Even though Nunavut’s entire population could easily fit inside of a modern baseball stadium, the territory has established an outsized presence on the global arts and culture scene. That’s due mainly to the wide and growing network of artists dedicated to showcasing Inuit culture to the rest of the world.
Across the territory right now, master carvers are busy etching vivid hunting scenes or depicting iconic Arctic animals like polar bears or narwhal on soapstone with uncanny detail. Meanwhile, globe-trotting Nunavut musicians are on tour somewhere in southern Canada or overseas, with an adoring crowd chanting the infectious Inuktut-language chorus from a new hit song. In Cape Dorset or Pangnirtung or Baker Lake, printmakers are hard at work on a new print collection, featuring fantastical and breathtaking scenes that tell Inuit stories and legends in novel and imaginative ways. In Iqaluit and Rankin Inlet, and communities far and wide, in-demand fashion designers are creating innovative trends, using age-old materials like seal skin, that will leave watchers wowed on international catwalks. In Igloolik, a Cannes-winning filmmaker is planning his next feature film. There is culture everywhere!
A visit to Nunavut is the perfect opportunity to learn about Inuit culture—experience it first-hand through on-the-land adventures and storytelling, and by participating in arts workshops, games and more.
Studios, arts centres and museums all over Nunavut open their doors to visitors hoping to witness masters at work. In Baker Lake, drop into the Jessie Oonark Centre—named after the famed local printmaker and artisan—where seamstresses, carvers, jewellery-makers and printmakers share space and create inventive works of art.
In Pangnirtung, the Uqqurmiut Arts and Crafts Centre is a hub of creativity, housing a print shop as well as a studio for tapestry. Each of these studios and art centres sells works from local creators.
Outfitters and operators in most every Nunavut community can bring you out on the land to try your hand at ice fishing, dog sledding, and to sample local country food like tuktu (caribou), maqtaaq (whale fat), pipsi (dried Arctic Char), or seal.
Igloo Tourism and Outfitting, out of Igloolik, will bring out to an igloo village, where you can help build your own snow house. You can also choose to spend the night there, wrapped up warmly in caribou blankets, and watch the Aurora borealis (Aqsarniit) when they come out to dance, listening as your guide tells you the legends behind the glowing lights.
In Iqaluit, jump right into the excitement during Toonik Tyme, the capital’s annual spring carnival, and participate in an igloo-building competition or any of the traditional Inuit games and demonstrations.
In Iqaluit, there’s no shortage of places to pick up souvenirs from your Northern adventure.
Carvings Nunavut sells a variety of locally produced soapstone carvings in downtown Iqaluit and also online. Uasau Soap’s handmade bars, that incorporate bowhead whale and other local ingredients, are available for purchase around town. Malikkaat, a downtown craft shop and souvenir shop, and Rannva Design, an arts consignment shop and seal skin designs retailer, sell prints, animal skins, beadings, carvings and other works from artists around the city and territory. Remember your trip through branded items from Inukpak Outfitting.
In Rankin Inlet, Ivalu is your one-stop-shop for Inuit art of all kinds, with items from all over the territory packed into the intimate retail space. Outside of Iqaluit, be on the lookout for Char and other delights from Kivalliq Arctic Foods and Kitikmeot Foods.
Before snowmachines and airplanes, pick-up trucks and ATVs, there was the dogsled—the original mode of winter transportation for Inuit in the high Arctic. Today, many continue to keep dog teams. Some choose to use dog teams for their hunts, while others run competitive teams that take part in famed dogsled races like the Nunavut Quest, held between North Baffin communities like Pond Inlet, Igloolik and Arctic Bay.
For visitors, this is still the most authentic way to experience the natural beauty of Nunavut. Feel the surge of adrenaline as a team of energetic huskies darts off and whisks you away into a winter wonderland. All manner of dogsledding tours are available, from afternoon sightseeing outings to multi-day expeditions between towns.
