So You Want to Move to the North?

Introduction

When we first created this shared blog it was with the intention of sharing our experiences with our families that we were leaving behind. Little did we know that it would be sourced by people following in our footsteps looking for insight into living in Iqaluit. Our blogging has tapered off greatly since but I figured it was high time to compile some information in one spot for future adventurers. The following information is based on my experiences thus far in collusion with various accounts from other locals. As always it’s not meant to be a definitive guide to living here. There’s no such thing nor will there ever be. Everyone’s experience differs however there are some elements that remain consistent. Think of this as a “what to expect” guide if anything. There’s so much to tell so bear with the construction of this article to end all articles.

Santa is your neighbor

Santa's a jerkYes. It’s the arctic. Yes it’s cold but that’s about where the generalization ends. We’ve gone into depths in various posts about the weather up here. In fact I even concocted a guide for dressing here. First and foremost you have to be able to fathom the concept of a polar desert. Although the climate is slowly but surely changing up here, I can assure you it won’t dramatically change for some time. If you’re coming from a region where you have typical seasons such as Winter, Spring, Summer and Fall be prepared for your first wake up call upon arrival. Here – at least in Iqaluit – we have seasons as well. Unfortunately they’re more like Winter, More Winter, Holy Shit Winter, Not So Much WinterSprummer or Spall (a weird hybrid of a very cool Summer and an even temperature Spring) and Summer (for like 5 days). Winters are along here.

As depressing as that may sound it’s really not that bad during Not So Much Winter and Sprummer/Spall/Summer (which is around early June to mid August). On occasion we’ll get an unusually cold night coupled with moisture in the normally rainy air that will culminate in snow on the ground in the morning. Gone by the time the sun is peeking in over the plateau. If you’re not a fan of cooler temperatures however, you’ll find it immediately difficult to live up here for long amounts of time. As mentioned earlier we’re a polar desert and like any desert (odd as it may sound) it’s incredibly dry up here – humidity wise. Unlike southern provinces that tend to have lots of humidity that translates to mega-snowfalls, it’s not the same here. While we do get a wicked amount of snow – I mean we ARE in the arctic after all – it’s not as much as you would think. We get several good snowfalls but the majority of the time it’s the same snow being blown in and around town for the entire winter. It has the appearance of being pummeled with new snow but for the most part it’s light. It’s the wind that transforms light snowfalls into raging blizzards.

The dry cold is decidedly different from the humid cold of the south. It can get bone-chilling when it gets below -30c (and honestly that’s ANYWHERE in the world) but you’ll be amazed at how manageable -10c here is compared to -10c down south. It’s all about the wind. Wind is the difference between pleasant & deadly.

Lock ‘n load

OverkillI firmly believe there is no way you can “over prepare” for living in the north but “overkill” can definitely happen. Depending on what line of work you will end up doing up here will dictate what to bring. If you don’t intend to travel regularly to other communities then your initial gear should be too overwhelming. Those who are outdoorsy types should have no problem adapting to conditions up here and more often than not already have a lot of the gear on hand. This list is primarily for “fish out of water” people who have no clue about what they’re getting into.

  • Parka (preferably coyote or fox fur-lined)
  • Polar rated boots (preferable something -40c or greater)
  • Thick knitted tuque or beanie
  • Hiking boots/shoes
  • Rain boots
  • Polar mitts
  • Insulated gloves
  • Balaclava or face mask
  • Snow goggles
  • Snow pants
  • Windbreaker jacket
  • Sturdy winter jacket
  • Yak Trax or other removable ice walkers
  • Long johns
  • Wool socks

Hello. My name is….

If you’re an introvert, you’re not going to make it up here. Iqaluit is a pretty tight-knit community – IF you’re willing to put yourself out there a bit. The city thrives on volunteer manpower therefore that is usually the first step in the process of getting to know people. Some of the more popular spots are:

We burn things hereThere are many more, all with different areas of interest. So much so that we have an annual event called Mass Registration where all the societies and clubs come out in one place pitching their organization to old and fresh faces alike.

Potlucking is also way of life up here. Once you’ve met a few people you’ll immediately be thrust into the potluck scene. Doesn’t matter if you’re a master chef or a simple salad maker. All are welcome and enjoyed. You’ll find out quickly how diverse the people are that live here and how many unique delicious dishes you’ll be confronted with. It forces you to up your game. People up here will also use any excuse whatsoever to have social gatherings. It’s kind of like university. Any night of the week there’s usually something going on. Pajama parties, fiestas, clothes swaps, tea parties, makeshift Mardi Gras, apocalypse celebrations – you name it, you can probably find it happening.

