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
Yes. 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 Winter, Sprummer 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
I 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:
- The Iqaluit Greenhouse Society
- Atii Fitness Society
- The Qayuqtuvik Society (Iqaluit Soup Kitchen)
- Alianait Arts Festival
- Toonik Tyme
There 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!
It’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!
One 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
Work work work
It’s not what you know…
The InterNot (and other technological anomalies of the North)