Here’s some of what you can expect:
Kool Runnings, based out of Iqaluit, offers a variety of dogsledding experiences to dog lovers. Head out for the day with an expert guide and a team of playful huskies—including lead dog Loulou and her brother Kinai—to explore the capital’s pristine surroundings. With Kool Runnings, guests will learn what it takes to care for a dog team before creating your own custom dog-powered adventure. Want to get far away from town for an overnight winter camping trip? Or would you prefer to bikejor or skijor along Frobisher Bay, with a dog pulling you through a winter wonderland? The choice is yours. Guests of Kool Runnings also have the option to take a real Arctic dogsledding trip, by travelling between Iqaluit and the community of Kimmirut, roughly 120 kilometres away, on a trail used by mushers for generations.
Inukpak Outfitting also offers a range of dogsledding adventures from Iqaluit, which include half-day, full-day, overnight and multi-day trips, where you will learn the ins and outs of running a healthy and happy Arctic dog team.
Outside of Iqaluit, Arctic Wilderness Guiding and Outfitting gives visitors to Naujaat the chance to head out on the land with a team of enthusiastic huskies. So too does Pirursiak Arctic Tours, in Hall Beach, allowing guests to cozy up under layers of furs on a qamutiq—the traditional Inuit sled—and head out in the Arctic Ocean.
For the truly intrepid, the expert and experienced guides at Northwinds Expeditions can organize life-affirming Arctic adventures you’ve only dreamed about, like navigating the Sverdrup Pass in the High Arctic, or even a trip to the North Pole.
From leisurely afternoons to epic, once-in-a-lifetime journeys, experience Nunavut with an authentic, amazing dog sled adventure.
Up here, Arctic Char has served as a crucial staple of the local diet as long as anyone can remember.
It’s no wonder why many settlements—and later communities—developed near waters where the fishing was good. Town names like Iqaluit (‘place of many fish’ in Inuktitut) and Iqaluktuttiaq (Cambridge Bay, or ‘good fishing place’ in Inuinnaqtun) reflect the importance of Arctic Char to some of Nunavut’s largest communities.
Nearly every community in Nunavut has its own secret spots to catch the Arctic Char—a beautiful pink-red-purple salmonid that migrates to freshwater in the spring or summer to spawn.
No matter the season, there’s no lack of options to get out to fish for Arctic Char and experience an integral part of life in Nunavut by indulging in its people’s favourite pastime.
In most communities, visitors should be able to find a tour operator or outfitter to guide them on an exciting Arctic fishing expedition.
Igloo Tourism and Outfitting offers customized eight-hour fishing trips out of Igloolik, which also double as wildlife photography adventures. Be on the lookout for walruses, bowhead whales, bearded seals and even the odd polar bear.
Kivalliq Wildlife Adventures provides fishing tours out of Arviat and Pirursiak Arctic Tours offers excursions from Hall Beach. In Iqaluit, Tikippugut Outfitting lets you leave the city behind to get out on the water for the day and fish for feisty Arctic Char at Nunngarut, the serene Bay of Two Rivers—a favourite for local fishers.
In Iqaluit, one of the most popular weekend and after-work summer activities is a brisk hike out to the Sylvia Grinnell River to cast for Arctic Char from shore.
For a more unique experience, Iqaluit’s Inukpak Outfitting offers fly-fishing tutorials and tours for guests, showing them the ins and outs of luring in a monster.
Further north, in the picturesque community of Pond Inlet, Atii (Let’s go!) Tours provide the rods so guests can try to reel in Arctic Char from scenic Salmon Creek.
Don’t let a little ice stop you.
Inukpak Outfitting provides snowmobile and ice-fishing trips out of Iqaluit, one of many Nunavut operators offering comfortable winter fishing excursions.
For an unforgettable experience, Arctic Bay Adventures brings guests out on multi-day trips to the floe edge—a temporary and astounding ecosystem teeming with wildlife. Here, the company’s expert guides will bring people out on day-trips to proven fishing spots on northern Baffin Island, with an opportunity to sample traditional dried char.
