6th July 2011 Ottawa, Canada

A week in Canada’s high Arctic

I spent the week of 17-24 June in Canada’s high Arctic. We started in Iqaluit, flying there from Ottawa over the vast territory of northern Quebec, and a Hudson Strait dotted with retreating ice, but with the bays still frozen hard. We plunged into the town, past huskies tethered at the airport, relaxing on summer vacation – and looking a trifle hot. As were we. The biggest surprise, as we moved even further north, was the temperatures. We delighted in brilliant blue skies, but 13-15 degrees C was not what we expected.

But we saw and admired the Provincial Assembly: “The People’s Igloo”, because that’s the shape of the chamber, seats upholstered in sealskin, and the Mace a splendid narwhale’s tusk. We were briefed on the many challenges facing the territory of Nunavut, as people try to find a balance between the preservation of culture, language and environment; while making and taking opportunities for educational and economic development. It’s a difficult balance to find and hold, and the 30,000 people of Nunavut – inhabiting one fifth of Canada’s land surface, in areas remote and climate extreme – still rely on federal funding for basic amenities.

But local people have an increasingly clear idea of what they want and need, and a pride in achievement in the very short life of their territory – just 10 years old. As we sported our Pang hats – evidence that local crafts were still alive and well – and I placed my fine pair of carved polar bears in my knapsack, we boarded our aircraft and flew north, over the low, snow-streaked, treeless hills of Baffin Island – the world’s fifth largest, bigger than Great Britain – heading for Pond Inlet and my next instalment.