The Canadian Arctic includes Nunavut, Northwest Territories, northern parts of the Yukon Territory and Nunatsiavut (northern Labrador) and Nunavik (northern Quebec). map

What is it like to live in a very cold place where the land is covered with ice and snow most of the year, and there are a few hours of daylight during the winter?

Kimmirut, small community in Nunavut, 2006
Kimmirut, a small community of 400 on Baffin Island. (image source - wikipedia )

In NUNAVUT there are 25 communities located on the mainland and on islands. The largest is the capital Iqaluit on Baffin Island.(population 7740, 2016 Census) Grise Fiord is the northernmost community in Canada. (population 129, 2016 Census) Some other communities in Nunavut are Arctic Bay, Cape Dorset, Igloolik and Resolute.

Inuvik in the NORTHWEST TERRITORIES (population 3170 in 2016) is located far above the Arctic Circle. Aklavik, Fort McPherson, Ulukhaktok (Holman), Sachs Harbour, Tuktoyaktuk and Paulatuk are northern communities.

Old Crow (population 221 in 2016) is the only YUKON community that cannot be reached by a road. The people of Old Crow (Gwich'in First Nation) rely on the Porcupine caribou for their food and clothing.

Co-op retail store and services at Grise Fiord, Nunavut; image by Nancy Shaver, July/August 2008
Grise Fiord, Nunavut (population 129), Canada's northernmost community

Depending on the population, communities have a health centre, a school, police and fire department, a church and stores (Northern Store or Co-op). The stores sell groceries, household supplies, hardware, appliances, clothing, electronics, dishes, toys, medicines and many other products. The store may also have a post office. Power generating stations provide electricity. Communities get water delivered by trucks and the sewage is also taken away by trucks. Homes have a tank to hold the water and a tank for sewage.

In the summer, there are twenty hours of daylight. The sky is never totally dark.

In the winter there are a lot of things to do - hockey, sliding, skating, sledding, snowboarding, skiing, curling, and playing in the snow. During the winter, blizzards are caused by the strong winds. On stormy days, people can lose their way because of the blowing snow.

Many groups of people live in the Arctic. Some have moved there from a southern place. Some groups have lived there for thousands of years. The largest group of people in the Canadian Arctic are the Inuit. They live along the coast and hunt seal, caribou and whales. They also trap and fish. The Inuit used to be known as Eskimos (which means "eaters of raw flesh"). The term Inuit means "the people".The language they speak is Inuktitut.There are several different dialects of the Inuit language.
Inuit grandmother and grandchild
Inuit grandmother and grandchild, Nunavut, Ansgar Walk, creative commons license, wikipedia
image credit - Ansgar Walk; Wikipedia; license - Creative Commons
People must dress very warmly in the winter because of the cold winds. They wear long parkas that reach down to their knees. Mothers can keep babies warm inside the large hoods of their parkas. Most of the clothing is bought from a store, but some still wear the traditional (old ways) clothes when they go out on the land.

Traditional clothing (boots, pants, parkas) is made of caribou hide or sealskin. The parka or anorak is warm protection for the blizzards and is also waterproof. (photo - traditional parka )

more about CLOTHING

A store in a northern community sells the same foods that we eat - fruits, vegetables, milk and other dairy products, frozen foods, packaged and canned goods and snack foods. The Inuit also rely on "country foods", which are traditional foods obtained by hunting and fishing. Some country foods are seal, walrus, whale, caribou, musk ox, Arctic hare, Arctic char and ptarmigan.

more about FOOD

homes in Pangnirtung, Nunavut, Lindsay Terry,, Creative Commons License

Because of the permafrost houses cannot be built on the ground. The heat from the buildings would melt the frozen ground and the buildings would start to sink. Buildings must be on stilts, about a metre off the ground. Building houses is expensive because the materials have to be brought from the south. Homes must be well built to keep out the cold winds. It costs more to heat a home here. Sometimes during a winter storm, houses become covered with snow.

Inuit homes have the same conveniences as homes in the south. Homes are furnished with a stove, fridge, washer, drier, stereo, television, satellite dish and modern bathrooms. Electricity is used for appliances and for lighting. Oil furnaces heat the buildings. Igloos (in the winter) and tents (in the summer) are used for shelter on hunting trips.

snowmobile The severe cold makes it difficult to start vehicles. Air travel is often the only way to reach many northern communites. Many people have snowmobiles (also called snow machines). . Motorboats are used on the water when the ice thaws. ATV's ( all-terrain vehicles ) can drive over the rough bumpy ground in the summer and in snow during the winter. Dog sledding is still a means of transportation for tourists and for racing.



Web Pages for Students

2000 (updated April 2017)

image credits :
images by Nancy Shaver are used with permission
igloo church, inuvik - Ian Mackenzie ,, license Creative Commons
homes in Pangnirtung - Lindsay Terry,, license - Creative Commons
traditional parkas - by Ansgar Walk , Wikipedia, license - Creative Commons

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