Surrounded by unspoiled nature in one of Nunavut’s national or territorial parks, sometimes you just have to stop and appreciate the astounding views. Like the logic-defying peaks along the Pang Pass in Auyuittuq National Park. Or the otherworldly hoodoo spires and massive Mothership glacier in Sirmilik National Park. Or the sun, that travels around in a small circle high above you all summer in Quttinirpaaq National Park, at the northern end of Ellesmere Island—just about as far north as you can get in the world while remaining on solid land.
Nunavut is blessed with many special places, which recognize areas that are important in Inuit history and culture, along with celebrating the unparalleled beauty that abounds in the territory.
No matter what your interests are, there’s a national or territorial park that will appeal to you.
It’s one of the most dramatic landmarks in all of the world: Mount Thor, a granite cliff with the planet’s greatest vertical drop of more than 1,200 metres. It’s just one of the many unbelievable sites you’ll witness on the Akshayuk (Pang) Pass, a challenging, multi-day hike through the park. Spend a night camping in the shadow of Mount Thor or Mount Asgard, a two-peaked mountain, and you might just have to pinch yourself to confirm that the view out of your tent is real and not a dream.
For the truly intrepid, Northwinds Adventures offers a winter ski expedition through Akshayuk Pass.
Closest communities: Pangnirtung and Qikiqtarjuaq
The Northwest Passage Tail in Gjoa Haven will put the mythology of that so-called ‘Arctic Grail’ into perspective, by revealing the historical significance of interactions between explorers and Inuit. The Northwest Passage Information Centre in Gjoa Haven provides an excellent overview of the trail and a link with the living keepers of the passage’s history. For a more comprehensive history, visit Gjoa Haven during the Umiyaqtutt Festival in late August, to commemorate the discovery of Sir John Franklin’s two doomed ships—the Erebus and Terror—nearby.
Closest community: Gjoa Haven
Keep an eye out for polar bears and caribou, grizzly bears and Arctic wolves in Ukkusiksalik National Park, a pristine tundra expanse that also includes Wager Bay—a giant inland sea where bowhead whales, orcas, belugas, walruses and even narwhal spend their summers. Make sure to bring your binoculars.
Closest community: Naujaat
Qaummaarviit Territorial Park is rich with historical and archaeological treasures that tell a story of centuries of Inuit occupation. Just a short dogsled or boat ride from the hustle and bustle of Iqaluit, you will find tent rings and sod houses—the remains of dwellings used over the past 750 years. On the journey to the park, watch seals swimming in the ocean or basking on the sea ice.
Closest community: Iqaluit
Fossil Creek Trail represents a treasure trove of ancient history, with Nunavut’s largest concentration of known fossils—some of which date back more than 450 million years. Easily accessible from Coral Harbour, the trail is well-marked with informative signage, allowing you to travel back in time to when Southampton Island was at the bottom of a tropical sea near the equator. Walk the trail on your own or with an experienced local outfitter, who can keep a watch out for wildlife while you devote all of your attention to the fossils.
Closest community: Coral Harbour
This is what you’ve always imagined the Arctic to be. Sirmilik National Park is a dreamscape of ice fields, glaciers and mountains, with geological oddities like spiral hoodoos and marvels like the Mothership glacier, which looks like a giant UFO. Book a tour with an outfitter in Arctic Bay or Pond Inlet, who can bring you out to the park’s attractions or to watch in wonder as narwhal congregates at the floe edge in spring.
Closest communities: Arctic Bay and Pond Inlet
Whalers set up shop on Kekerten Territorial Park in the 1850s and continued to overwinter there until the 1910s. Today, visitors can walk the wooden boardwalks built around this abandoned whaling station and examine the old equipment and facilities, while views of the harbour—surrounded by the natural beauty of Cumberland Sound’s fiords—is worth the trip alone. Visits to Kekerten can be made in either the spring or summer with outfitters from Pangnirtung.
Closest community: Pangnirtung
With iconic wildlife, majestic fiords, spellbinding Northern Lights and all kinds of life-affirming outdoor adventures, Nunavut sure makes for one photogenic place.
