While most normal Canadians try to head south during the winter. We have picked a different path. My girlfriend and I had point tickets to use by a specific date. And that date ended up being smack at the end of January. Some of the coldest days of the Canadian winter. So where to go? My girlfriend spent 12 years living in Iqaluit (pronouced E-kal-Ou-it, locally pronounced E-hal-ou-whit) and we decided to use our tickets to go there. Where the heck is Iqaluit?
Iqaluit use to be called Frobisher bay until 1999 when Nunvit was created out of the Northwest Territories. It is 322km/200 miles from the artic circle. The current estimated population is between 7300-8000 people. Flying time from ottawa is approx three hours.
I set a few main goals: #1 See arora borealis/northern lights and take pictures of it, take pictures of sunset over mountains, Get out on the land (preferably with a snowmobile) with someone who knows the land really well and knows how to survive. Learn more about the current way and old way of life in the artic.
Observations: For one, there is no trees. Ever been somewhere without trees? Since it’s winter. There are only three things making up the landscape. Rock, snow and ice. We landed at sunet… approx 3:30 in the afternoon. FYI- Sunrise is at 8:30am. There no traffic lights on our way to a friends house. And all homes are equipment with an external gas tank (for heating) and a red light to tell the delivery truck to fill it up. Also to note. There are no basements here. Homes and buildings are on steel stilts drilled in to the hard rock.
After meeting up with the extremely nice friends who gave us a place to stay we were treated to a great meal. With an appitizer of muktuk. Traditional Inuit raw whale blubber. It was the outside skin of a Narrwall to be exact. As you’d expect VERY chewy. But we added a little soya sauce and it went down like a charm. Infact I liked it. My grilfriend warned me it could upset my stomach later. My exact words were “bishhhh…” For a main course we surved up a artic char. A pink fish similar to salmon. Our hosts invited me to eat a fish eye with him. I gladly accepted. Yum! I am happy to report my iron stomach kept true. No ill side effects.
While relaxing afterwards we start to feel a little tired and decide to crash. At that very moment our friend pops his head in the door and says “Shaun…. Northern Lights!” SCOOORE! I get dressed as fast as I could. It was a sobering -33o celsius (-27.4o F) But I would have stayed out longer if the show had continued. It was one of the most amazing events I have witnessed. The sky feels alive. A personal show for you to enjoy. It`s said if you whistle at the northern lights than they are suppose to dance for you. And they did! I had my neck arched up and watched them play together. Our friend told us the old Inuk “wives tale” that if you whistle and clap at them they will come down and chop off your head and play with it up in the sky. Ofcourse I tested this and as of this day, I still stand whole. One goal accomplished.
We spent most of the next day going down memory lane. My girlfriend showed me so much of her past and it was great to learn that side of her in the setting she use to call home. I noticed the many forms for art. Mostly from bones, antliers and stone. Interesting to hear a non-european/non middle eastern language. Listening to people speak Inuktituk was a treat and refreshing how many still could speak it. We visited a town called Apex just south of Iqaluit. Orginally the US military, during the cold war had an airbase in Iqaluit and most orginal residents of Iqaluit lived in Apex. We visited a few other key places in town. The visitor centre showed lots of the type of animals in the region, Inuk legends and history, tools, carvings and artifacts. I also got a certificate saying that I was in the north and it has my name in Inuktituk. The few visits to the stores show what it’s like to live in a place where everything needs to be shipped or flown in. i.e. $10 for a bottle of kechup.
The evening is finished by another dinner at a place in which my girlfriend used to own a business and a night out that was not my scene but had good company.
A little sleeping in lead us to a hardy brunch of about twelve people. A good meal was needed as the same friend who alerted me to the northern lights also took us for a snowmobile excusion on the land. Our friend allowed me to wear some of his best artic gear. Polar bear pants and coyote fur gloves. That with a bunch of layers and I was more than warm and ready to go.
Through town with traffic allowing us to pass. Out in to the pack ice of frobisher bay. We got to open up a little bit a whiz across the flat frozen expanse. Stopping to admire a pack of dogs known to the town as a certain residents dog sled team. A few howles and curious glances is all the attention we got from the them. You do not want to approach them. But just before moving on we ran in to three inuk kids ridding another snowmobile asking us if we wanted to race. We politely declined. We kept hitting some open flatter ice and was able to really open up and get the snowmobile moving. We entered into another area of pack ice and while going through it transitioned to land. However, I missed this whole part. All of a sudden we`re on land. A place named Tar inlet. I notice rocks stacked on the edge of a ridge. Our friend said traditionally hunters set them up so that if you poked your head up on one side of the ridge, your head from a distance would look like a rock and the cariboo wouldn`t get scared off. Across another valley or two. Up and down big hills and rocky terrian. Across a few more frozen ponds and we arrive back home. We had another excellent dinner with our friends and crashed early thanks to all the fresh air and excitment of the day.
Our last day there we went to a few of the last places we missed on our other tour. The Legislative Assembly of Nunvuit. The frozen road/snowmobile trail along the shore a few final pictures of us and the town and we’ve scratched the surface of Iqaluit pretty well.
That said, because it is small, it is easy to think that you have taken in all of Iqaluit in a few days and understand what life is like in the north. The truth is that it is a very exclusive club. And to understand it takes a number of years. To become a member of that club takes some history and roots in the land. However I think I better understand why people can identify with the north. It’s isolation means more freedom. It’s natural landscape is pure and inspiring. It’s dominate native population means values and traditions are kept. I hope to go back in the summer to see the contrast in the land.