An Unexpected Visit to Iqaluit in Nunavut


It’s a rare day when I’m happy with a plane delay. But on the way up to Pangnirtung – the starting point for a two week backpacking trip in Auyuittuq National Park we were delayed in Iqaluit – the capital of Nunavut – initially for four hours, though ultimately for seven hours.

John and I didn’t think we’d have any chance to see the city (town?) since flights in and out were supposed to have only a few hours maximum between connections. But in the far north I don’t think you can ever count on planes arriving and leaving when they’re supposed to – and often its days before you can get to where you want to go.

"The approach to Iqualit"

The approach to Iqaluit suggests more winter than summer to me

We jumped at the opportunity to explore the city on foot – and easy thing to do as you can walk to anywhere in the city from the airport.

"Iqualit Airport"

What a welcoming colour for an airport – notice the fact the building is constructed above ground due to permafrost

We had left Ottawa 3 ½ hours earlier in summer type temperatures of about 24 C. John wasn’t thinking and didn’t even bring a fleece as a carry-on so it was a rude awakening to get off the plane in about 5 C temperatures. We started wondering what we’d got ourselves in for with regards to backpacking. Fortunately I’d packed an extra fleece in my carry-on so he squeezed into that and off we went in our sandals to see what the city had to offer. Our first stop was about 10 minutes away. We wanted to check out the state of the pack ice. It was starting to break up and by the time we went through again on July 13th it was clear enough for shipping.

"Down by the frozen ocean in Iqualit"

"blue boat in Iqualit"

I liked the look of this boat sitting down by the ice

"ice chunks in Frobisher Bay"

The wind off these chunks of ice kept the temperature chilly

It wasn’t long before we decided we needed to warm up and have some lunch so off we went to one of the local hotels where a buffet brunch was happening. The place was almost empty because according to one of the workers the town empties out on the July long weekend and everyone goes south to Ottawa. We dug into a plate of food trying to guess what it would set us back – as almost everything but gas and subsidized fruit and vegetables is wildly expensive in the North. I guessed $35 each but was wrong. It was $40 + tax for nothing special – except the art in the dining room was fantastic. And it was warm inside.

Next we decided we’d just wander and see what we might see. It was glorious not having an agenda and the time to do as we pleased.

"Loved the colourful houses seen all over Iqaluit"

Loved the colourful houses seen all over Iqaluit

"Another view of Iqaluit - with all buildings above ground"

Another view of Iqaluit – with all buildings above ground

"Sled on the back streets of Iqaluit"

We saw many a sled

"Stop sign in English and Inuktitut"

Stop sign in English and Inuktitut

We decided to check out the grocery store for pricing. Orange juice was an astounding $12.79 – as everything comes via air except in July and August. A regular sized Gatorade was $10.

"Orange juice for $12.79 in Iqaluit"

Orange juice for $12.79 in Iqaluit

Kids have freedom in this town. They walk, ride bikes and hang out – just like I did growing up.

"kids wandering the streets in Iqaluit"

Kids can wander the streets in Iqaluit without having a parent nearby

There were Canada Day celebrations in full swing – more of a weekend event than a one day affair. We came across this young woman modeling clothes made of seal fur. Before you get indignant I’d say visit the place and you’ll have an understanding why seal fur and not leather from cows is used.

"Modeling clothes made out of seal fur"

Modeling clothes made out of seal fur

"Some of the workshops on tap for the weekend"

Some of the workshops on tap for the weekend

"snow toys for transportation"

Waiting for the snow to fly again

"messy yard with snowmobiles"

A lot of yards look like this

"sled dogs"

One heck of a lot of sled dogs – just 10 minutes away from the airport

We checked out a book store with a fantastic selection of northern writing and by then it was time to return – or so we thought. Once back at the airport we were told it would be another three or four or who knows how many hours to go. We did finally leave about 8 pm – with the sun still shining as it does up there for 24 hours a day right now.

"Departures rotating between Inuktitut and English "

Departures rotating between Inuktitut and English

By the time we returned to Iqaluit two weeks later we both felt like we were going back to the big city. It does have about 6,700 inhabitants – and after being in the middle of nowhere that feels big.

We were both very happy to have had a chance to explore Iqaluit – especially as I doubt we’ll be returning anytime in the near future.

For more travel inspiration check out the photos of other travel bloggers on Nancie’s Budget Travelers Sandbox website.

Have you ever had an unexpected flight delay in a place you wanted to explore?

Leigh McAdam


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