It was definitely a white christmas for me this holiday season from my new home in Iqaluit, Nunavut. And 2012 is looking like it’s going to be a radically different kind of year for me. The process of getting a Nunavut residency has begun, and the initial plan will be to live here for at least the next year and half.
WHERE IT BEGAN
It all starts at some point mid-summer when my partner Christina announces that she got accepted for an indeterminate contract as a Dietitian at the hospital of Iqaluit. Indeterminate means that she’ll be staying there for a while… And Iqaluit means that it’ll get cold… Real cold.
Like any good boyfriend would of done, I encouraged her to apply on the job a few months earlier. A dream of hers, that I knew would most likely come true, and a change that would in turn affect me.
Change is something I’ve been looking forward to for a while now. And although I was hoping for something big, I wasn’t expecting it to be so… Drastic. And, had I known, I would of probably wished for something, let’s say, a little warmer.
So September came, and Christina took off to set up a new home for us in Nunavut.
3 months later I was to join her.
Fast forward to December 16th. Months of wrapping my head around this idea of living in the north had passed. The last couple of weeks consisted of serious preparations ending on a high note of 3 days of intense last minute packing and barely any sleep to show for. I was now stuck at the airport for nearly 6 hours before getting on the plane that was delayed twice. I turned my Canada Goose into a blanket and patiently waited for my flight.
My luggage consisted of 5 huge plastic bins, 2 suitcases, a carry-on and 2 cats… Who made sure of sticking close to the action, hiding in my clothes or boxes and making sure that I was constantly reminded that they did not want to be left behind.
The bigger challenge was not bringing everything to the airport, but actually packing it. I had more than enough space for everything, but unlike playing Tetris, weight was an added criteria (a maximum of 70 pounds per luggage) that made the shuffling of items, from my suitcase to a bin to another bin to my carry-on, intricate, to stay the least. I ended up having to leave a few personal belongings behind to make space for food and items that would prove challenging to get once established in this far-away land.
Moving to another country (at least that’s how it felt) is not like going on vacation… or like changing apartments for that matter. It’s kind of the worse of both worlds wrapped up together, especially in the case of going to a remote area where all your needs might not be met the way one expects them to be in a big city.
I arrived in what felt not quite like another country, but more like a newly established colony on the face of the moon. The vast and barren landscape, the architecture of schools and government buildings combined with the Inuktitut lettering made me feel like I was walking in a giant TV set of an episode of Stargate or X-Files.
Needless to say, I was excited.
It was what is considered a “warm” winter night for these parts. A typical -25˚C with the wind factor. And it quickly hit me that I was far. Far from home and from the constant buzzing and humming of the busy city life. The nights here are quiet. Very quiet. The night sky is filled with bright stars and a moon that seems closer here than anywhere else in the world. And on colder nights, you can expect to see some Northern Lights dancing about in the sky.
After recovering from a 48 hour long flu-like sickness on the first weekend here (most definitely caused by the stress of my last days in Montreal), I quickly got comfortable with the few simple tasks of the coming weeks of vacation; eat well, meet friendly people, sleep in, play video games and take long walks. I was also initiated to the classic Iqaluit social gatherings; a hockey night (Habs vs Oilers) at the Legion and Wednesday night wings at the Frobisher.
I didn’t suffer much during the holidays. For both Christmas and New Years, we had the honour of joining up with many lovely families who have made Iqaluit their home. Their hospitality and insight on Iqaluit, and Nunavut in general, was priceless and appreciated.
A LITTLE TEXTBOOK HISTORY
Iqaluit was founded in 1942 as an American airbase, geographically located to provide a stop-over and refuelling site for short range fighter aircraft being ferried across the Atlantic to support the war effort in Europe. Long regarded as a campsite and fishing spot by the Inuit, the place chosen had traditionally been named Iqaluit – “place of many fish” in Inuktitut – but Canadian and American authorities named it Frobisher Bay, after the name of the body of water it abuts.
Frobisher Bay is named after Martin Frobisher, the Englishman that “discovered” the area in 1576 while searching for a Northwest Passage as a trade route to India and China.
After 1959, the Canadian government established permanent services at Frobisher Bay, including full-time doctors, a school and social services. The Inuit population grew rapidly in response, as the government encouraged Inuit to settle permanently in communities with government services.
The American military left Iqaluit in 1963, but Frobisher Bay remained the government’s administrative and logistical centre for much of the eastern Arctic. In 1964, the first elections were held for a community council, and in 1979 for the first mayor.
On 1 January 1987, the name of this municipality was officially changed from “Frobisher Bay” to “Iqaluit”. In December 1995, Iqaluit was selected to serve as Nunavut’s future capital. On 19 April 2001 it was officially redesignated as a city.
OK, BUT WHY?
Now that is the question I heard on everyone’s lips before leaving Montreal. “Why are you going there?” (sometimes accompanied with a small cringe on their face, other times not). Fair to say that I probably did the same with Chris once or twice myself. It definitely took me a while actually to wrap my head around this idea and get a clear answer, if I ever got one.
Change. That is the one true answer I could give to anyone and everyone. Not the kind of change that is planned out and that has a predefined purpose. But the kind where one shuffles all parameters of his life in order to create an opportunity to jump both feet into the unknown and the unplanned.
Granted, there are a few security issues that are taken care of already with Chris having arrived three months earlier, so no worries, it isn’t half as romantic as it sounds. But it remains an adventure, nonetheless.
New location, new people and a new city to befriend, and absolutely no idea as to what job prospects or projects await me. No real worries there either. I am sure it will be fine, and many pleasant surprises will come my way.
As they say, things have a way of working themselves out. I also heard someone say that Nunavut was Never Never Land… Anything here is possible. I’ll keep you posted on how that turns out.
For more pics, make sure to check out my Flickr Photostream.
Pictures by Patrick Béland © 2012.