You must see Inuvik (population 3,300) with your own eyes to believe it, and then you may still doubt what you see: brightly painted houses on stilts, a monstrous church shaped like an igloo, metal tunnels snaking through town, and a main street where businesses have names such as Eskimo Inn, 60 Below Construction, and Polar TV.
Inuvik (Place of Man, in Inuvialuktun) is obviously a planned community, transformed from some architect’s drafting board into full-blown reality high above the Arctic Circle. All aspects have been scientifically planned, right down to the foundations—all structures sit on piles of rock, ensuring stability in the permafrost and preventing heat from turning the ground into sludge.
Inuvik marks the end of the Dempster Highway, as far north as you can drive on a public road in North America, which is reason enough for many visitors to make the trek to town. If you come up from Calgary, you will have driven 3,560 kilometers (2,210 miles), from Seattle 4,030 kilometers (2,500 miles), from Los Angeles 6,100 kilometers (3,790 miles), or from New York 7,600 kilometers (4,720 miles).
Summer Solstice in June is celebrated by Midnight Madness, although because the sun doesn’t set for a month, the actual date of the festival is of little importance. Celebrations on the weekend closest to the solstice (June 21) include traditional music and dancing and a feast of lobster imported from the east coast for the occasion.
The Great Northern Arts Festival (www.gnaf.org), held during the third week of July, features carving demonstrations, musical performances such as Inuit drumming, displays, and sales of Northern art.
The Western Arctic Visitor Centre (867/777-4727, www.inuvik.ca, daily 9 a.m.–8 p.m. mid-May–mid-Sept.) is at the entrance to town, a 10-minute walk from downtown. This modern facility features displays on the people of the north, details on each of the western Arctic communities, and all the usual tour information. Out back, a trail leads through a re-creation of an Inuvialuit whaling camp and a Gwich’in fishing camp.
Getting to Inuvik
Mike Zubko Airport, 12 kilometers (7.5 miles) south of town, is the hub of air transport in the western Arctic. A cab between the airport and downtown is $35 for one or two passengers. From Calgary and Edmonton, First Air (867/669-8500 or 800/267-1247) and Canadian North (867/873-4484 or 800/661-1505) fly to Inuvik via Yellowknife. Heading north, sit on the left side of the plane for views of the Mackenzie Mountains. The local airline, with scheduled flights to communities throughout the western Arctic, is Aklak Air (867/777-3777, www.aklakair.ca).
For a cab, call United Taxi (867/777-5050). The cabs don’t have meters because fares are set: $10 anywhere around town, $45 to the airport, and $460 to Tuktoyaktuk on the winter road.
© Andrew Hempstead, from Moon Western Canada, 3rd Edition