nunavut de­part from Ot­tawa, Mon­tréal, Ed­mon­ton, Win­nipeg, Churchill and Yel­lowknife

POND IN­LET • DES­TI­NA­TION CANADA/MICHELLE VAL­BERG

MT. THOR • SHUT­TER­STOCK/MANUEL LACOSTE

IQALUIT • DES­TI­NA­TION CANADA/MAR­LIN OLYNYK

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