When I moved to Canada from the UK, my idea of a ‘remote community’ was one maybe an hour away from a main town.
This definition has been a little challenged in Canada, and I have to continually update it the further we travel around this gigantic country. Canada is a bountiful land of fly-in, boat-in, drive-a-long-long-way-in communities.
One of the latter is Inuvik, a North West Territories town placed seemingly on top of the world, reached by a 750km gravel road and ferry combination in summer and an iceroad in winter.
There’s a three week period every spring and autumn when the ferries cannot run (ice melt and break up). During this time, the town is only accessible by air.
Inuvik, Canada, is the most interesting community I’ve ever been to. Read on to find out why!
Inuvik, NWT: A place like no other
Inuvik, Canada, is a purpose built town, created in the 1950’s after one of the local native settlements had a tendency to flood and the government wanted a more permanent solution. Interestingly enough, the ‘replaced’ town, Aklavik, still exists.
The town is now home to 3,000 people (a mix of First Nation and non-native) mainly working in local services, government and oil/gas exploration. Why is it so fascinating?
It’s a desert town for one thing. While it’s very cold in winter, not much snow actually falls.
Secondly, every building is built well above the ground, with the water and sewage pipes running externally i.e. not underground. This is due to the permafrost that Inuvik is built on; if it was to thaw, the whole town would sink.
Thirdly? Being above the Arctic Circle, Inuvik enjoys 30 days of 24 hour sunlight in summer and then 30 days of darkness in winter.
An Arctic town of extremes
As we discovered in June, continuous sun can lead to very hot temperatures, even here in the Western Arctic.
In winter, however, the average temperature hovers around -20C (and less). I couldn’t imagine living in such extremes of temperature and day lengths.
Asking around, we found that the locals generally seemed to prefer winter since there was more to do (think snowmobiling, ice-fishing, dog mushing etc.) and far fewer bugs.
Of course, I couldn’t write about Inuvik, Canada, without mentioning the ferocious and incessant hoards of mosquitoes. It just wouldn’t paint a full picture!
Things to do in Inuvik, NWT
You may wonder what there is for visitors to do here in summer. Well, like Inuvik itself, it’s an interesting mixture.
The town sits next to the Mackenzie Delta, so there are boat rides out to other river communities on offer, as well as longer trips north to the town of Tuktoyaktuk, perched on the Arctic Ocean.
Back in town, there’s an impressive Igloo Church; an evening tour took us up to the roof to see the unique structure.
Other local attractions include a community greenhouse (actually very cool) and the stuffed polar bear at the airport. There’s also a polar bear skin in the children’s section of the library.
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Grocery prices in Inuvik
A place that isn’t a favoured local attraction is Inuvik’s North Mart supermarket. Here is where we discovered the delights of grocery shopping in remote Northern Canada. It’s a dangerous thing; one visit may well bankrupt you.
The fresh fruit was, as expected, very expensive ($3.69/kg for bananas, $18/kg for mushrooms). Even canned goods were astronomical ($4 for a can of beans). Strangely, dairy and eggs were a price closer to what we were used to, sometimes even cheaper.
Plants in the hockey rink
We were also impressed with Inuvik’s community greenhouse. It’s volunteer run, and aside from the private plots ($100/season), the greenhouse also produces and sells ornamental and vegetable plants to local communities.
The growing season is short here, from late May to the end of September, but the 24 hour daylight (and heat) enables plot holders to grow a substantial amount (and variation) of crops. The building is an old hockey rink; one of the best re-uses of a building I have ever seen!
Reflecting on Inuvik, Canada
We may not have exactly been fans of the 24 hour daylight thing (and the subsequent 24 hour onslaught of mosquitoes) but something about Inuvik grew on me.
Our original intention was to paddle up the Mackenzie River to Tuktoyaktuk, and at first I was disappointed we didn’t make it. Now though, I realise that our time in Inuvik and on the Dempster Highway was everything I wanted from our ‘up north’ experience.
As well as changing my outlook on what is considered as ‘remote,’ it also widened my viewpoint on what it is to live in Canada. Life in Inuvik is similar but so very different to life somewhere down south. Yet, somehow, it is all still Canada. Now that IS incredible. Keep on surprising me Canada.
Looking to book a stay in Inuvik, NWT?
Arctic Chalet – Highly rated on Booking.com
Nova Inn Inuvik – Great location
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One half of the Canadian/British couple behind Off Track Travel, Gemma is happiest when hiking on the trail or planning the next big travel adventure. JR and Gemma are currently based in the beautiful Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada