Those are three of my deepest impressions of my recent trip to Canada's eastern Arctic, Nunavut. But there are many others.
I've always considered myself a "northerner," having been raised in Northern Ontario and then lived in the Yukon, Canada's western arctic, above the sixtieth parallel. But I gained a new perspective on that word during this trip to Baffin Island. It was indeed a new kind of "north" and a decidedly cross-cultural experience.
Nunavut is a vast area with lots of water, ice, rock, very few people and even fewer roads. The capital, Iqaluit, is its largest community with a population of about 6,500. Visiting there in July, the height of tourist season, made me think our group of five women would not be too conspicuous, but that proved false.
People stopped to chat on the street, asking where we were from and why we had come north. Their interest was genuine and their smiles warmed our hearts as they said, "Welcome to Iqaluit." We met a few of the local characters, like Al who was delivering a loaf of banana bread to the post office clerk. He invited us outside to meet his companion, Freddie One Eye - a friendly mutt with a bright red bandana around his neck. We met Yvonne, who gave us a tour of the Legislature library, Charlotte, a film producer who gave us a sneak peak of her company's latest project, and Carolina, a doctor from Guatemala whose journey to Canada's north is inspiring. To name just a few.
The taxi drivers (there are about 80 in town) were also friendly and always happy to give guided tours as we paid our six dollars to be ferried anywhere in and around town. Our first driver was delighted to take us to the end of "The Road to Nowhere." We hiked the five kilometres back to town, enjoying the barren vista with thousands of tiny wildflowers clinging to lichen-covered rock. There were also thousands (maybe millions) of mosquitoes, but a brisk wind helped to keep them at bay for most of the hike. We were happy to see Frobisher Bay come back into view as we neared town.
Walking the streets of Iqaluit made us easy targets for carvers and craftsmen who offered us their artwork. Some of the carvings were well done but we had already visited the museum gift shop, where our friend advised us to shop. I was delighted to acquire a polar bear made of white marble from Arctic Bay and a wall hanging of dancing polar bears made by a young woman named Eve, from Pangnirtung, who just happened to be there. I enjoyed chatting with her so much I forgot to take her picture!
Since we were visiting a Parks Canada employee we were fortunate to be invited to a community feast honouring a new project launched by Parks and the Canadian Wildlife Federation. Arriving a little late to the community hall, we were surprised to see there were no tables set up. The food was piled in mounds on plastic and cardboard in the middle of the floor, with the people seated around the edge. After a few short speeches an elder demonstrated how to skin and gut a seal. Then the feast began. It was a feast of "country food" - raw seal, Muktuk (frozen whale blubber), Beluga whale meat, Caribou and Arctic Char. Yes, I had a taste of it all. Liked the Beluga best. :)
Our time in Iqaluit drew quickly to a close as two of us headed yet further north, to experience a smaller Nunavut community, Pond Inlet. Set at the northern tip of Baffin Island, Pond is headquarters to another Parks Canada office which administers the Sirmilik National Park, stretching across the islands north of Baffin. Pond gives a spectacular view of the inlet, Equinox Sound and three massive glaciers on Bylot Island. Two good sized icebergs had floated into the Sound just a few days before our arrival - one resembling a seal, the other a large white wall tent. We strode the shoreline, chatted with people on the streets and in the Co-op and had a wonderful encounter with five ladies in the craft room at the visitor's centre. They were making small crafts from seal skin, in anticipation of a cruise ship due to arrive the next week. Not many ships stop at the small community so they take advantage of the boat load of tourists when they can.
Two of our traveling companions joined us in Pond on the second day and we celebrated by having supper at the Sauniq Hotel. Turkey and trimmings for only $35.00 each. Since staying at the hotel cost $200.00 per night per person, we figured we were getting a pretty good deal.
The trip ended all too quickly as we once again boarded the First Air turbo prop for the flight back to Iqaluit where we had time for a quick lunch with our Parks host before boarding again for the long flight to Montreal.
Northern images continue to swirl in my mind - the deep tourquoise of Pond Inlet, the dancing dark eyes of the children, the wide smiles of the moms and grannies as we took their pictures, the startling clarity of the light at midnight, the roar of ATVs and the sighing of the waves of Frobisher Bay.
I do consider myself a northerner and I consider myself wonderfully blessed to have experienced Nunavut, Canada's eastern Arctic.
For more pics of the trip see my FaceBook page.