However you’re not officially “here” until you’ve been to the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 168 (otherwise known as just The Legion) and an official Iqaluit bonfire. I know. You hear “the Legion” and you have vivid memories of your grandpa hanging out in a near empty hall with his mates talking about the good ole days. Not in Iqaluit. The Legion up here is one of only a couple places where you can shake your booty. Yes, it serves as our local bar/night club/dining hall. Hard to believe sometimes but if you show up on a Friday or Saturday night your mind will be blown. Just make sure you show up before 10pm if you want to get in.

Bonfires are a Rite of Passage up here. You may have had nice campfires where you come from but you’ll never refer to a bonfire the same way again once you’ve experienced a legitimate one up here. They are the epitome of social interaction, bonding and just plain old hanging out. In a land with no trees bonfires tend to be appreciated more so than down south. It takes a lot of effort to arrange a burn that lasts more than 4 or 5 hours so the real deal ones tend to attract a lot of visitors.

I feel like I’m taking crazy pills!

Let's go crazy togetherIt’s often not talked about openly but having mental fortitude is essential in being able to live up here especially if you’re coming by yourself. Even if you come up here with a husband, wife or partner it’s still incredibly taxing on both your emotions and mental stability. The north will be your ultimate test. It’s a place that you will love and hate with equal passion. When you first arrive you will undoubtedly be locked in your Honeymoon Phase (if not immediately turn off). There’s no grey area when it comes to the first impression. You either fall in love immediately or inquire at the ticket counter about the next flight out. The Honeymoon Phase is an intoxicating experience. Wonderful and exciting. You’ll do all the touristy things like take pictures of EVERYTHING and probably get swept up into the vortex of volunteering. For such a remote location you’ll be dumbfounded by how utterly overwhelming that first year or so is. You’ll be engorged with enthusiasm, ideas and creativity – even if you don’t have a creative bone in your body.

This feeling does fade unfortunately. It usually happens after you’ve been through your first couple of real winters. The unwritten rule is if you can hack it two years you can live up here indefinitely. Your first winter during your Honeymoon Phase is simply breathtaking. There’s no denying that. However once you start to realize exactly how long “winter” is up here that’s when reality settles in. By the time your second winter arrives you feel as though you haven’t fully recovered from the first. As mentioned earlier “summer” is a relative term here. When you have snow fall at least once for 12 months straight it’s an eye opener. The weather can be both stunningly beautiful and morbidly depressing depending on the day you’re having.

Weather is just one component to the mental strains. Cultural differences, domestic violence, alcoholism, youth suicide, backhanded racism, rampant promiscuity, arson, cost of living, lack/cost of housing, working conditions, personal lifestyle choices, health care, food security and distance from family are all huge factors that can break you down emotionally. Since it’s such a condensed community in small area it tends to be exacerbated. When all of these x-factors start to bombard you it’s hard to contend with. It’s referred to in certain circles as hitting the Wall. I know… the cruel irony of Game of Thrones comes to mind but in all seriousness, it’s broken a lot of people.

I personally consider living here the best and worst experience of my life. So many reasons to love it. So many to hate it. It’s perfect balance when you look at it from that perspective. I wouldn’t have it any other way. The key to survival (mentally) is surrounding yourself with good friends, learning the tips and tricks to living up here (which you’ll pick up from those good friends) and getting out of town at least twice a year. If you can manage that you’ll have no problem staying here a decade or two if you so desire.

Hey, look a look at this!

Inuit ArtOne of the most challenging hurdles I’ve had to adjust to since moving here is how art is sold. Inuit art is remarkable – bottom line. Their clothing, carvings and crafts are downright inspiring. As an graphic artist I can appreciate the time and effort that goes into a single creation. Authentic original works of art can be purchased virtually at any time of the day at almost every location in the city. Some places like Northern Collectibles and the Nunatta Sunakkutaangit Museum have many pieces of artwork on display from various local artists which can be a convenience for some. However you don’t have to go very far at all to have an incredible work of art presented to you. Artists will approach you with their wares. Anywhere and everywhere.

That’s what takes getting used to.