Every year, photographers flock to the Arctic for a vacation they’ve always dreamed of. Here, they travel to the floe edge to capture pods of narwhal, feeling the spray of the breaching mammals nearby as they take a breath and then plunge, tusk first, back into the frigid depths. Visitors will snuggle up together comfortably in an igloo and then rush outside with their tripods as soon as the sensational aurora begins to dance high above on the tundra. In summer, they document the 24-hour day with a time-lapse photo of the sun that just refuses to dip below the horizon.
While outfitters and tourism operators in most Nunavut communities are waiting to guide photographers on their journeys, there are also many local photographers who know where you can get the perfect photo—and who can provide you with all the inspiration you need to start planning your next trip to Nunavut.
In Iqaluit, Vincent Desrosiers through his company VDOpro, has been documenting life in Nunavut through photo and video for more than a decade. VDOpro provides a range of services that include equipment rentals, location scouting, transportation and logistics services, production consulting and support, as well as on-the-ground photography and video.
Based out of Kugluktuk, Umingmak Productions focuses on wildlife and landscape photography. Mathieu Dumond, a longtime wildlife biologist, captures iconic Arctic animals like muskoxen, wolverines, caribou and wolves interacting in their natural habitats. Umingmak (‘muskox’ in Inuktut) also offers production services for visiting film crews and photographers, logistical support, as well as equipment rentals.
From the breathtakingly beautiful North Baffin community of Arctic Bay, Jack Willie takes stunning photos of the town’s picturesque surroundings, the area’s marvellous landmarks—like “the Pants” rock-arch formation nearby—while also documenting local culture.
Jason Miller, owner of Baffin Photography, is a landscape and aviation photographer based in Iqaluit. Employed as a pilot, Miller has travelled extensively across Nunavut—frequently flying up and down Baffin Island—capturing magical aurora borealis scenes, the snowy Pangnirtung fjord and much, much more.
Ajjiit Photography is a new local business that specializes in personal and family portraiture, from its studio in the Nunavut capital.
Whenever you’re planning a vacation, one of the first things to do is book a place to stay.
In Nunavut, there are no Hiltons or Holiday Inns. But every community has at least one quality hotel or bed and breakfast, where you can rest your head and catch your breath after an unforgettable day of fun-filled experiences and Arctic adventure.
Here’s a quick primer on where to look:
In nearly every Nunavut community, big or small, you’ll find an Inns North hotel, owned and operated by local co-op organizations. With hotels and affiliates in 19 destinations—from the Grise Fiord Lodge, in the northernmost community in Canada, to the Amaulik Inns North Hotel in Sanikiluaq, south of the 60th parallel in Hudson Bay—you can expect friendly, hospitable staff and a clean, comfortable room with Inns North.
There are quality hotels and bed and breakfasts spread all over the Nunavut capital.
Located in the Astro Hill complex, overlooking the city, the Frobisher Inn is one of the premier hotels in Iqaluit. Without having to leave the building, guests can enjoy pub grub and a drink at the Storehouse, sample Arctic fare like muskox medallions at the Gallery and check out a movie at the local theatre.
On the other side of town, you’ll find the Discovery, home to comfortable suites, as well as luxury dining at the Granite Room, which prominently features Northern cuisine on its menu.
In the heart of downtown, Capital Suites is within walking distance of restaurants, arts and crafts stores, and across the street from the Legion—home to legendary Saturday nights out.
The Asqarniit Hotel and Convention Centre is the newest addition to the Iqaluit skyline. Situated near the airport, the hotel features 94 rooms, a dining lounge and a conference facility.
Also in the city, Northern Accommodations offers guests apartment-style accommodations and is open to longer-term stays.
For the outdoor lover, Apex Bed and Breakfast offers up to six rooms in close proximity to the beach and many hiking trails, in the community situated roughly 5 kilometres from Iqaluit.
Also in Apex, you can stay at the old nursing station with Rannva’s B&B, which features a scenic lookout over Frobisher Bay.
As the name would suggest, the Pangnirtung Fjordview Bed & Breakfast provides breathtaking views of the scenic community’s fiord, with attentive and welcoming staff who will quickly become friends.
Centrally located in the artistic hotbed of Cape Dorset, Dorset Suites offers a range of modern, comfortable suite options, with architecture inspired by traditional Inuit structures.
