Up there.

About Nunavut

NU license plate anonymous

OCT 29th UPDATE: Elections here are over - the premier here, Eva Aariak, was defeated by a newcomer in the very riding I live in. I met both of them campaigning door to door. Sorry for the lateness of this post - my web host was hacked and I wasn’t able to post for more than a week.

Most of you reading this blog probably know nothing or very little about Nunavut. I knew very little myself when I was thinking about coming up here. When I grew up in Canada, we had 10 provinces and 2 territories, the later being Yukon and Northwest Territories. Nunavut became a separate territory only in 1999, carved out of the eastern portion of the Northwest Territories as part of a lands claim settlement between the Government of Canada and the Inuit, Canada's northernmost First Nations people.

All of Nunavut lies above the tree line, and it extends from Hudson Bay and the Manitoba border to the south, all the way up past the Arctic Circle. All of Nunavut's major settlements except for one - Baker Lake - lie on the coastline.

One of the more interesting things about Nunavut is that it is governed by consensus. There are no political parties; all candidates run as independents. This system is also found in the NWT. Elections are coming up here on Oct 28, so the CBC had a very good story on how the consensus government works, with some good discussion of its advantages and disadvantages: http://www.cbc.ca/elections/nunavutvotes2013/features/view/what-is-consensus-government

80% of the population is Inuit, although this proportion is a little lower in Iqaluit, the capital, where I live. The rest of the population is mostly white, say the statistics. This is undoubtedly true, but I have also seen a few non-white, non-Inuit faces on the street. There is an enormous shortage of medical staff here - not to mention skilled staff of many kinds - so I'm guessing this is drawing a more diverse group of people to the city.

Iqaluit was formerly known as Frobisher Bay, the same name as the bay on which it is located. Frobisher Bay was established as an American air base in 1942, and became part of the DEW (Distant Early Warning) line under NORAD in the 1950s at the height of the Cold War.

Today, Iqaluit is dominated by the Government of Nunavut, the major employer in town. When you google pictures of downtown Iqaluit, most of the buildings you will see house territorial or federal government offices. It is much more urban than most of Nunavut and, as is said of most capital cities, very different from the rest of the territory it represents. And different from every other capital city in Canada, as you will see in future posts.

Pics below:
Nunavut legislature in downtown Iqaluit
My work building, the Sivummut Building, which houses Justice, Education and Health. For orientation, the federal building is in the foreground, which is the building behind the legislature in the first pic.
The RCMP building, across the road from my building and kiddy-corner from the federal building. The ridge of buildings above is a suburb called “The Plateau.” It is not as far away as the Road to Nowhere, but apparently it is windier.

Legislature

Sivummut with Canada building in foreground
RCMP Building

Reality Check: Iqaluit Food Prices

Dave joked that I looked like a "prepper" (for the endtimes) as I was getting ready to come up here. I had food of every type packed: Flour, rolled oats, lentils, tomato paste, dried fruit and raisins, etc.

First, I figured organic would be expensive if even possible to get up here, and second, I'd read the horror stories about the price of food. Someone had even posted a picture of a cabbage with the price beneath it: $28 or so. It was a large cabbage, but still.

When I walked into the grocery stores here, I felt a fool. Some food prices were marginally higher than what we see in Belfast or Bangor, Maine, and some were about the same. In the processed food section, things were a little more expensive, but I don't buy much processed food anyway.

Also, I'm a regular purchaser of organic food, which can be expensive. In summary, I'd say that what you would pay for non-organic food in Iqaluit is about what you'd pay for organic food at the Belfast Coop or, if anything, less.

Here are some examples of what I've paid for groceries this week.

Apples - CD$2.54/lb
Bananas - $1.12/lb
Carrots - 2lb bag - $2.35
Organic frozen corn - 1.1 lb bag - $5.99
Potatoes - 5lb bag - $5.49
White onions - $2.43/lb
Milk - 1 litre - $3.29
Aged cheddar cheese - $13/lb
Dozen eggs - $3.30 or so
Hellman's mayo - 445ml jar - $6.49 (Kraft was cheaper but I hate Kraft)
Maille Dijon mustard - 250 ml jar - $4.99

To be fair to other bloggers who have told these food price horror stories, they may have been writing before the Nutrition North subsidy, designed to make healthy food more affordable, was put into place, and they may have been talking about food prices in parts of Nunavut other than Iqaluit. But in Iqaluit, in early October 2013, I can say that healthy food prices are slightly high, but not even close to insane.

Weather, Wind & First Day on the Job (sort of)

After arriving last Monday and briefly meeting my colleagues, I settled into my apartment, unpacked everything, and generally felt organized and ready for my first day of work on Tuesday.