I come from a city where piercing that invisible personal boundary bubble is liable to get a person beat down in a heartbeat. You know. Typical east coast American attitude. When I first encountered this phenomenon it was the day we arrived. Our friend decided to take us out to dinner to help us get settled in with full bellies. As we sat there waiting for our dinner engaging in small talk we were descended upon by at least 4 different artists each with different work to show us. I initially took great offence to it because they quite literally broke into the middle of our conversation to show off what they had. Little did I know this was the norm up here. Our friend complimented their work and politely said “no thank you”. Just like that they were gone. No fuss. No drama.

It took the better part of a year before I truly got comfortable with this facet of northern living. Once you’ve been here for a while you get to know the artists and they you so it becomes much more manageable. Since we’re such a transient city they tend to peddle towards visitors rather than locals. Just always remember this – eyebrows up means you’re interested. Eyebrows down, you’re not. Most of the time you don’t even have to say a word.

Cost of Living

Coming Soon!

Work work work

Coming Soon!

It’s not what you know…

Coming Soon!

The InterNot (and other technological anomalies of the North)

Coming Soon!

 

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25 thoughts on “So You Want to Move to the North?

  1. Hi! I know you are planning to do a future post on the InterNOT, but I have a question for you now 🙂

    I’m moving to Iqaluit in November. What is the absolute best internet that i can get? Both Qiniq and Northwestel both have 30GB plans, but there is a significant difference in price……..so my question is, Who is better? Why the big price difference?

    I plan to get one of these 30gb plans, as I’m really hoping to be able to skype with my family in the south.

    Qininq’s Atii Pro plan, which costs $369.95 a month, offers download speeds that burst up to 2.5 Mbps, with a 30 GB usage cap.

    Northwestel’s Nunavut Ultra offers 5 Mbps with a data cap of 30 GB, for 179.95 a month.

    Thanks for any insights you can provide!

    • Hi Stephanie,

      To be honest, it’s difficult to say which company is better. All internet providers go through the satellite uplink and therefore all Iqalummiut are subjected to the same speeds, slowdowns, cutouts, etc. We tried Qiniq for a brief time when their packages changed, but unfortunately it didn’t work with the router we used – we later discovered the reason why and it wasn’t anything to do with Qiniq. I know people who use it and swear by it. There are no overage fees, however going over your plan with Qiniq will result in speeds being throttled until your plan rolls over into the new month. It costs somewhere in the neighbourhood of $150 – $200 in upfront costs.

      Northwestel (despite my gripes with them) has significantly improved since we arrived in Iqaluit. The prices have dropped and they’ve added more bandwidth to plans. There is a bit more choice with them now. Downside is that you must have a land phone line in order to use NWTel. They do not offer dry loop DSL service, so this can add a minimum of $30/month to your bill, depending on options you might get with your phone line. I don’t recall any installation fees, though they needs to mail the modem to you and you set it up with remote assistance.

      There is another option – Xplornet. We can’t use it because we live in an apartment that may or may not allow us to install a satellite dish on our exterior wall, but we also generally face north and that means we’re on the wrong side of the building. You need to have a wall that faces the satellite or else you can’t get the service. I’m not sure of the prices and I don’t know if the website is too informative where Iqaluit is concerned. From what I know, they offer unlimited internet with unrestricted speeds from midnight until some time in the morning. I believe there is a significant upfront investment cost for equipment and installation. I’ve also heard there may be a waiting list. It’d be a good idea to get more info on this option prior to coming to Iqaluit in case you need to deal with the waiting period.

      Regardless of what option you choose, you will not achieve southern speeds. It’s best to understand that before your expectations are too high. That said, it’s definitely not as bad as it was just three years ago. There are certain times of the day when everyone in the city is online – and you can tell. And there are other times when it seems like you might be the only person downloading. I won’t mention when those times are for fear that we’ll lose the good speeds if too many people find out. 😉 You’ll discover them quickly. If you have any other questions, please don’t hesitate to ask!

      Let us know when you’re scheduled to arrive in Iqaluit and we can meet for a drink if you like!

      • Thanks for all the information!

        Another couple had told me about Xplornet as well, but when i contacted them they said i wouldn’t be able to skype with them?

        Is it realistic for me to think that I will be able to skype with my folks a couple times each week? Do you ever skype? I have a 4 month old, so the grandparents like to see her a couple times each week. I’m hopeful this can continue.

        We are in the process of organizing the move, but I think we will be arriving in Iqaluit on Nov.25……LOL wouldn’t want to ease ourselves into winter or anything! haha

        Stephanie ________________________________

        • I’m not sure how Xplornet handles Skype. I know that we are able to Skype using NWTel – the quality is often better in the late evening I think. But then, it depends on which day as well. It might take some practicing. We Skype with my mother and my nephew quite often. Sometimes Skype tells us that the quality is too low to use the video feature. When that happens, we just try again at a different time. Today’s technology sure makes it easier to be further from family – but it is definitely still challenging.

