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The last stop in my Arctic cruise was Iqaluit, Nunavut. It wasn’t meant to be that way, as I explained in this post. And for a while, it looked like our getting home wasn’t meant to be, either.
I had been to Nunavut’s capital once before, very briefly and a long time ago. And I was disappointed when it looked like we would have only an hour or two to look at the place before our planes took off for the sunny south (which in this case meant Ottawa).
So I was a little pleased when I awoke to hear our Adventure Canada
tour director announcing that the Iqaluit airport was
fogbound. No planes were going to be landing any time soon. That meant we had some time to take a little tour of the town. On the other hand, it also meant we had no idea when we were likely to get out of Iqaluit, Nunavut.
But the first order of business was to see the place. I have to admit, our entrance was less than grand – the now-familiar jump out of a Zodiac onto a stony beach. In this case, there was a little added drama when one of the lenses fell out of my glasses just as I took the jump. But after a little do-it-yourself repair, I was ready for a do-it-yourself tour. Armed with my Nikon 1 J5 camera, I set off to capture the sights.
I remembered Iqaluit as a nondescript town, filled with tenement-like housing blocks that had tinfoil in the windows to keep out the 24-hour sunlight. But walking the main street, I could see things had changed. It was still a bit grey and muddy, and those tenement-like buildings were still around. But some remarkable buildings had been added.
The first in sight was the Nakasuk School, a low-slung, white structure looking like a giant egg crate, or a big tray of ice cubes. On a rainy Saturday morning, it sat deserted.
Right next door was an equally remarkable building — St. Jude’s Anglican Church, looking like an igloo on steroids. Happily, it was open for visitors. In fact, the young pastor and his wife, both from the American south, were there to greet us as we wandered in; they don’t get that many tourists in these parts. Inside, St. Jude’s looked much more like a conventional church, except for the Inuit-style religious plaques on the wall.
Farther on, I found the centre of town – the Four Corners, as they call it in these parts. And it was more impressive than I expected. No high-rises in sight, but some modern and even artful buildings had been erected in recent years. And everywhere there were native touches, to stamp this place as the centre of the Inuit world.
The centrepiece of downtown is the Nunavut Legislative Building, with its stone signboard out front bearing Nunavut’s crest, decorated with a caribou and a narwhal. The seats inside are reportedly covered with seal skin. But again, it was Saturday – no admission – so I saw only the outside.
To me, though, the most impressive thing was the public art on display in even a short walk along Iqaluit’s main street. Almost every major building seemed to have some kind of Inuit stone carving out front, from faces on a stone pillar to figures intertwined on a massive boulder to full-blown statues of seals and bears and mythical beings.
And of course, to prove we were in Canada, there was the essential symbol of Canadian life, with the sign in both English and Inuktitut.
But back to business. After a visit to the local North Mart store to see what was on the shelves — pretty much the same as in a Walmart down south – I headed to the Iqaluit community centre for a scheduled update on our travel plans. Chatting with some other southerners around the gift shop, I heard some disturbing news. They had been waiting for two days to get out of town; all local flights were grounded.
Finally, the word came: no change in conditions, check back at 2. And at 2, after some lunch at a local diner ($13.50 for a Western sandwich and a coffee), we got a glimmer of hope. The planes still hadn’t left Ottawa to come get us. But there was still a chance we might bid Iqaluit, Nunavut
goodbye before the day was out. We were all going back to the ship.
So back to the Zodiacs, and back to the Ocean Endeavour. More hours of waiting, a bite to eat, and finally, around 8 p.m., we were back on the water and headed straight to the airport. And sometime after 2 a.m., we landed in Ottawa, shedding our heavy clothes in the mid-summer temperatures and feeling happy to have gotten anywhere after a long, uncertain day in Iqaluit.
But that’s travel in the North, where Mother Nature is always a force to reckon with. It’s a place with its own beauty, and a place where you can live well, in some of the most unspoiled country in the world. But it’s a world with its own rules, and if you want to see its unique beauty, you have to take what it gives you. In the end, it’s all worth it.
I was a guest of Nikon Canada and Adventure Canada on this trip. However, the opinions expressed are my own. The photos in this post were taken with the Nikon 1 J5 camera.