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Nunavut Travel Guide

Nunavut is Canada’s newest territory, officially formed and separated from the eastern section of the Northwest Territories in 1999. It was established after 20 years of negotiations with the Inuit communities which make up 80% of this northern territory’s residents. Nunavut is almost two million square kilometers or about 775,000 square miles with a population of about 30,000, making it the least densely populated region of Canada. Its name “Nunavut” means “our land” in the Inuit language.[1]

Forming one-fifth of Canada, Nunavut is pretty much nothing but a wilderness – where polar bears and whales scatter a landscape of ice and snow, stunning mountains, barren tundra, and deep fjords. Its main attraction is the Northern Lights, the aurora borealis colors which illuminate the skies at night. People also come to Nunavut to enjoy dog sledding, living in an igloo, and braving adventurous activities like mountain climbing and hiking the challenging treks found at some of Nunavut’s national parks. The most interesting of its destinations is the island of Keewatin, notable for its unique geographical features. The island has fossilized coral, thanks to a tropical climate it enjoyed thousands and thousands of years ago. The community of Coral Harbor on Keewatin is so named to remind everyone of the island’s climatic past.[2]

Living in an Igloo
The igloo was primarily built by the Inuit aboriginals in Nunavut’s inhospitable central and eastern arctic region where snow was the only building material available. The igloo has got to be one of the coolest dwellings humans have ever lived in, both literally and figuratively speaking.[3]

Igloos are constructed by piling on blocks of snow that are packed firmly. These ice blocks are cut from the ground using a knife or bone as a tool. Ideal dimensions of blocks are between 30-60 centimeters wide and 60-90 centimeters long. Each row is laid out from the inside and spiraled upward, with each successive row of blocks a little further in towards the center. This dome structure provides the most stability possible.[4]

Most igloos have a window in the roof – not an opening but a block of clear water ice inserted. The central block of snow is the key to the strength and sturdiness of the igloo. The entrance to the dwelling is usually low and long. Animal skin covers the entrance to keep the inside warm. Holes are poked on the roof to allow for circulation and to let out the smoke.[5]

Temporary igloos differ from permanent igloos and are set up whenever the Inuit travel or go on hunting expeditions. These igloos, not surprisingly are smaller, usually measuring only about 3 meters wide and 2 meters tall. The permanent igloos are more spacious and comfortable. The main rooms are as high as 3-4 meters while the diameter is as wide as 4-5 meters. Sometimes, passageways are constructed along with a series of domes to provide storage and space for larger families.[6]

Inside, the igloo usually has a sleeping platform formed from raising snow. These sleeping “beds” are typically covered with animal fades. Shelves are carved out of the walls to hold tools, utensils, and items. Some Inuit burn blubber to provide heat and light inside, with soapstone serving as lamps. For additional warmth, the ceilings and walls are insulated with extra layers of polar bear, musk-oxen, seal, and caribou hides. This is particularly important in order to avoid melting the snow blocks by building too many fires inside. Still, the temperatures inside are no warmer than freezing or slightly above freezing, so wearing something warmer than pajamas is necessary.[7]

In the summer, when the igloo melts, the Inuit set up tents made of seal hides or caribou, stretched out over poles to form a teepee-like dwelling.[8]

Today, igloos are still used by the Inuit when they travel or hunt and getting to see this for yourself is one of the great highlights of visiting Nunavut.[9]

“Nunavut.” < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nunavut>

Simpkins, Mary Ann. Canada. New York: Prentice Hall Travel, 1994. ISBN: 0671882783.

[1] Nunavut
[2] Simpkins, 280-81
[3] Id. at 280
[4] Id.
[5] Id.
[6] Id. at 280-81
[7] Id. at 281
[8] Id.
[9] Id.

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