Introduction to Nunavut

(continuer en français) – Last updated: February 18, 2023

Nunavut is a vast territory occupied by less than 40,000 inhabitants, grouped in 26 isolated communities. The Inuit represent more than 80% of the population. In these urban islands surrounded by an immense tundra, it is also worth being disoriented by the words in Inuktitut encountered here and there.

Nunavut became a separate territory on April 1, 1999, with Iqaluit as its capital. Since then, the federal and territorial administrations have grown in size and provide the primary source of employment.



In the tundra, the subsoil is permanently frozen, the permafrost, while the surface can thaw during the short summer. As water cannot penetrate, lakes and swamps are formed. It is permitted to camp freely on the tundra, but this requires preparation and adequate equipment. Although sedentary, the Inuit still occasionally enjoy traditional camping in the summer.


Iqaluit is the capital of the Nunavut Territory, located 300 kilometres south of the Arctic Circle. At the 2016 census there was a population of 7740 people. In Inuktitut, Iqaluit means “place of fish”, for a time it was called Frobisher Bay, after its discoverer in 1576. It was originally an American military base (more).

Legislative Assembly

The assembly consists of members elected from 22 ridings, covering all scattered communities. There are no political parties and the government operates on a consensual basis. While it is adorned with many symbolic objects representing the particularity of Nunavut, the Assembly operates according to the British parliamentary system.

Hudson’s Bay Company

The Hudson’s Bay Company played an essential role in the formation of Canada. It was established in 1670 and its posts were located throughout Nunavut, including near Iqaluit. The historic buildings on Apex Beach are no longer used for trade, while the main building has been moved to the centre of Iqaluit for use as a museum.

Odd-shaped buildings

Iqaluit seems to be a field of experimentation for the design of buildings with forms different from those found elsewhere. The extreme climatic conditions explain this originality, as well as the need to ship precast materials from far away, as local production resources are limited. The most original building is probably St Jude’s Anglican Cathedral, built in the shape of an igloo.


Because of the permafrost, the houses are built on stilts, one metre above the ground. Inuit used to live in igloos in winter and tents in summer. Since then, the authorities have set up housing programmes for the Inuit. As a result, half of the inhabitants of Nunavut live in social housing and there is still a great shortage.

Nunatta Sunakkutaangit Museum

The museum is housed in a converted building from the Hudson’s Bay Company complex originally built in Apex. It is the only museum in the territory, and its purpose is both to display Inuit art and to show the traditional way of life. The indigenous artists are invited to sell their works there, which helps to organise a source of income to finance them.


The Inuit graphic style often uses naturalism, with animals serving to express traditional values. For example, the raven is a central figure in Inuit myths, and legend attributes the creation of the world to it. In the past, creators used locally available materials such as stone, ivory or bone. There is also the constant presence of the inuksuk, which is increasingly used as a national symbol in Canada.

Sylvia Grinnell Park

The territorial park begins one kilometre, 0.6 mile, from Iqaluit. The small portion accessible to the public is before the river, beyond which the public is not allowed to enter. Archaeological remains have been identified, nothing very spectacular. Occasionally caribou and polar bears are seen passing through. The park is mainly used for fresh air on paths traced in the tundra near the city (more).


Apex is located a few kilometres from Iqaluit, where the Inuit were allowed to settle when Iqaluit was an American military base and where some Inuit began to work. Today, there are about 60 families living there, mostly in prefabricated houses provided by the government. There is a church and a school, but no running water, which must be delivered by municipal truck.

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    • It is certainly a very different landscape from the rest of Canada further south. The environment is still very hostile, and it is difficult to visit properly outside the few urbanised structures.

      Liked by 1 person

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