Iqaluit is the capital of Nunavut, the northernmost of Canada's territories.
It's located on Baffin Island, an immense island amid the nation's vast arctic archipelago. Iqaluit itself is nestled beneath the Everett Mountains overlooking Frobisher Bay in the southeastern part of the island.
Iqaluit is not located within the Arctic Circle, but it participates very much in the climate of that region. Its geography is largely tundra, as the city is situated far north of the tree line. Nunavut is known for preserving some of the oldest strata on Earth, which contain some of the world's most ancient fossils as well as comparative newcomers, like the Devonian Tiktaalik.
In the Inuit tongue of Inuktitut, Iqaluit means "place of many fish." For millennia, it was used as a fishing spot by the Inuit, and it naturally evolved into the administrative capital of the sparsely populated Nunavut territory.
The settlement grew to significance during the Second World War, with the construction of the Frobisher Bay Air Base. This was a refueling station for aircraft shuttling to Europe to take part in the European Theatre.
Formerly called Frobisher Bay, Iqaluit received its new name in 1987 to align with traditional Inuit linguistic usage. When the new territory of Nunavut was carved out of the Northwest Territories in 1999, the residents of the newly minted territory decided on Iqaluit as the capital.
Getting to Iqaluit
Reaching Iqaluit is not an easy prospect. This is due to the extreme remoteness of the city, together with the habitual inclemency of its weather.
Here's a look at some of the issues involved with getting to Iqaluit.
The major obstacle to reaching Iqaluit has to do with how remote the city is from other areas of habitation.
The Nunavut territory is the northernmost of Canada's territories. The city of Iqaluit is located along an inlet of Frobisher Bay, on the southeast coast of Baffin Island. This island is among the Arctic islands of Canada, which are very sparsely inhabited due to the extreme cold.
Transportation: Arriving in Iqaluit
Despite the remoteness of Iqaluit, it remains a major air hub for Nunavut, the western territories, and even Greenland during the summer.
The only means of reaching Iqaluit are by air and sea. Iqaluit is home to an international airport, which is noted for its cheery yellow colour. The simplest way to reach Iqaluit is via a daily flight from Ottawa.
There are also regular flights from Edmonton, Montreal, Yellowknife, Kuujjuaq, and Rankin Inlet.
Transportation: Getting Around Iqaluit
Okay, so now that you've reached Iqaluit, how do you get around town?
It's fortunate that Iqaluit is a small town, which makes it very walkable and easily accessible. This means that the easiest way to get around is to take a stroll to get to where you need to be.
However, there are other options. For instance, you can hail a taxi, which is quite inexpensive—the charge is about $7 to get anywhere in town. Or, if you feel like it, you can spring for a rental car. But take note that this is an expensive option, with a per diem charge of about $160.
Things to Do in Iqaluit
Despite its remoteness and limited population (7,740 in 2016), there's quite a lot that one can do when visiting the city.
It should be evident by now that Iqaluit is not a major tourist destination. But that doesn't mean there aren't fascinating things to see and explore if you decide to visit this important capital. So here's a breakdown of some of the things to see in Iqaluit:
The Museum curates the artwork, history, and cultural artifacts of the local Iqaluit community and the wider Qikiqtani region. Housed in a former Hudson's Bay Company warehouse, the Museum's distinctive red roof is unmistakable.
Visitors are welcome from 12-6 PM weekdays (1-5 PM on weekends), and there is no entrance fee required. Just remember to remove your shoes before entering!
Sylvia Grinnell Territorial Park
If you'd like to experience something of the great natural beauty of Baffin Island, and the environs surrounding Iqaluit, then you'd do well to visit Sylvia Grinnell Territorial Park.
It's only a kilometre from Iqaluit itself, which translates to about a thirty-minute walk. There are no fees involved, so feel free to make the most of the experience.
Once there, you can enjoy the picturesque Sylvia Grinnell River, and explore some of the archaeological sites, which date to the Thule Tradition of Inuit history. And don't forget to look for the woodsia fern while you're there—it's one of the rarest plant species in Canada.
Another fascinating area in Iqaluit is Apex, a small community located about five kilometres southeast of town.
Apex was where most of the Inuit indigenous people lived when Iqaluit was still a military base. If you decide to check out Apex, go ahead and visit St. Simon's Anglican Church, the first Anglican church in the region.
If you're an architecture buff, you might want to visit the Nunavut Legislative Assembly Building.
This building is the governmental seat of Nunavut territory and is a three-storey edifice of glass and wood. The Legislative Assembly is noted for its remarkable collection of Inuit artwork. So if you're in Iqaluit, a visit to the Legislative Assembly Building is well worth your time.
Unikkaarvik Visitor Centre
Another cultural gem in Iqaluit is the Unikkaarvik Visitor Centre. The Centre has everything you need to learn more about Nunavut, with plenty of information to plan a trip to the interior of the territory if you are so inclined. And don't forget to check out the wonderful Inuit art displays, and the informative wildlife dioramas.
The park comprises the small, rocky island of Qaummaarviit, which in Inuktitut translates to "the place that shines." The island was anciently home to the Thule people, and there are numerous archaeological sites for the interested visitor to explore.
The Road to Nowhere
The Road to Nowhere is one of the more unusual local attractions in Iqaluit. It diverges from the main road from Iqaluit to Apex, and winds through the windswept tundra's of Baffin Island for about 3.5 kilometres. Thereupon, it just…ends, whence its evocative sobriquet.
See the Northern Lights
Finally, a stay in Iqaluit affords you the opportunity to see the spectacular Aurora Borealis, the celebrated Northern Lights. The clear skies of Iqaluit make it one of the best places in the world to see this phenomenon, which can be seen from October to April.
Hotels Iqaluit—Best Ones to Stay At
If you're stopping at Iqaluit for any length of time, you'll want to know about the best places to spend the night. Fortunately, there's no shortage of excellent accommodations. Here are the best ones:
The Frobisher Inn is a luxurious hotel, boasting all the comforts of home.
Wireless service is complimentary, and the Inn features a fitness centre, two restaurants, and a bar. Frobisher Inn is the perfect headquarters for your Iqaluit adventure.
The Discovery bills itself as Iqaluit's "boutique hotel." Originally it was a crew hotel for Pan-Am, but now The Discovery provides a taste of luxury in the remote Arctic. With free Wi-Fi internet service and first-class dining, this hotel has everything to make your stay in Iqaluit as comfortable as possible.
Finally, Capital Suites is another excellent option for staying in Iqaluit. The rooms are spacious and comfortable, and they come with full kitchens for those looking for a longer stay.
Best Times to Visit Iqaluit
During the winter, Iqaluit is quite cold—the average February daytime temperature is -21 °C. That's why the best time to visit is during the summer, from June to August. The average July daytime temperature is 11 °C, and precipitation is less severe than in other months.
Weather in Iqaluit
Iqaluit is a very remote city, located in the Canadian Arctic. As such, it is subject to some rather severe weather.
So even the summers in Iqaluit are cold compared to more southerly cities. The winters, however, are ferocious—they are snowy and windy, with grey and overcast skies.
Plan Your Trip to Iqaluit Today!
Iqaluit is the gateway to Nunavut and Canada's Arctic Islands. There's plenty to see and do when visiting this capital city, and we hope this short guide whets your appetite to explore this wonderful part of the country.
As always, it's a good idea to have travel insurance when undertaking any journey, whether in Canada or abroad. Go ahead and contact us today at Insurdinary to get the best quotes on travel insurance, so that your stay in Iqaluit or elsewhere will be worry-free.