| Nunavut Starter Kit |
Feb 6 2009, 07:33 AM
Group: Local Expert
Joined: 31-May 06
Member No.: 893
|Nunavut Starter Kit
Nunavut (meaning “Our Land”) is Canada’s newest territory and came into official existence on April 1, 1999. The separation of the former NWT took may years of discussion and planning but division occurred amicably and with little problem. Nunavut represents the vision of a group of Inuit pioneers who saw self-government and their own territory as a way of preserving and growing the Inuit culture, language and way of life (Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit). In many ways, Nunavut represents a unique example of aboriginal self-government anywhere in the world which is especially important to the local population of which about 85% are Inuit. This is especially amazing given that Nunavut covers an area of 2,093,190 square kilometres (about 1/5 the land area of Canada, with three time zones), contains 26 communities and only about 30,000 people. As one can imagine, the logistical problems and costs are unlike you would experience almost anywhere else in the World.
The Main Communities:
The capital city of Nunavut is Iqaluit (formerly Frobisher Bay) which is located on Baffin Island and is the home to about 6500 people. The centre of government is also located here and the Legislative Building is an interesting attraction in itself. Nunavut has a unique government system which operates on the traditional Inuit style of consensus with no political parties having distinct power.
Iqaluit is a bustling community on the shore of Frobisher Bay which hosts a very pronounced tidal range. It has a major airport runway originally built for military purposes but which is long enough to supposedly serve as an alternate Space Shuttle landing site.
If you have a big wallet and are looking to purchase carvings of all types, Iqaluit is the place to come. Carvers will regularly drop by the hotel restaurants to show their wares which can be incredible soapstone, antler or tusk carvings and jewelery or Inuit prints of all types. Bargains can definitely be had or you can shop at the stores such as DJ Sensations or other local galleries. You will not find many better deals other than perhaps if you visit some of the smaller communities.
Rankin Inlet is located in the central Kivalliq region on the western shore of Hudson Bay and hosts a population of about 2500 people. Rankin is a former nickel mining community but now serves as the major transportation hub for the central Arctic and is home to significant government and Inuit organization offices. This community is most well-known for being the home of Nashville Predators hockey player Jordan Tootoo, the first Inuit-born professional NHL player from Nunavut.
Rankin has a wonderful craft shop where all types of Inuit work, including sealskin clothing, can be purchased and if you are lucky local carvers may have also some completed works they may be trying to sell (soapstone or antler). As well, Rankin is host to a pottery craft centre (MatchBox Gallery) where Inuit artists have been producing unique cultural works for many years. Finally, Rankin has a meat processing plant from which prepared or frozen caribou meat and char can be purchased.
Cambridge Bay is located in the eastern Kitikmeot region and is the most northerly major community sitting at 69 degrees north latitude on the southern shore of Victoria Island. This community, like many others, is the site of a former large DEW (Distance Early Warning) station set up in the 1950’s during the Cold War. Cambridge has a population of about 1500 and is known for its abundance of arctic char and muskox. The town hosts many regional government offices and is the starting point for viewing nearby shipwrecks or muskox herds. Cambridge Bay is a wonderful place to experience 24 hour daylight from about May through July.
Travel Costs, Accommodation and Food:
As can be expected, travel costs to Nunavut are extremely high so be prepared for a shock. Return airfare from major communities (Edmonton, Winnipeg and Ottawa) to the main centres in Nunavut will likely exceed over $1500. Of course, if you can arrange to come using your airmiles, things are much more reasonable.
Accommodation comes in a variety of styles and quality but is mostly expensive. The main communities have some bed and breakfast options which are your best deal but they are often booked up in advance. You are advised to book ahead as much as possible because if a large meeting or conference is happening, any accommodation will be difficult to find. However, if you can stay with someone then the $200/night hotel room costs (for a basic room, in many cases) can also be avoided. Do not expect local hotels to have any internet access as well although that might be changing for the newer places in some communities.
As for food, that will be tougher to deal with from an expense perspective but you should at least try arctic char, caribou and muskox in the local restaurants although it can be a bit expensive. Unfortunately, even the greasy fast food places will seem costly compared to their southern counterparts.
The cheapest way to eat is to pick up supplies at the local Northern Store and cook your own. But you will probably still be shocked by food prices and in some cases, the poor quality of fresh fruit and vegetables.
Why Bother to Come?
People really will normally only travel to the Arctic if they have a strong desire to see this incredibly beautiful and harsh environment. Of course the best time to visit in terms of weather is in the summer but if you do want to experience the real life and culture of the north, then a spring stay is recommended. During this time, there is lots of light and snow and locals are actively skidooing, fishing, hunting, dog sledding and just getting out and about after a long dark winter. Temperatures may still be quite cool at night and blizzards are common then which can wreak havoc on travel itineraries but almost all communities have their “frolics” or spring festivals at this time. This is a real opportunity to meet the people, hear the Inuit language and learn about Inuit culture.
The main centres are probably where most travellers will only visit but if you can afford to travel to one of the smaller communities you will likely not be disappointed. Just be prepared to bring lots of patience and smile a lot and be guaranteed that a local will make sure you end up where you need to go and are taken care of.
Finally, if you do not go too far north such as to Cambridge, you can expect to see some great Northern Lights displays, especially in the coldest winter months, and in the spring sun dogs can be seen pretty well in any community.
This is the Arctic, so winter weather and temperatures are self-explanatory. If you come in the winter be well prepared as wind chill temperatures have been known to drop far below -50.
Summers can be very pleasant with temperatures reaching in the mid-20’s and even higher. The biggest disadvantage about warm weather is that depending where you are, mosquitoes and black flies can be very bad so a bug jacket is recommended, especially if you want to venture out on the land.
Spring temperatures are usually above -20 depending on the exact day with daytime highs being a pleasant -5 to -10.
As mentioned previously, weather is the main controlling factor over any travel so be well prepared in terms of patience and monetary funds for delays. Three day blizzards (or longer) causing flight cancellations are not unheard of. The North is definitely a place where you just have to learn to “go with the flow.”
The People, the Culture and the Language:
Inuit people are some of the friendliest you will encounter so be prepared to be greeted with smiles and a hello (which might be in Inuktitut). You will find quite a variation in terms of spoken Inuktitut you hear and efforts are still in the works to continue reviving the language, especially among the young people. However, in some smaller communities it will definitely be the predominant language you hear. With that said, you will have no problems getting around in English.
Inuit culture is also quite unique so getting exposed to any of the games, sports, drum dancing and throat singing will be well worth it. If you are also able to join any hunting or fishing expeditions, although now not completely traditional (rifles are always used for hunting), you will have a truly unique experience.
Facts About Nunavut (these are averages)
Kilometres of highway: 20
Unemployment rate: >22%
Cost of two litres of milk: $7.00
Cost of one apple: $1.00
Cost of a loaf of bread: $3.00
Average per-capita income in the Nunavut area: $11,000
Languages spoken: Inuktitut, Inuinnaqtun, English