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Stunning Works of Art on Display At Inuvik’s 2010 Great Northern Arts Festival

Great Northern Arts Festival

If you want an arts fair that’s really off the beaten path, head to Inuvik at 68 degrees, 18’ north for my favourite Canadian arts festival:

In This Arts & Culture Article You Will Discover:

  • A Truly Undiscovered Arts Festival
  • How to Get to Inuvik
  • The Stunning Beauty of Northern Artists’ Work

The artwork of the north is as beautiful and elusive as the land itself. Influenced by millennia of hunting and fishing traditions, the desolate architecture of the land and the struggle to uphold heritage traditions in the modern world, sculpture, painting, clothing and jewelry crafted by Canada’s Northern First Nations people is unlike anything you’ll find, anywhere in the world.

Perhaps it is for the best that Inuvik’s Great Northern Arts Festival, now in its 22nd year, is tucked away at the most northerly spot reachable by land in Canada.

This location, by design or coincidence, preserves the nature of the artists and their work.

Polar Bear

A diving polar bear, carved from Italian Marble.

I walk into the Midnight Sun Recreation Complex, in downtown Inuvik — a surprisingly bustling community of about 3,500 people, located at the end of the famous Dempster Highway, in Canada’s Northwest Territories — exhausted from my trip to the north. I’m unshaven. Long-haired. Dazed.

And I have neither budget nor room on my motorcycle to actually bring back any of the art pieces that sit for sale in the main hall.

But I truly love the craftsmanship of the north. And the Great Northern Arts Festival, which ran from July 9 to 18 this year (check for next year’s dates), does not disappoint.


Gorgeous moccasins in several different designs could be found.

Small-town to be sure, there are only a dozen or so other wanderers in the main hall as I enter, mostly German tourists who dream of Canada’s famous, untouched Arctic from their crowded Stuttgart apartments.

My girlfriend, Erin, wanted me to pick up a pair of moccasins from the arts festival. So I take a photo. They are truly beautiful, and surely worth every penny of the $325 price tag. But everything I own is covered in mud, I can’t pack them back.

great northern arts

From sculpture, to clothing, to wall hangings and more, you’ll find it at the GNAF.

Canada’s northern peoples are so important to our country, more so than most “southerners” realize. After all, if the Inuit, Dene, Gwitch’in, Inuvialuit and other First Nation bands that choose to live and work in the north didn’t call themselves Canadians, could this country even lay claim to the Arctic? If it weren’t for the traditional peoples of the land, we would lack a presence there in any meaningful way.

German is not the only foreign tongue I hear while walking the aisles of the GNAF. Many of the artists speak only their mother tongue. I notice as well that the children of the community chatter back and forth in traditional languages, while most of the adults speak English.

It is a testament to the rebirth and revival of the traditional cultures of the north, cultures that our ancestors shamefully tried to assimilate out of them during first contact.

muskox horn

My favourite work of art in the festival: carved from a muskox horn.

I fall in love with an ornately carved muskox horn. It resembles Edvard Munch’s The Scream and is a steal at $1,800. No, I didn’t buy it. I am, this time, a window shopper.

The Great Northern Arts Festival has much more to offer than a marketplace, though. Attendees can take part in dozens of workshops to learn the crafts themselves, and there is live music nightly. After a wild trip up the Dempster Highway (don’t fly direct into Inuvik, you must drive/ride/cycle the Dempster Highway) it relaxes the soul.

Beyond the festival, Inuvik, located at the MacKenzie River Delta (the second largest river delta in the Western Hemisphere), has a lot to offer the visitor. For one, you will be amazed at the services available — from the fully-stocked department and grocery store, to The North Mart, to the government services, stores, to a couple of restaurants and a few hotels (I recommend the Nova Inn). You can restock your supplies better here than you can in the more southerly Dawson City.


A gorgeous Inuit mask.

Second, a variety of eco-adventures, wildlife tours and cultural tours — including a plane trip to Tuktoyaktuk — can be procured. Visit the Western Arctic Visitors Centre to get all the information you need.

And as far as getting to Inuvik, well, the weak and wimpy take a direct flight in. The adventurous take the Dempster Highway. I’ll tell you more about that very soon…

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About the author: David Webb is a Vancouver, BC-based travel writer, photographer and magazine editor.

5 comments… add one
  • FMD Oct 15, 2010 Link

    Fantastic blog, I had not come across acrossandabroad.com previously in my searches!
    Continue the superb work!

  • tenshii Jul 29, 2010 Link

    it was very interesting to read acrossandabroad.com
    I want to quote your post in my blog. It can?
    And you et an account on Twitter?

  • Erin O'Connor Jul 26, 2010 Link

    I love it! What an amazing experience…I really feel like I lived it along side you.
    I can see why your girlfriend would’ve wanted a pair of the those moccasins they are the most beautiful pair I’ve ever seen!

    Great Article!!

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