Nunavut communities showcase their best to cruise ships

Now that a two-year ban on cruise ships in Canadian Arctic waters has ended, Nunavut has been busy again with visitors.

Top of the list for cruise ship stops: the scenic north Baffin community of Pond Inlet, which has seen more calls this summer from cruises than any other place in Nunavut.

As of Thursday, 17 cruise ships had visited the community of about 1,600, with a few more scheduled before Sept. 19.

“We’re showing our culture here, and we’re proud of that. We’re trying to let the world [know more], especially Canadians from the South, who have never known about our culture except that we’re drug addicts and people with issues. They change their attitudes afterwards,” said Joshua Idlout, Pond Inlet’s marine facilities security officer.

Idlout ensures every cruise ship’s papers are in order and oversees the arrival of visitors by Zodiac to the dock at the new small craft harbour.

About 4,800 cruise ship visitors were expected to arrive in Pond Inlet in 2022. 

This season marked the first since the lifting of a ban on cruise ships and pleasure craft that was put in place in Canadian Arctic waters to curb the spread of COVID-19.

Idlout said Pond Inlet is expecting to see even bigger numbers next year.

“It’s going to keep continuing to grow because we are part of the entry point and exit point for the Northwest Passage, which is why we are getting so much traffic,” Idlout said.

“At the same time, we try to make it so they don’t bother the hunters.”

Many in the community benefit from cruise ship visits because they can earn money as passenger guides, he said.

“If all goes well, we will hire more people next year and we’ll continue to grow this economically,” Idlout said.

Pond Inlet visitor’s centre gives passengers a taste of Inuit culture

Earlier this year, Tununiq MLA Karen Nutarak said in the Nunavut legislature that she was worried about an influx of visitors into her home community.

But from the viewpoint of Ernest Merkosak, manager of the Nattinak Visitor’s Centre, everything went well this summer.

“It’s a very good opportunity for the community to see what the world has to offer us,” Merkosak said. “We are getting a good source of income from outside the community, so it’s a benefit, the way that I see it.”

Passengers tell him they are “overwhelmed” by their experiences in Pond Inlet. 

The Nattinak centre co-ordinates various tour options for passengers, for which the ships pay $75 per head ahead of time.

Options include a hike to Salmon Creek, where there is a Thule archaeological site. Passengers also visit a sod house to sample tea and bannock and visit the Nattinak centre where they can buy arts and crafts.

The groups are divided into 30 passengers per group with a guide.

At the end of their six-hour tour of Pond Inlet, they all meet at the community centre for a cultural show.

Everyone always comes with lots of questions, Merkosak said. These include, “Do you have an airport? How do you get out of the community?”

“They are curious about our way of life and how we survived up here. They are also curious about what kind of food we eat,” said Merkosak, adding they are “polite and respectful” when he talks about the importance of whales and seals to Inuit.

“At the end of each visit, they are all complimenting us and are all smiles,” he said.

Other Nunavut communities also have received their share of cruise ships.

Kugluktuk timed a big community cleanup to coincide with the arrival of Adventure Canada’s Ocean Endeavour on Saturday. The hamlet also planned arts and crafts sales, and demonstrations making various traditional items such as kamiks and ulus.

Cambridge Bay has offered tours, including a walk around its heritage park, to cruise ship passengers for which there was a charge of $100 per head.

This piece in Cambridge Bay’s heritage park was built by teens in a welding program in 2018. (Alex Brockman/CBC)

The money also went to cover the extra burden on municipal services when hundreds of cruise ship passengers are in the hamlet of about 2,000.

The $100 did not apply to in-transit passengers who went directly to or from to the airport.

Worry about COVID-19

Concerns about the groups’ mainly international passengers walking around communities have included worries in many communities of possible COVID-19 transmission.

But Idlout said that couldn’t happen in Pond Inlet because he wouldn’t allow a ship carrying any COVID cases to come ashore.

Other communities have taken similar measures: in Ulukhaktok, N.W.T., the community asked a cruise ship not to stop there due to positive cases on board, according to Cabin Radio.

A Canadian navy ship was going to come in at Pond Inlet but wasn’t allowed due to that, Idlout said.

Dr. Michael Patterson, the chief medical officer of health for Nunavut, said in an interview last month that he was not aware of any COVID-19 cases linked to cruise ships or other vessels.

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