Amazing and un-amazing Iqaluit

I’ve been thinking in lists as I walk around Nunavut’s capital, Iqaluit, so here’s my top five list of amazing things in this city of roughly 8,000.

But for each of these five amazing things there’s a shadow list of things, which make the Iqaluit of today an un-amazing place and on its way to becoming a mini-Yellowknife, with its clash of prosperity, commercialism and poverty.

1) Iqaluit Aquatic centre

A $40-million facility with a huge draw. And that’s no surprise: Kids frolic around in the children’s pool. Teens slide down the big yellow slide, and when you do laps, you can watch the snow whipping around outside. If that’s not enough there’s a full fitness centre.

2) Avocados

Before you could only reliably find onions and carrots in Iqaluit stores. Now you can find a variety of produce, including piles of avocados.

3) the Plateau

This neighbourhood seems to go on forever on a ridge overlooking the city, and a lot of people can’t remember what Iqaluit, whose population is now about three times more than when I first came here, looked like without it.

4) Cell phones

You can text, post to social media and check the weather on your phone. And talk.

5) Diversity

There’s a shawarma restaurant in town, a mosque, international foods on the store shelves and your neighbour could originally come from the Ivory Coast or the Philippines.

So here’s what you will find on my list of five un-amazing things about Iqaluit:

1) Bad infrastructure

When the snow melts, roads fall apart. Nearly every road in Iqaluit is unsafe to drive for weeks. Does this look like a capital city in Canada to you?

2) Expensive food

if you don’t know how to cook and you buy food at the grocery store, a full cart will probably cost you $1,000 and you will eat badly, and you won’t buy the government-subsidized avocados which often end up rotting in the stores. And if you don’t have any money, a lot of the time you’ll go hungry.

3) Poor, overcrowded public housing and expensive private housing

You might be able to rent a room for about $1,000 a month, but a buying a house will set you back by $500,000. There isn’t enough public housing and visible homelessness, and all the social problems, including violence, addictions, crime that come with these are part of life in Iqaluit.

4) Dreadful internet

It can be so slow you’ll want to tear out your hair trying to load a page. Everyone suffers from not being able to get to knowledge online or to tap into the commercial possibilities. or, as Mayor Madeline Redfern says, be able to “govern, manage, admin, deliver.”

5) Marginalization of Inuit culture and language

Inuit are the first residents of this place, but they are now in the minority in Iqaluit, and, if they don’t speak English,  are likely to feel like a strangers in their own land.

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Travelling by air in the North? Remember these 10 things

When I visited the western Nunavut community of Cambridge Bay recently, a little plastic nose pad or a “plaquette” (as we say in Quebec) fell off my eyeglasses. So the glasses were lopsided and painful to wear.

Luckily, I had another pair with me —  actually two, counting my sunglasses.13096190_10208108908032524_2699857646217233277_nSo here are 10 things you want to think about if you’re heading from point A to point B by air in Canada’s Arctic, particularly if you’re planning to work when you arrive:

#1 — If you wear glasses, bring two pairs. When I first travelled to Iqaluit in the early 1990s, I stepped on my glasses in transit and broke them in half. I arrived in Iqaluit and found someone at Nunavut Arctic College who was able screw the two pieces together. Don’t ask what I looked like.

Iqaluit airport

#2 — Bring two of everything you really need. I still travel with a laptop and an iPad, two cameras (digital, cellphone), etc. If something breaks, you can still do your work. I learned that again the hard way when I was in Iceland and the top of my  laptop broke off when I opened it: Apple has fixed that weakness now. But, in that pre-smartphone era, I had to write my stories on a hotel computer.

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#3 — Remember your power cords. Once when I packed my equipment to leave for Yellowknife from Iqaluit, a co-worker started talking to me. Distracted, I left the power cord to my laptop on my desk. I couldn’t find one in Yellowknife. Again, I was fortunate to have a friend there who loaned me her laptop so I could get my work done in western Nunavut.DSC03780

#4 — Wear your heaviest outerwear on an airplane. A military survival expert in Resolute Bay said wearing a warm parka and boots when you crash on land can make a difference between life and death. He advised even carrying a sleeping bag on flights. I once got on a flight heading north in Montreal, with my warm parka packed in my suitcase. I arrived. It didn’t.

Resolute Bay

#5 — Pack enough essentials in your carry-on bag to tide you over. Just this week, a woman from Cambridge Bay, who was heading on a short hop from Cambridge Bay to Kugluktuk, arrived in Kugluktuk without her bag and a week’s worth of food and clothes. In the bag, which couldn’t be located, was a supply of frozen maktaaq (narwhal.) I once spent a week in Nunavik with only what I could pick up at a co-op store because I had packed everything in my bag, which never made it to the community.DSC02101

#6 — Bring socks. Bring underwear. Bring a toothbrush. Bring the right boots. You know.  I’ve packed and forgotten these items or brought the wrong ones. I arrived in Yellowknife this past weekend without my hair brush, which was back in Cambridge Bay — but a store was right across the street. You won’t have this luxury in most places. And bring the right kinds of boots. Are the streets snow-covered or icy? Muddy or dry?  Will you be out on the land?

The boots with built-in crampons that I use in icy Cambridge Bay would be silly for Iqaluit where it’s already rubber boot-season.

When I went to the floe edge in Pond Inlet I suffered from cold feet because I brought boots that were too light, and when I first went goose-hunting in May 1991, I arrived in Eastmain, Que. with boots that ended at my ankles — and spent the next 10 days in borrowed rubber boots in snow up to my knees. I’ve also ended up in Ottawa wearing sealskin kamiks when a flight was diverted there. Lessons learned.

#7 — Take snacks. And water. You never know when you may get an unexpected layover. This past weekend a five-minute station stop lasted for more than an hour.

#8 — Fill your carry-on bags to the maximum. I always travel with two heavy carry-ons and leave the light stuff in the bag, which may or may not arrive. But don’t let them out of your sight as I did on Ellesmere Island, only to find out later in the air that my backpack had been offloaded and left behind on the Lake Hazen tarmac.

View down Tanquary Fiord, Ellesmere Island

#9 — Check your time of departure and make sure you arrive when you need to. Sometimes flights are cancelled, sometimes they’re delayed or even leave earlier.DSC01399

#10 — Talk to people while you wait for the flight and while you’re in the air: You’ll make new friends. Even airports can be fun. On April 30, National Hockey League alumni arrived as I was leaving Cambridge Bay.

 

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