Travel

The Essential Itinerary: Iqaluit

Kick up those soft kamiit heels and join in the fun with this must-do list of activities

  • Nov 10, 2020
  • 1,084 words
  • 5 minutes
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Iqaluit, which means “place of many fish” in Inuktitut, sprinkles the northern end of Frobisher Bay with flecks of light in winter. (In summer, the midnight sun puts on its own light show across Nunavut, including the capital.) An Inuit fishing spot since time immemorial, Iqaluit is today home to a population of 7,700, making it Canada’s smallest city. But that doesn’t mean the territorial capital is short on things to do. Here, traditional Inuit culture meshes with modern life, and you’re as likely to see people travelling the sea ice on snowmobiles pulling qamutiit as you are to sit down for coffee alongside Nunavummiut wearing seal-skin boots.

Day 1

Get a Nunavut orientation: 1 p.m.

As soon as you step into the Unikkaarvik Visitor Centre, you understand why the centre’s name translates as a “place where stories are told.” Narratives of Inuit life, past and present, are conveyed in dioramas, display cases, children’s art, sculpture — including Sam Pitseolak’s Drum Dancer — and a giant tapestry adorning the lobby. One of the stories shows how the Inuit year was divided into six seasons. For more glimpses of how the past merges with the present, take a tour of the Legislative Assembly, whose contemporary interior was inspired by the igloo and where the door frames take a cue from qamutik rails and the chairs are clad in sealskin.

Build an igloo

Louis-Philip Pothier and Martine Dupont from Inukpak Outfitting offers half-day igloo-building workshops that teach you how to choose the best snow, how to cut blocks out of said snow and put them together in a way that they stick together. If you also want to know what it’s like to sleep in an igloo, sign up for Inukpak’s two-day excursion that has you stay overnight in your own work of polar architecture.

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Fight the cold with a cold one: 7 p.m.

Take a cab (taxis in Iqaluit cost a flat $7/ride) to Canada’s northernmost brew pub, located at the outskirts of Canada’s northernmost capital. Nunavut Brewing Co. Ltd. — Nu Brew for short — opened in 2018 and is the territory’s only beer producer. Sit down at the round bar and ask Katie Barbour, the general manager, to pour you a flight of four, or perhaps a pint of Floe Edge lager or Aupaqtuq Irish red ale, while she tells you why it took so long between getting a liquor licence in 2015 to finally opening in 2018; you’ll understand some challenges the locals face, whether they are beer drinkers or not.

Day 2

Fill your fuel tank: 8 a.m.

Black Heart Café pulls the best espresso in town — drink it neat, or ask for it in a latte, dirty chai or mocha. Here you can load up with breakfast wraps (which come loaded with meat or veggies, eggs and cheese) and brownies, scones and muffins. Come back at 11:30, when piping-hot soup, such as maple butternut or split pea, is on, along with hearty sandwiches (we recommend the Char Club, with spicy Arctic char). Hang around long enough and you might bump into such northern personalities as polar explorer extraordinaire Matty McNair (she still holds the world record for the fastest time to the North Pole, in 37 days); lawyer, activist and sealskin clothing designer Aaju Peter; and filmmaker Alethea Arnaquq-Baril, who directed the documentary Angry Inuk.

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Tap into local art: 1 p.m.

With bright red trim and a red roof, you literally can’t miss the Nunatta Sunakkutaangit Museum. But Nunavut’s only bona fide museum also stands out, figuratively, for what you find inside the former Hudson’s Bay Company building. The permanent gallery features Inuit artifacts and tools, while the temporary exhibitions of contemporary art range from political cartoons to Cape Dorset’s annual print collection to wildlife photography. Pick up works created by local artists at the gift shop.

Chase the northern lights: 9 p.m.

The Road to Nowhere is literally that: a stretch of road that leads across rockscape and tundra until it ends a few kilometres out of town. Being away from the city lights, it’s a good spot to wait —and hopefully see— the northern lights. Popular as a cross-country skiing destination in winter, and picnicking, hiking and camping spot in summer, the end of the Road to Nowhere is perhaps the best-known non-place there ever was. 

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Day 3

Learn how to ski with dogs: 9 a.m.

Dog sledding is a given northern experience, and for good reason: who can say no to watching swift paws and floppy ears from the comfort of a qamutik? But for a different and equally doggone good time, try racing across the land with a friendly Canadian Inuit dog pulling you — on skis. Skijoring, with NorthWinds Expeditions, requires enough ski skills to stay upright, especially on uneven snow, but, most importantly, an adventurous spirit and a love of humans’ best friend.

Meet a master jeweller: 2 p.m.

What do the Royals, Paris Fashion Week models and rock guitarist Joe Satriani have in common? They’ve all worn art pieces made by Mathew Nuqingaq. Working out of his Aayuraa Studio (aayuraa means “snow goggles” in Inuktitut), the silver smith and metal artist makes jewellery, sculptures and other pieces based on Inuit culture and traditions. The multitalented Nuqingaq — he’s also a drum dancer, photographer and educator — also has a good sense of humour, as seen in a ball mask with snow-goggle slits he made from the back of a violin. Then there’s the metal-frame sunglasses with slits cut across the tinted lenses.

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Where to stay

Located on Astro Hill, the Frobisher Inn is a basecamp with a view; book a top-floor corner suite for a panorama of Frobisher Bay and Monument Island. (All rooms come with views of ravens surfing the prevailing wind.) Dinner is served in the Frob Kitchen & Eatery (we recommend the Arctic char when it’s on the menu), while the Storehouse Bar & Grill is the spot for a pint and a game of pool with friends. At Caribrew Café, you can pick up or sit down with soup, sandwiches and salads, as well as coffee and tea. There’s also a convenience store onsite for snacks, drinks and sundries. And if you haven’t had time to buy gifts before going to the airport, don’t worry: artists are often selling paintings, prints and sculptures in the lobby.

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