I can’t quite place when my fascination with Nunavut began. What I do know is that in sixth grade, my class was assigned to draw a picture of our best friend ‘living their dream’. I drew mine playing on an Olympic basketball team; she drew me riding a polar bear in Nunavut. Fast forward to 2015 and I had secured a guiding job in Nunavut. For four magical months I snowmobiled on the Arctic Ocean, hiked across tundra and paddled among icebergs.
Lonely departure to Nunavut
I remember the first day clearly. Standing with my backpack and duffel bag packed, I worried that I’d forgotten something. Yet, I wasn’t prepared to unpack and repack my bags. For the last three weeks, I’d commandeered the dining room table, using it as a home base for the many base layers, sweaters, and miscellaneous cold weather gear I’d be taking with me. Like many other young twenty-somethings, about to set out on their first long adventure away from home, an adventure of careful planning and endless preparation, I worried that reality would fall short of expectations.
My parents drove me to Toronto’s Pearson Airport. I wore boots, thick leggings and a down jacket; an thick shell jacket was in my carry-on. Those around me wore shorts and flip flops. Understandably so. I myself had worn a sun dress the day before, sipping drinks on an outdoor patio for the last time that summer.
I said goodbye to my parents, promising to FaceTime them in the WiFi allowed. I turned my back to them, feeling a strong pull to turn around and call the whole thing off. I took a deep breath. No, I was doing this. And with that I kept walking all the way through airport security and to my first departure gate.
The flight from Toronto to Ottawa was uneventful, yet deep in my stomach the sinking feeling remained. I was finally on route to Nunavut, a place I’d dreamed about visiting for years. How was this happening? Surely I’d get denied boarding in Ottawa and not make it north. Or, if I did board, the plane would crash. Sometimes the brain will do anything to mitigate feelings of hope and excitement; mine was no exception.
To my surprise, I wasn’t denied boarding. Instead, I followed the others as we boarded the First Air plane from the back – the front I learned, I filled with cargo. Everyone on the plane seemed to no someone else. The greeted each other fondly and asked about each other’s recent holidays or reasons for going south. Except me of course; I just sat there a little sheepish. With a shakier take-off than I would have liked, we were off and flying to Nunavut.
Almost four hours later, we still hadn’t crashed and instead the flight attendants prepared the cabin for departure. I’d been thinking about this moment for years: my touchdown in Nunavut. I couldn’t sit still. I couldn’t pull my gaze away from the window, eager to see the first glimpse of my new home. Perhaps this is what Neil Armstrong strong felt just before the moon landing?
My first glimpse, it turned out, would not be from the sky. The plane was surrounded by thick clouds and swirling snow. A blizzard. It was May and I was flying to a blizzard. Wonderful.
Discovering a new home in Nunavut
At a glance Nunavut was as barren as I’d expected, not a single tree for hundreds of kilometres. But upon closer look, the tundra was bursting with an abundance of life. Dwarf Fireweed, arctic cotton, lichen and moss all brought colour and vitality to a seemingly lifeless environment.
As anticipated, the midnight sun disrupted my circadian rhythm. It also brought energy to the night. Children played at all times of day in the arctic summer. Even at 3 am I could hear them playing soccer on the street outside my window. On the occasional Saturday night I’d leave the Storehouse bar past midnight, my eyes nearly blinded by the contrast from dark pool hall to glaring sunshine.
I fell in love with the complexity of ice and ocean. As the tides moved in and out, so the sea ice moved with it. Like a gigantic breathing chest, it rose 10 m with inhale, and fell 10 m with exhale.
I met wonderful people. There’s something about living in isolated that brings people closer. You couldn’t drive to the next town or take a weekend away. Once you were in the community, you were in the community. My friends caught meals of arctic char, my boss brought me Canadian goose and beluga. We drank Whisky flown in from a hundred miles away while a blizzard engulfed the town in the middle of June. We camped and told stories under a sky that never quite got dark.
I had believed a trip to Nunavut would be a once in a lifetime experience. And although my specific experience in 2015 was unique and I am unlikely to spend four months in the territory again, I learned that Nunavut itself doesn’t have to be a life time destination. In 2019 I returned for a week long vacation. Most Canadians do not realize that Nunavut is far more accessible than it seems.
I shouldn’t call myself a northern girl. I grew up in Southwestern Ontario. I don’t like when the days get short and the nights get long and my toes get cold. But I couldn’t predict Nunavut would leave a mark on me the way it did.
I also can’t say I fell into madly passionate love with Nunavut. I haven’t moved there (yet – this is a thought I regularly entertain). But I have to admit that I think about the territory far more often than I should. The arctic has a magic to it. A magic I hope more people can experience in their lifetime. I hope others can develop an appreciation for a world so distant and foreign such that we might take climate change more seriously. This environment – a world of midnight sun and treeless tundra – is one worth caring about. I’ve fallen for it, and I hope others can too.