Of all the Canadian territories and provinces, Nunavut is the most recently created, as it was carved out of the northeastern portion of the Northwest Territories in 1999. While the northern arctic territories of Canada are sparsely populated as a general rule, Nunavut is by far the most empty of the three regions, with a scant population of just 32,000 people scattered over 2 million square kilometres of mostly frozen ocean, mountains and tundra.
In the pockets of civilization that huddle along seacoasts and in lee features of hills and mountains though, the rich culture of the Inuit endures, from the handicrafts that have become national icons (like reproductions of the Inukshuk, an Inuit signpost made of flat stones to indicate the recent presence of an Inuit tribe in an area), to unique games and sports that are seen nowhere else in the lands to the south, and even a written language with a script that is completely foreign to speakers of languages that use the Latin script.
Taken together with the treeless yet sublimely addictive natural landscape of rocky moors and extreme mountains, all festooned with the ever present slabs of snow and ice, Nunavut is unlike anywhere else in the world, and despite the extremely high costs required to travel in the region, every dollar spent will be one that delivers an experience that will stay with you for the remainder of your days.
What To Do – Culture & History
Most adventures in Nunavut start with an initial flight to the capital of Iqaluit, the smallest capital in Canada with only 7,100 people living here on a year round basis. While the culture shock of life this far north (pipelines all above ground due to permafrost, people sharing the road with snowmobiles and quads, etc) will be delivering cultural experiences right and left shortly after arrival, be sure to visit the tiny yet significant Nunatta Sunakkutaangit Museum. This former Hudson’s Bay company post makes the most of its small footprint by hosting a wide variety of archaeological artifacts from countless years of Inuit life in the polar regions of Canada, photography exhibits that document the beauty and the ugliness (the residential school scandals chief among them) as well countless examples of carvings, jewelry and other art created by artists from the local area.
If arts and culture are a primary motivator of your trip to Nunavut, then choosing Resolute Bay as a major destination after Iqaluit will be an excellent choice, as the soapstone carvers, stitchers, and other creatives in the second most northerly settlement in this territory are world-renowned for their skill and artistry. Those looking to purchase an authentic piece of Inuit art for their mantle should check out the Tudjaat Co-op, where many of these items can be found for sale.
As for other activities, Resolute is a staging point for adventures into Quttinirpaag National Park (read more about this place below) and it is an excellent place to view the Northern Lights … by looking south! The Magnetic North Pole is located south of here, so while the geographic one is many hundreds of kilometres to the north, the Aurora Borealis begs to differ on that.
Earlier, we discussed culture shock being a key element of a trip to Nunavut. For the most salient illustration of this, walk into any Northern grocery store and just look at the prices. They get more shocking as time passes between sea or air shipments, but even after a fresh re-stocking of the shelves, the extreme costs and challenges of getting produce, common meats, and dry goods to the Far North means prices like $29 for a head of cabbage, $105 for 24 bottles of water (355 ml each), $83 for a case of (non-alcoholic) ginger ale, or $19 for a 1 kilogram honey ham. Yikes.
What To Do – Natural Attractions
With 2 million square kilometres of land and sea through the territory of Nunavut, there are plenty of natural wonders to explore throughout its landscape. The challenge, of course, is getting to them in the first place, which requires expensive charter flights, boat rides and sometimes snowmobile traverses … all of which hinge on the weather cooperating (it often doesn’t).
Of all the natural reserves in Nunavut, Auyuittuq National Park is most easily accessible of the lot, and quite possibly the most stunning. This wonder of nature is home to Mount Thor, a massif that boasts one of the world’s most dramatic vertical prominences (defined as the distance from the peak to the valley below). It is made of the hardest and oldest rock in the world, having formed billions of years ago, withstanding erosion by the elements since its uplifting eons ago. As for activities, backcountry hiking and camping in the summer and ski touring in the winter in the deeply beautiful valleys beneath the massive mountains and glaciers attract those with deep enough pockets and enough gumption for the adventure of a lifetime.
Those seeking to access Quttinirpaaq National Park generally do so from Resolute Bay, with a four hour charter flight being required to access it. This place is one for the uber-experienced outdoorsperson, with no established trails or facilities, beyond an airstrip and a warden station. Those with the requisite experience will be rewarded with glaciers, mountains and coastal landscapes where one can truly choose their own adventure.
If the aesthetic of the arctic tundra appeals to you more than peaks and glaciers, then Ukkusiksalik National Park will likely be a better match. Here, countless lakes, rivers, rolling hills, and endless opportunity for wildlife viewing await you. It is suggested that you hire local guides to aid in your quest, as they will spot things that you might miss, and add a level of security to your campsite at night by installing solar powered electric fencing to protect against intrusions by polar bears. Don’t worry about the night depowering this safeguard – there’s perpetual light in the summer in the High Arctic, so your safety will be assured at all times!