North America

Inuktitut: Our land, our strength

Photo courtesy of Nunavut Tourism

Canada’s ‘newest’ vacation destination promises an unusual travel experience

To address your first question, which would be; Why should I consider a trip to Nunavut? The answer would be easy … If you want to visit somewhere different that promises unspoiled natural beauty and adventure trips, and explore the culture and arts of the Inuit, you will appreciate Nunavut.

Not to be confused with Nunavik, a region in northern Quebec, Nunavut is divided into three regions: Qikiqtaaluk (formerly Baffin Region), Kitikmeot (the Arctic Coast) and Kivalliq, which follows the western shore of Hudson Bay. The capital of Nunavut is Iqaluit, which was, prior to 1999, known as Frobisher Bay.

A bit of history …

The region now known as Nunavut has supported a continuous indigenous population for approximately 4,000 years

Written historical accounts of Nunavut begin in 1576, with an account by English explorer Martin Frobisher. Frobisher made the first recorded European contact with the Inuit peoples of the area. Other explorers in search of the elusive Northwest Passage followed in the 17th century, including Henry Hudson, William Baffin and Robert Bylot.

Nunavut is the largest and newest federal territory of Canada having been officially separated from the Northwest Territories on April 1, 1999. The creation of Nunavut resulted in the first major change to Canada’s map since the incorporation of the new province of Newfoundland in 1949.

Nunavut comprises a major portion of Northern Canada, and most of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago, making it the fifth-largest country subdivision in the world. Iqaluit is located on Baffin Island. Other major communities include Rankin Inlet and Cambridge Bay. Nunavut also includes Ellesmere Island to the north, as well as Alert, the northernmost permanently inhabited place in the world.

If you are contemplating a trip here, then plan carefully; This Canadian Arctic territory is five and a half times the size of Germany and twice as large as Texas. The distance between the eastern and western boundaries is nearly 2,414 kilometres, about the same as the distance between London and Istanbul, and the distance between the most southern communities is 2,414 kilometres. A driving tour is not really practical … Driving tours aren’t feasible because there are no roads connecting communities. You can travel across Nunavut by air, all-terrain vehicles, canoeing and sea kayaking in summer, and cross-country skiing, dog sled or snowmobile in winter and spring.

A highlight of any trip to Nunavut is meeting the Inuit people. Warmly welcoming visitors, they proudly introduce visitors to their long-standing and historical culture. Then was then and now is now. It’s fascinating to see how the Inuit combine their traditional lifestyles with modern amenities. An Inuit carver will create a polar bear sculpture from stone while listening to an iPod. A mother carries her infant in an amautik, a hooded parka with a back pouch, while buying groceries with a debit card. A vast majority of Nunavut people speak Inuktitut, the Inuit language, but many speak English as well.

One of the most fascinating things you will see while here, in fact in several communities in Nunavut, is soapstone carving. In fact, be prepared to bring a piece or two home with you!

Kimmirut, like many Nunavut communities, is an artist colony. When the weather is mild, carvers and artists often work outside their homes. Visitors can watch Inuit carvers coax spirits of polar bears, muskox and birds from stone, antler and whalebone. You can purchase tasteful Inuit prints, stone sculptures, bone jewellery and other handicrafts directly from the artists, or from large selections in Kimmirut stores.

Each Nunuvut community specializes in different Inuit arts and crafts. You can find stone carvings in Arviat, handmade parkas in Repulse Bay and ceramics in Rankin Inlet.

And more to your original question …

Why should I consider a trip to Nunavut?

Canoeing in Nunavut | Photo credit: Nunavut Tourism

Whatever strikes your adventurous fancy; you will quickly learn that you have a multitude of exhilarating and extraordinary choices …

There is wildlife to watch. Nothing says Arctic like a 1,400 kg bull walrus on an ice floe. You can combine walrus watching with a little iceberg and ice floe photography for a National Geographic calibre adventure. Weather permitting, you could brag to your friends and neighbours that you had a picnic on an ice floe.

You may also catch sight of a Beluga whale or two (or three). The beluga is common to communities lining Hudson Bay’s west coast, Foxe Basin, and the east coast of Baffin Island all the way to Pond Inlet. Belugas like to congregate in the mouths of rivers, making it possible to go beluga watching from land, but a guide and a boat are more advantageous and exhilarating.

And you just might spot a bird or two (In fact several thousand!). Current records designate a total of 268 species as having been reliably documented in Nunavut as well as 134 species now known to breed here. Birding opportunities abound in Nunavut, in the wild, bird sanctuaries and wildlife sanctuaries.

And you may want to plan your trip so that you can stand alongside a floe edge. From April to July, the floe edge is the most dramatic, dynamic place to be, as the sea meets the retreating ice edge. Whales swim metres from shore; walrus and seals bask in the sunlight; polar bear cubs enjoy an ocean dip.

And, as the ice breaks up, icebergs arrive. Mountains of Mother Nature’s ice float on the blue seas.
The east coast of Baffin Island, from Pond Inlet to Qikiqtarjuaq is a real-life iceberg alley. This sight is not to be missed; it’s rugged yet comfortable and unforgettable.

You may also want to canoe a along a river or kayak along the coastline … Canoe trips are spectacular. Nunavut has a vast network of exceptional canoe rivers. The Thelon Heritage River is one of the most famous and least strenuous routes. In season, you can travel 200 kilometres without having to portage. Or, on Baffin Island, you can have a charter drop you and your canoes next to the Soper River. The waterfalls, caribou herds and micro-climate habitats will leave you breathless.

Guided trips are recommended; groups offer greater camaraderie, while guides increase safety and enhance your connection to the land. And bring your camera. You should be prepared to encounter musk-ox, caribou, or even grizzlies.

And speaking of cameras … Special photography tours that are very popular visit the most scenic locations in Nunavut. Summer visitors enjoy 24-hour daylight, while winter visitors may encounter the multicoloured, constantly changing show of northern lights. The scenery in Nunavut includes icy glaciers, waterfalls, sheer rock faces, mountains and dramatic fjords, and of course a variety of wildlife in their natural settings.

One of the most invigorating and interesting means of transportation and touring is dog sledding. How much closer to the land can you get? Nunavut exudes an overwhelming sense of history. In the 1830s, the first onshore whaling stations were established on the coast of Baffin Island. Markets in Europe and America used oil, rendered from whale blubber, for lighting and lubrication, and the plastic-like baleen strips from whales’ mouths for ladies’ corsets and furniture. Tour operators lead dog-team trips to the abandoned Kivitoo whaling station, an historical site, 40 miles from Broughton Island (Qikiqtarjuaq).

All in all, if you have travelled the world, or just looking for new adventures, you can consider a trip to Nunavut that promises to be nut just memorable, but unforgettable. No doubt, you will have your friends and neighbours asking where you arranged your trip!

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