          Ian and I arrived in Iqaluit on November 22 – you’re right on par with us! It might be a chilly one this year, so bring your parka!

  2. Why does the internet cost so much in the arctic? Of course I could be wrong but it sounds like the companies are taking advantage of the good people in the north. It’s bad enough that nobody is really doing much of anything about the high cost of food in the north. I feel very bad that people in the north are being treated this way. Doesn’t the government consider those with very limited incomes?

  3. Thanks so much! But we have a 6 month old 🙂 so with a 3 hour time change, might take us a bit to get her back on a schedule haha

  4. I’m seeking a similar opportunity post-graduation (dental school). It seems there is a high want for dentists up there. And I would consider living there, however is it possible to remain vegan? If i made it my permanent place of residence I would definitely be investing in greenhouse or garage of some sort to grow my own vegetables?

    • My wife would probably be better suited to provide more information in that department. Although she’s not vegan, she is vegetarian and has managed to keep true to her lifestyle while up here. Plus she’s on the board for the Iqaluit Greenhouse Society which manages the community greenhouse located downtown.

      Vegetables are probably the cheapest products in the grocery stores so maintaining that way of living shouldn’t break the bank. Unfortunately it’s hit or miss with the quality of the produce more often than not. Thankfully they are expanding their variety of products to include gluten free, dairy free, and some vegan choices (as opposed to a few years ago when there we none). It is very possible to build your own personal greenhouse but your location (wherever you end up) will play a big factor in what you’ll be able to pull off. Cost of building (or even retrofitting a shed) would be pricey as well. If this is your intention it may be better in the long run to sealift building supplies (or even a small pre-fab greenhouse). It’s something to research at least.

      Feel free to drop me an email if you have more questions. Cheers!

    • Glad we can be of some help to newcomers. Hopefully I’ll get some more of this blog updated in the coming weeks. This past week has been crazy. Gearing up for my annual Super Bowl party. Somehow it became a thing up here. 😉

      Maybe I’ll see you at the 5th annual event!

  5. So glad I found this blog! I’ve recently applied to a position in Iqaluit, so we’ll see, but have been working in the general direction of the real north for a couple years already (we live in northern BC.) I have one big question – we have two huskies. How will the housing situation look with 2 dogs?

    • Hi April.

      Housing up here is hit or miss. Many of the apartment buildings only allow small pets (like cats, rabbits, birds, iguanas, etc) however four-plexes, duplexes, townhouses and house rentals usually allow any kind of pets. The one thing you have to consider is that if your dogs are kept outside they may be the target of mischances individuals. we have a very prevalent problem with dogs being let off their leashes and they end up roaming the streets only to be picked up by by-law officers and brought to the pound. I would suggest putting in inquiries as soon as possible with different rental companies just to get an idea of what’s available and where. We can certainly help you out with letting you know which realtors are legit and which parts of town are decent. Don’t hesitate to drop us an email at anytime if you have questions.

      Cheers!

      • Well, it’s official – our flight leaves on Oct 1 (well, so they tell me – it’s all organized for us!) We have pet-friendly government housing, although we may have to stay in a hotel for a bit (with two huskies! Oh goodness.) Our housing will be an apartment, so we may end up looking for a townhouse just to keep our sanity – two adults and two goofy pups is going to be a squish! But first I have to worry about getting my flight info so I can book said fur-babies ON said flight. Baby steps. I don’t know what your email is to say thanks for the info, so thanks and I guess maybe I’ll see you THERE!

  6. Hello,

    I have just read through your blog and thank you very much for putting the time and effort into it. I am planning on coming up to Nunavut for work early next year and this was a very valuable resource. How long are you guys planning on staying up there?

    Thanks again.

    • Hi Saagar. Right now we’re undecided about how long we’ll be up here. We’re already knocking on the door of our 4th year (5th winter) up here and haven’t really considered leaving any time soon. You know how it goes though. We’re just playing it year to year for the most part. I can say this much though this is the longest tenure we’ve ever spent in one place so I guess that says something, eh? 🙂

  7. If you don’t mind, I’d like to know the details of the social ills you speak of, like alcoholism, ‘rampant promiscuity’ and ‘backhanded racism.’

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