Describing the Canadian Arctic is a huge exciting challenge, but traveling frequently across this extraordinary region helps me to wrap my mind around it vastness – its emptiness – its challenges and its complexities. Having traveled to most other parts of the world I can say with confidence that the Canadian Arctic is one of the most inspiring corners of the globe – populated with people who make every visit memorable.
That talented versatile fellow and well known British actor-comedian Billy Connolly recently traveled from “right to left” across this land and from listening to his Scottish Brogue and banter it seems to have left a powerful impression on his psyche. It was the same with me after I made my first trip into the Yukon and met thirty year old gold-miners, “moiling for gold” as Canadian Poet Robert Service described the fortune seekers of his day.
To describe the Arctic in summer it helps to break it down into regions that are contiguous, therefore combining the Yukon with the North West Territories and Nunavut is an appropriate place to start. The Yukon Territory gave us Canadians the poetry of Robert Service with stories of his employment at the Canadian Bank of Commerce in Dawson City – which is nowadays commemorated by a replica Robert Service sitting outside his log cabin – chatting to visitors while in perfect character. The Yukon also gave us the Canadian Gold Rush and the amazing “Trail of Ninety Eight” over which fortune-seekers trekked mid-winter. This is commemorated by the White Pass and Yukon narrow gauge railroad which winds its way between Skagway on the Pacific Ocean, over the White Pass from whence it takes its name, to Bennett on the plateau. They take their heritage seriously in Whitehorse and Dawson City and traveling through the Yukon is a daily journey back through time.
Traveling even further north along the surprisingly remote Dempster highway you will overnight close to the Arctic Circle at the Eagle Plains rest stop where trucks visit all winter, never once stopping their engines for fear they will freeze. “The Dempster” as it is called was built over an old dog-sled track and sits astride a gravel berm to protect the Permafrost beneath from melting. It runs alongside two magnificent Arctic mountain stretches called the RIchardson and Ogilvy chains and traveling the Dempster with a herd of caribou crossing the road is quite unforgettable.
Inuvik is an Inuit town which resides at the Delta of the mighty Mackenzie River which is thriving because of the resource richness of the land. At first glance Inuvik looks a bit like a Wild West movie with unpaved streets and plenty of dust, but modern All Terrain Four Wheelers replaced the horses and pick up trucks trucks replaced the buggies. Many of the buildings are connected by odd looking elongated boxes that run between them disappearing into the next building. These are the famous “Utiladors” which carry the plumbing, water supply and general utilities throughout the town and they are heated to prevent freez-up during the winter. Inuvik is also the jumping – off point for a trip to Tuktoyaktuk which we had better call by its shortened name of “Tuk”.
Tuk is the last frontier on mainland North America and is nowadays a hive of activity, mainly because of oil and gas exploration further north. You should visit one of the “Pingoes” which are large conical shape ice hills that were naturally formed by pressure from beneath. Many of these were hollow and in the summer they were used as refrigerators, although many of them have since collapsed. Strolling the streets of Tuk makes Inuvik seem like a metropolis and it is not uncommon for visitors to be welcomed into homes as they wander in and out of this community.
I would suggest traveling between the second week of June until the last week of August to take advantage of the best weather opportunities. I have also traveled earlier and later than these dates and had constant sunshine and no rain. Let me know what you think about this “Thinking Persons Arctic Experience?