I woke up in the middle of the night from the sound of high winds and a very loud flapping of something or other. I got up to investigate, reaching for the light switch. Nothing happened. The power was out. I looked out the window and, through sideways blowing snow, was able to identify the source of the flapping: Unsecured building wrap from the apartment building across the way. I put in earplugs, took half of one of those wonderful little ambien pills, read a bit by headlamp, and nodded off again.

When I got up in the morning, the power was on. Yay! But then off again. And then on again. I jumped into the shower before it could go off again. I looked out the window again before I left, to see how bad the snow and wind looked - not great. But I had heard the temperature on the radio - not too much below freezing. How bad could it be?

Ever the intrepid prairie girl, I bundled up sensibly to begin the long trek to work (about 25 minutes in good weather, as it turns out). Damned if I was going to take a taxi my first day on the job!

This is the point at which I should mention that my apartment is located on the Road to Nowhere. Really. That is the name of the road. When you look at a map of Iqaluit, it's one of those far off developments, seemingly isolated on its own. Of course Dave and I joked when we saw it, and I said, but what are the chances of me living out there?

100%, as it turns out. The Road to Nowhere, and my building, is situated on a high ridge overlooking Dead Dog Lake and just about every other part of Nunavut. It is exposed to the weather, to say the least, and the winds are not kind.

I stepped outside. Hmm. A little windy, not too cold, do-able. I round the building. The wind hits harder. A little more challenging, but no big deal. I'm definitely going to have put my head into this one, I thought. I get onto the road. Icy sonofabitch! But I'm from Saskatchewan and I know how to read ice. I head straight for the gravelly shoulder for traction.

Oh, my. Headed downhill now, and traffic a-coming. And the wind is now calling for a bit of a crouch position. Aha! A sign post to grab onto. I am proud of myself for using the tools at my disposal.

My hair's blowing in my face. I take a mitt off to tuck my hair back under my hat. The mitt drops to the ground. It is hi-tech lightweight down, so naturally it blows, across to the other side of the road. I don't dare chase it quickly, what with the ice and the downhill traffic. But lo and behold! A sign conveniently placed by a candidate in the upcoming elections stops the mitt from blowing into the ditch. I look both ways and cross carefully to retrieve it. Almost there. Shit. It's been picked up by the wind again and is in the ditch. Alright, I have my waterproof wind pants on. The ditch is but a small obstacle. Except the snow is about 2.5 feet deep. Double shit. But I've got the mitt! I clamber out of the ditch and make down the road.

Now out in an open stretch, it occurs to me that the wind is actually strong enough to blow me off my feet. I crouch some more and wonder if my fate is to get crushed under the wheels of an SUV on my first full day in Iqaluit. Honestly, I'm thinking, Red Green's Adventures With Bill don't get much worse.

And then, a saviour. His voice calls out from said SUV: Do you want a ride? "Oh, I think I can manage," I respond with a plucky smile. "It can only get better as I get further into town," not meaning this in any sarcastic kind of way. Are you sure, he asks? Actually, no. I run over and gratefully get in. That was Jonathan, who manages finances for (I think he said) territorial prosecution services. He has lived all of his life in Gjoa Haven and Iqaluit for and, although he didn't say it, he clearly knew a stupid southerner when he saw one. Thanks, Jonathan!

I arrive at the Sivummut building where my office is located, only to find the power out there. But others are there and are discussing what to do. I head up the stairs and find a few other brave spirits in my division. I describe my odyssey and one woman says, "I know that ditch! I've stepped into it!", which made me feel a little better.

The power flickers on, we putter about a bit, and the power goes off again. Short story: we're sent home because even though some people can find useful things to with or without power, we're not legally supposed to be in the building if the power is off. Wisely, I get a taxi to go home, although I'd much rather stay because home will be depressing without power or internet. On the way, I notice lights on in a building that says, "Hotel Arctic". I ask my taxi driver if it's the kind of place where you can hang out in the lobby and no one will say anything. Oh yes, he says, there's even a restaurant you can get a cup of coffee. We circle around the block and he drops me off. The front desk clerk kindly provides me with the internet passcode and - voila - I'm on-line. I'm there for a couple of hours catching up on emails. No power disruptions; the Hotel Arctic has a backup generator!

Finally, I head home in another cab. The power is off when I arrive, but I snuggle up on the couch in a blanket with a book and take a very nice nap. As a casual employee, I am getting paid for the day. I finally decide it's not a bad way to start. Welcome to Iqaluit!

Pics below:
View of the storm from my work building downtown.
Dead Dog Lake from my apartment building, after the storm calmed down.
View from the Hotel Arctic. The colorful building beyond houses the First Nations Bank, among other things.

Downtown storm

Dead Dog Lake Cloudy


View from Hotel Arctic