On the southern tip of Ellesmere Island, the South Camp Inn and Airport Hotel in Resolute take care of meals and shuttle service for guests.
Inns North operates two large hotels in Rankin Inlet—the Siniktarvik Hotel & Conference Centre and Turaarvik Inns North Hotel—which feature dining and meeting rooms.
With two locations in Arviat and one in Rankin Inlet, family-owned Katimavik Suites offers a variety of room options to guests, along with truck rentals
The Nunamiut Lodge in Baker Lake features 32 rooms, a conference facility and a dining room, where guests can bask in the sun under a solarium.
Rooms in the Aura Hotel in Baker Lake include queen-sized beds, free wifi and some suites have kitchenettes and fridges for guests who want to do their own cooking.
You’ll feel at home at Leonie’s Place, a bed and breakfast in Coral Harbour that also features a craft shop.
Cambridge Bay is booming right now. As a result, options for accommodations have never been more plentiful.
Arctic Islands Lodge, operated by Inns North, has a dining lounge and conference facilities.
The Illu Inn offers comfortable and stylish accommodations that include kitchen, fridge and in-room laundry. It also provides long-term rentals to visitors who just don’t want to leave!
The Ublu Inn offers five rooms, which are also available for longer-term rentals.
Located in central Cambridge Bay and within walking distance of the local Co-op and Northern store, Green Row offers clean, suite-style rooms with a full kitchen and satellite TV for guests.
Enokhok Inn and Suites offers five rooms, ATV and truck rentals, as well as one fully contained three-bedroom suite in the Kitikmeot hub.
The Qillaq Lodge offers meals made from scratch every day, as well as internet services for guests.
Umingmak Lodge Bed and Breakfast, on the way to the new Canadian High Arctic Research Station, also offers spacious rooms.
Gjoa Haven Bed and Breakfast gives guests the option to rent out a full, multi-bedroom home for their stay in the famed Northwest Passage community.
In Kugluktuk, the Copper Mine Inn offers home-cooked meals in their spacious dining facility, as well as free laundry and internet services.
Enokhok Inn and Suites, also in Kugluktuk, has 12 rooms available for guests, as well as ATV rental services.
Blessed with clean waters and wildlands, Nunavut is home to a vast array of fish and game that Inuit have harvested since time immemorial. While traditional country foods still make up a large portion of local diets, there’s also a burgeoning foodie scene (especially in Iqaluit and the regional hubs) where Nunavut staples are being remixed and reimagined, alongside international dishes brought North by enterprising newcomers.
Here’s how to get a taste of the Arctic on your next adventure in Nunavut:
You can try contemporary twists on Nunavut classics at upscale restaurants in Iqaluit, with Arctic Char, muskoxen medallions and more on the menu at the Frob or at the newest restaurant at Asqarniit Hotel and Convention Centre. In Cambridge Bay, Saxifrage-Resto will incorporate country foods on its dinner menu, besides healthy soup and salad options. Or try the Mount Pelly.
In Iqaluit, stop in at Blackheart Cafe for a morning latte or a lunch soup and sandwich combo that will keep you nice and warm on a cold day. For late-night options, put in a call to the Snack for a poutine. Or two.
In most Nunavut communities, the local Inns North hotel is the place to go when dining out. For instance, in Cambridge Bay, the Arctic Island Lodge serves up muskox burgers.
One of the newest additions to Iqaluit’s nightlife scene is Nunavut Brewing Company’s brew pub, where the territory’s lone craft brewery serves up locally made ales and lagers. Other can’t miss events in the capital include the Storehouse’s Wednesday wing night.
In Iqaluit, stop in at Nunavut Country Foods, which offers a wide selection of traditional food staples. Here, you can pick up some narwhal maqtaaq, caribou or seal meat, as well as frozen Arctic char—all of which is sourced in Nunavut.
In Cambridge Bay, drop into Kitikmeot Arctic Foods to pick up Arctic Char done a variety of ways—candied, filleted and jerky. In Rankin Inlet, Kivalliq Arctic Foods also does Arctic Char, along with its famous ‘Country Food Pak,’ which includes caribou, muskoxen, char and maqtaaq. Kitikmeot and Kivalliq Arctic Foods products can be found in most communities.
