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Published: September 25th 2016
The sub-arctic town in the western Arctic
“The landscape conveys an impression of absolute permanence. It is not hostile. It is simply there – untouched, silent and complete. It is very lonely, yet the absence of all human traces gives you the feeling you understand this land and can take your place in it.” Edmund Carpenter
I arrived in Kugluktuk (Coppermine) just in time to watch the finals of the annual seal butchering contest. A huge tarp covered the concrete floor of the arena and spectators gathered around to witness this exciting event of blood and guts. The idea is to cut the skin, fat and meat from the seal as fast but as perfectly as you can. It was really quite magical to see the small community huddled together and competing in this event - the food was shared among all families. Fresh, raw seal is actually really tasty and is packed with energy. I also munched on some Muktuk (raw whale blubber) and some fermented walrus meat. The blubber was tolerable – the walrus was likely the most vile tasting food I’ve ever tried!
I drank coke! I rarely ever drink coke – but that was the first liquid available to
Canada's second largest Island (a bit bigger than Great Britain) Population about 2500.
wash down the awful taste of rancid, fermented walrus. I sighed in relief when my mouth was back to normal and looked at the green expanse that surrounded the small community of Kugluktuk - at these latitudes, and at this time of the year, I wasn’t expecting a lush green Arctic…
Bobbing up and down on a choppy sea about a mile offshore, was the M/V Sea Adventure, my floating home for the next month. I boarded the ship and headed off towards the east, through Nunavut Territory in Canada’s vast and empty Arctic Archipelago. A maze of tangled waterways and islands lay ahead of us as the ship slowly navigated through one of the many Northwest Passages that eluded the European explorers for so long.
Our route was particularly unusual – Kugluktuk, Canada to Kangerlussuaq, Greenland via the notoriously ice-bound Fury & Hecla Strait (a narrow body of water that separates the Canadian mainland from Baffin Island). Our research determined that we were the 5th
tourist vessel ever to take this route. It was a remarkable journey that took us through some of the least charted waters on the planet, and some of the bleakest, emptiest terrain
The lowlands of the Canadian Western Arctic, Johansen Bay.
A personal highlight was Boothia Peninsula and the black outcrop of Point Zenith at the 72nd
parallel. This was not a spectacular place, but rather a rocky, barren landscape that marked the northernmost tip of the Canadian mainland. This nondescript point juts northward into the extremely narrow Bellot Strait, just a quarter mile or so from the south shore of Somerset Island where I spent the summer. That southern side looks a lot more rugged than the north and a lot wilder. We made landfall on Somerset a little later that day, at the abandoned HBC (Hudson’s Bay Company) post of Fort Ross…
Founded in 1937, Fort Ross was the last trading post to be established by the Hudson's Bay Company and it was only operational for eleven years, as the severe ice conditions made it uneconomical and difficult to access. This left Somerset Island uninhabited.
Our Voyage continued through the Gulf of Boothia to the icy entrance of the Fury and Hecla Strait where we explored the bare granite unnamed Islands near Ormande Island. A truly bleak spot that had first been visited by Edward Parry in the early 1800s, then by the Canadian
The DEW Line
Many of these sites dot the Arctic at around the 68th parallel.
Hydrographic Society in the 1970s, then us… Not a frequently visited spot…
Not all of Arctic Canada is empty - there are a few isolated communities scattered in the vanishing expanse. We had the opportunity to call in at the very welcoming hamlets of Igloolik, Cape Dorset, and Kimmirut before heading across the Davis Strait to end the voyage in Kangerlussuaq, Greenland.
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