12 Things that Set Canadian Arctic City Iqaluit Apart (Part 1 of 3)

Due to its location and unique cultural characteristics, Iqaluit, the capital city of Nunavut is very different from other provincial or te...

Due to its location and unique cultural characteristics, Iqaluit, the capital city of Nunavut is very different from other provincial or territorial capitals in Canada. You see and feel it even before your plane touches town on the Iqaluit's runway which, by the way, is among the longest runways in Canada. Interestingly, Whitehorse and Yellowknife, the capitals of Yukon and Northwest Territories respectively, sit only slightly southerly on the North American continent, but somehow Iqaluit looks a world away from them. In this three-part article, I'll share with you my top 12 observations that I believe set Iqaluit apart from other Canadian cities.

1. Not A Single Tree.  
The first thing I noticed in Iqaluit was that there were no trees and shrubs. Like zero. It's so common for most us to see trees every day, we take it for granted. Trees play a vital role in our lives and are perfect habitats for many plants and animals. Ever noticed how good you feel in an old neighbourhood with lots of old-grown trees? Yep, me too. Trees make us feel comfortable and secure.
Since Iqaluit sits in the middle of a vast and seemingly endless tundra, no trees can grow there due to long cold winters.
Only very brave plants like grass, moss and lichens can withstand extreme arctic conditions and thrive during a short mild summer.
Where most of us, tourists, see a barren rock, the native Inuit people see a rich flora. For instance, Inuit have been taken Labrador Tea for coughs, sore throat, lung infections, diarrhea, kidney problems, muscle pain, and headache. I only learnt about Labrador Tea on my third day in Nunavut, but before that I was wondering what it was that smelled so sweet and citrusy.
Before the electricity, the Inuit people used fluffy flowers of Arctic Cotton as a wick in oil lamps. Remarkably, the lamp was fuelled by the oil from whale or seal blubber.
The "tallest" plant I saw was the arctic willow. The Inuit people used its branches to make a bed.

2. Brightly Coloured Houses.  
Iqaluit probably beats St. John's, Newfoundland at the number of brightly coloured houses per capita. But unlike the latter where a tradition stems from brightly coloured paint left over after painting fishing boats, Iqaluit's tradition has different roots and commenced in a not-so-distant past.
In case you're wondering what the tradition is I'm talking about, bear with me for another minute please. But I can tell you that it's not to fight pests or fungi that can damage external materials.
Nor does a colour serve a purpose to identify a function of a house which was pretty common among settlements in Greenland. 
So finally: there is no official version for brightly coloured houses, but most people I spoke with agreed that bright colours are used to boost happiness and cure depression among people living in the Arctic. Especially, during long cold winters.
I hope it works as even a parole office looks pretty bright and neat.

3. No Roads Beyond City Limits.  
Nunavut is sort of unique in a sense that it's the only province/territory in Canada that does not connect to other parts of the country by roads. So the only way in and out is by plane or boat.
The longest road in Nunavut is 21 km / 13 miles and connects Arctic Bay to a now closed mine in Nanisivik. The roads are expected to be built to connect Nunavut to the mainland Canada (Manitoba) as the population and the economy grow, but it's unclear when it will happen. Arctic roads are expensive to build and difficult to maintain.
The main and one of the few paved roads in Iqaluit is called Federal Road. It connects major points of interest such as grocery stores, banks, the post office, local businesses, the airport and government buildings.
Road to Nowhere was once famous for its namesake sign. The city even made a stock of those signs and would give them as souvenirs to public servants after the original road sign got consistently stolen. Despite the name though, the Road to Nowhere road does take you somewhere which is the old quarry.
ATVs in the summer and snowmobiles in the winter provide easy access beyond Iqaluit city limits, however one must respect that tundra is very fragile and slow to recover. A single tire trail can sometimes remain visible for decades. 
There is no public transit in the city as cars, trucks, ATVs and snow mobiles are pretty common and generally affordable. For those still requiring transportation, a single taxi cab ride anywhere in the city is $7 per person. Walking is also a valid option when the weather permits as the city is fairly small and one can cross it in less than one hour.
More traditional mode of transportation - dog sleds - are popular in the winter too, so it's pretty common to see people walking husky dogs.

4. Extreme Arctic Climate.  
The weather in Nunavut and how the Inuit people have survived there for the past 4,000 years is a source of admiration for me. Even with modern technologies, a person can literally die in 5 minutes of being exposed to the winter air if not properly dressed.
Winter temperatures generally stays at -40 degrees C / F between November and April, but it can get as low as -60 C / -76 F. Parka, mitts, snow pants and snow boots are the must every time one goes outside in the winter.
People in Nunavut use oil furnaces with heating oil tanks, and I can't imagine what happens if the furnace runs out of oil or breaks in the middle of a winter.
Pipes for water and sewer systems in Iqaluit are all above ground, because the soil largely remains frozen year around (permafrost).
Summers are really nice in Iqaluit. Warmer weather normally means mosquitos, so my comfort level was around 10-12 C / 50-54 F.
Snow usually melts out by mid-July now. 
If you're not sure if the climate change is real, talk to the Inuit people. They say the water becomes free of ice about 3 weeks earlier than a few decades ago. 
I really liked the hollow ice attached to the rocks as the water recedes during a low tide. It looks like a hat's brim or rings of Saturn to me.
The summer season is short so people keep their snowmobiles ready.

5. Expensive Groceries.  
While a traditional Inuit diet largely consisted of meat and seafood, it has since changed, unfortunately, so residents of Nunavut generally eat the same food as other Canadians. There are a couple of large groceries stores in Iqaluit where one can buy virtually anything.
Even ATVs.
But the price tag is very high as it includes the cost of transportation to Nunavut. 
I personally found dairy products, soda and junk food in general to be the most expensive. Before subsidy, a 200-ml bottle of yogurt is $2,50. Compare it with $1 or less in Ontario.
A 2-litre bucket of ice cream that sells in Ontario for $4, was for $14 before subsidy.
Cookies are 3-4 times the price of the same box in Ontario. Same applies to olive oil.
If you like pizza, a small box will cost you around $14 before subsidy (compare it with $3-4 in Ontario).
A 2-litre Tropicana juice is $14 as opposed to $3-4 in Ontario.
But the most unreasonably priced product was a 12-can pack of soda - $25. A former resident of Iqaluit told me that $2 per can is as cheap as it can get because cargo ships bring plenty of stock during the summer. But it's not uncommon to pay $5 or $7 per can ($84 per pack!) some time in April - May before the ice melts.
So what many people do, especially those not originally from Nunavut, is they fly to Ottawa or Montreal (where there is a direct flight), buy a year's worth of supply of goods and non-perishable food, rent a container, pack everything in there, and send it to Nunavut by a cargo ship. Yes, it seems like a huge headache, but it saves thousands of dollars per family if planned and done properly.

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