Enjoy these authentic Arctic treats while in Nunavut or bring some home as a souvenir. (Just make sure you keep your Arctic Char frozen!)
By Travel Nunavut
Our members, and expedition experts at Adventure Canada and One Ocean, have come together to create the ultimate packing guide for your next Arctic expedition cruise. Download a copy for yourself so you don’t forget a thing!
By Ellen Hamilton
By Ellen Hamilton, Executive Director
Qaggiavuut, Nunavut Performing Arts Society
The qulliq (Inuit stone lamp) is lit and its glow warms the room with a dancing flame not unlike the northern lights. Susan Avingaq begins to sing an ancient song about happy and prosperous times. It is chant-like, and the words move with the qulliq light and bring us closer to life on the Arctic land and sea. Susan grew up in a qammaq – a sod house – in a small camp near what is now Igloolik on the northwestern part of Baffin Island. The qulliq was the only source of heat and light and was fueled by seal and whale fat, it was – and still is – a symbol of survival and of home. Today she lights the qulliq to bring us back to the music, stories and values of Inuit culture.
Susan is here at the Qaggiavuut office in Iqaluit to open a theatre workshop for Inuit performing artists from all regions of Nunavut. They will collaborate over a three-month period to create a new work of theatre based in traditional Inuit storytelling. Elders, like Susan will be our guides and provide the script and the cultural dramaturgy for Kiviuq Returns, about a hero who, lost and paddling in his qajaq, encounters many strange, humorous and frightening creatures and animals. His spirit guides and the teachings of his elders support him through his long, lifetime journey home, but it is his resilience, calm and courage that ensure he survives; he never gives up.
This summer Kiviuq Returns became the first Inuit language work of theatre to tour in professional southern Canadian stages as well as Nunavut communities. In 2017 the interdisciplinary production featuring Inuit legends, contemporary and traditional music, dance and digital design performed in 11 Nunavut communities, 4 Canadian cities, to a total audience of 15,000. In 2018-19 the show will tour in Greenland, be performed at the Tarragon Theatre in Toronto and is being developed for a tour of theatres in China!
This is only one of the projects taken on by Qaggiavuut, a non profit society dedicated to strengthening the Inuit performing arts. Formed in 2010 to advocate for the needs of Nunavut’s performing artists, Qaggiavuut is working to build Qaggiq – a Nunavut performing arts and cultural learning hub – a space to create, train, teach and present the performing arts in Nunavut. To highlight the need for a performing arts space, the cast of Kiviuq Returns was forced south to rehearse and stage their show at performing arts centres in Kingston, Banff and Ottawa before returning to Nunavut to perform. Without space, artists simply cannot create professional new work necessary to building a cultural destination for the Nunavut community and its visitors.
Winner of the Arctic Inspiration Prize in 2016, Qaggiavuut has developed partnerships with the federal and territorial governments, Inuit organizations and the private sector to map Nunavut’s musicians, actors, writers, filmmakers, acrobats and cultural performers on its website database, and deliver training workshops to them. In 2017 alone, Qaggiavuut supported 300 Nunavut performing artists and delivered performing arts workshops to over 5000 Nunavut youth.
The performing arts are a key element to tourism, linking visitors to the culture through music, dance and storytelling. Qaggiavuut is working to ensure Nunavut’s performing artists are given opportunities to train and collaborate, so they can present quality performances that bring both old and new Inuit culture alive. When artists are strong, so is the culture and the voice of its people.
The chorus of the old song repeats and the young actors join to the beat of Pakak Innuksuk’s drum. “Aja ja ja …” These performers are part of a revitalization of the traditional music and stories of the Inuit , once banned during colonization and now reclaimed by a new generation learning from elders. Susan Avingaq taps down the qulliq flame, keeping it steadily dancing and moving, like the culture she so well represents and shares.
For upcoming performances and workshops in Nunavut, please refer to the Qaggiavuut Facebook and website and contact us to learn how you can support Nunavut’s performing artists.