I was fortunate to visit Iqaluit in the Nunavut territory of Canada this week. The challenge of living near the arctic circle quickly became clear. Having a healthy lifestyle takes planning in these remote communities.
Iqaluit is on Baffin Island and has been a traditional fishing place used by Inuit for thousands of years. Like many Inuit names it is referenced by its function, hence the name Iqaluit, which means place of many fish. Iqaluit is north of the tree line and almost at the Arctic circle. The only bush that grows is a 6 inch Arctic willow. On December 21, the shortest day of the year, the sun rises at 9:22 am and sets at 1:42 pm – 5 hours. The total number of sunlight hours in December is 9. It is the reverse in July.
In 1942 an American air base, Frobisher Bay, was built as a stop-over and refuelling site for aircraft flying across the Atlantic in support the war effort in Europe. After 1959, the Canadian government established permanent services at Frobisher Bay and some say forcefully settled the the Inuit population. An Inuit elder I spoke with recounted how she was born and raised on the land with her nomadic family; living simply on what they could hunt. Until, that is, when they were settled in Pond Inlet as part of the Canadian government’s policy of populating the north.
Today the population is close to 8000 people. I was in Iqaluit to run a change management workshop for a government team. While there, I quickly observed how different and challenging living in a remote Arctic community is from my city of Ottawa. You get a sense that this is really living on the edge.
Besides the -40 C/F temperatures, here are 10 observations that made me conclude how different it is:
1- There is no 100 km food here – there are no roads so everything is flown in.
2- Iqaluit has the busiest Canada Post outlet because people order their stuff from Amazon who offers free shipping. It is still less expensive to buy this way then the local store.
3- Power and heat are from petrol based generators and furnaces. Cars have automatic starts to run them until the passenger cabin is warm.
4- No liquor or beer stores underscore the alcohol problem. By Nunavut law, to have a glass of wine or beer at a restaurant you must order a main item. Appetizer only doesn’t count. At bars, beer is served in cans (no draught or bottles) and wine is served from bags.
5- The sewer lines are always running with water so that the pipes don’t freeze.
6- Gasoline prices are regulated by the Nunavut government. They purchase gasoline in bulk during the summer months and distribute it at a fixed price during the year. There are no petrol companies like Esso or Shell.
7- Although there are street names, the houses are numbered by when they were erected. Your house may be 501 as it was the 501th house built. Your neighbor may be 1006.
8- Houses are built on stilts. There are no basements because you have a 99 year lease for your house to be ON the land, not IN the land.
9- Internet access is limited to a fixed bandwidth for the whole community because it only gets what the satellite can provide.
10- Life is scheduled around the school, There are no school lunch programs. So everyone with kids heads home for an hour lunch. This causes the “traffic minute” four times a day.
How do people stay healthy in this remote region? The people I spoke with generally follow this regime:
1- Order food from Amazon as there is greater variety than the local store.