Join me on an exploration of Tuktoyaktuk, in Canada’s Northwest Territories—a unique and remote community that few people will ever visit:
In This Travel Photo Essay You Will Discover:
- The Inner Workings of a Traditional Whaling Camp
- Scenes from One of Canada’s Most Remote Communities
- A Pretty Weak Attempt to Throw a Harpoon
- And More!
You know a town is remote when its very name is used as a synonym for remoteness. Tuktoyaktuk is such a place.
Perched just beyond 69 degrees north, where the tundra meets the Arctic Ocean, “Tuk” is a town every Canadian has heard of, yet few have ever seen.
Currently, this 900-person ‘burg is boat- or air-access only in summer and ice-road-access in winter. But that’s about to change. An all-season road is in the final stages of construction, linking Tuktoyaktuk to Inuvik, which then connects to the rest of Canada via the lonely Dempster Highway leading south.
As such, Tuk is on the cusp of a great evolution. Reliable year-round access will open up tourism opportunities, lower food prices and provide a symbolic lifeline to the south for this isolated community. Combine this with commercial shipping through the Northwest Passage and cruise ships in the Arctic and all Tuk needs is a deep-sea port to one day become a key economic centre in the North.
For now, though, Tuk is a quiet and unique community, rich in traditional Inuvialuit culture and welcoming to the handful of intrepid visitors it sees throughout the short summer season.
In June, I was fortunate to be one of these visitors. I travelled by boat from Inuvik with Tundra North Tours, snaking northward through the impossibly massive Mackenzie River Delta. Midway, we hiked a remote shoreline where a reindeer herd roams in winter. Further on, we visited a traditional whaling camp, before arriving in Tuk and meeting John Steen who toured me through town.
I’m writing an in-depth article on my tour of Tuk for the Winter 2016 issue of explore magazine. But as a preview, I’d like to share these 20 images from Tuktoyaktuk and the Mackenzie River Delta. Enjoy! (and grab a copy of explore this December.)
Kylik Kisoun Taylor, of Tundra North Tours, piloted our boat through the massive Mackenzie River Delta en route to Tuk—a four-hour journey. Here, we’re out for a mid-way walkabout. (And to practice our spear-throwing.)
Kylik let me paddle his traditional kayak—made of resin-covered-canvas on a wood frame, it was remarkably light and manoeuvrable.
He told me I’d be able to throw the harpoon “quite a ways” using a traditional Atlal. I barely cleared the bow. More practice required.
Clara Day (and her daughter and grandchildren) were wonderful hosts at their traditional whaling camp, set where the Mackenzie River Delta meets the Arctic Ocean. We ate a nourishing lunch of reindeer soup, with smoked whitefish and muktuk on the side.
One of my favourite images: After she explained the process of beluga hunting, Rose Day posed for a photo with her harpoon. Behind her, we see the fish-drying shack, which will soon be full of meat.
Clara Day illustrates the differences between the various ulu, a traditional knife still widely used throughout the Arctic.
The Day family will live here for the summer, hunting, fishing and gathering berries for the long Arctic winter.
I had the honour of being Clara’s first visitor of summer.
In Tuktoyaktuk, John Steen showed me a replica of an Inuvialuit sod-house. This style of construction appeared in indigenous Arctic cultures sometime in the 1700s—theories suggest they were influenced by visiting Vikings.
Although most of Tuktoyaktuk is Catholic, the Anglican Church has a small and devoted following.
The Anglican Church is currently in the process of being restored.
The Catholic Church in Tuktoyaktuk is renowned for its sealskin pulpit cloth.
This resupply ship was used by the Catholic Missionaries until the mid-20th century. Full restored, it now sits on display near the church.
The Arctic Cemetery, carved into the permafrost.
Waterfront houses in Tuktoyaktuk, overlooking the vast and frigid Arctic Ocean.
I went swimming in the Arctic Ocean in 2008—this visit, I was OK with just wading.
John Steen’s hunting parka—locally handmade, it is stuffed with the down from 30 geese he shot and trimmed with fur from a wolverine he trapped. (It was really warm.)
The town of Tuktoyaktuk, as seen from atop its famous “Pingo.”
Local fishermen graciously showed me their haul of whitefish, inconnu and muktuk (beluga).
Officially, the farthest north I’ve been. Next stop, north of 70!