By Patricia Lightfoot
A series of tweets recently by an Iqaluit councillor about the pleasures of visiting the community of Pangnirtung, which is about an hour’s flight north of the territorial capital, followed by one expressing concern about getting his flight home made me think of a visit there that I made this summer.
The community of a little under 2000 inhabitants is located in the shadow of Mount Duval on a fiord that leads from Cumberland Sound to the Akshayuk Pass in Auyuittuq National Park. The setting is remarkably beautiful and prone to fog, so flights are regularly cancelled.
When I was staying in the Auyuittuq Lodge with my travelling companion, in addition to people on a cultural tour and hikers who’d just made their way out of the park, most of the guests were there temporarily for work, fixing the refrigerated displays in the Co-op, signing up local people with the Coastguard auxiliary, improving the cable system. It was an interesting scene in the lodge as this varied group of people hung out in the upper floor lounge with its stellar views and shared stories.
Over a damp and grey few days, some found themselves making repeated trips to the airport, which is five minutes’ walk away, only to be turned back as no planes had come in. This situation was compounded by one that did arrive from further up the island, landed, disgorging passengers who were on their way to Iqaluit and not best pleased to be in Pangnirtung, but then did not set off again. As more and more guests showed up at the lodge, which is the only hotel in town, though there’s a bed and breakfast and some home stays, the Inuit staff at the lodge, led by the enterprising summer manager, Justin, did everything they could to house and feed the unexpected visitors. The lodge is not shiny, nor inexpensive to stay in, but it’s clean and comfortable, and the staff are welcoming and reflect the northern traditions of hospitality and creative thinking.
Here are some high points of my trip:
Best hospitality award
This goes to the staff at the Auyuittuq Lodge in Pangnirtung and the manager of the local Co-op store who drove people to and from the airport and brought bags of extra food to the lodge, which is part of the chain of Inns North hotels owned by the Co-op.
The best hike was a few hours spent walking in Akshayuk Pass with Parks Canada guide Matthew Nauyuk. Matthew was fun to be with and patient with our many questions. Others hike the full pass over 8–10 days, self-supported on the land, fording thigh-deep glacial streams, while we did the easy-afternoon version, but it was still great to see the terrain and its geology up close.
This one has to go to the bowhead whales. They were almost hunted to extinction by Scottish and American whalers towards the end of the nineteenth century and early into the twentieth. We took a boat trip with outfitter and former MLA Peter Kilabuk out to Kekerten Island, where there had been a whaling station. Most pleasingly, as we approached the island, we spotted a few bowhead whales. The commercial whalers are long gone, but the whales survive. We saw a few more in the fjord close to Pangnirtung on our way back from the island.
The brief sighting of an Arctic hare in Sylvia Grinnell Territorial Park would be the runner up. It looked like an unusually large grey rabbit with white lower legs.
During our stay in Iqaluit a lot of ice had blown into the bay from Greenland apparently, but the best chunk of ice had to be the iceberg we saw near Kekerten Island. As I recall, Peter said the iceberg was resting on the ocean floor at some 250 metres’ depth.
The views from Mount Duval of the fiord in both directions, and across the mountains, tundra, lakes and glacial valleys.
Greatest object of desire
A plastic-wrapped styrofoam tray bearing eight chunks of fresh pineapple. Someone at the lodge had brought this to eat after dinner. The pineapple looked so delicious in a community where a carton of orange juice costs close to $15.
As is usually the case in the North, the best food does not show up in the grocery stores. The blueberries growing on Mount Duval were sweet and plentiful.
Drinking coffee with the elders who meet a couple of times a week in a room that’s part of the visitor centre in Pangnirtung. Encouraged by the centre’s administrator, Ooleepeeka, we joined the group, who seemed quite varied in age, some of whom were playing cards, while others watched Frozen Planet with the narration in Inuktitut. We drank our coffee and sat watching polar bears fight and mate, while the lady next to me, Annie Pitsuilak, crocheted an iconic “Pang hat”.
Easily, this was the dinner Inuk chef Sheila Flaherty cooked on our last evening in Iqaluit, starting with cold-smoked char and Pangirtung scallops in a ginger-citrus sauce, grilled char with a topping of parsley, dill, shallots and lemon; and a sponge cake with maple-syrup cream and cloudberries or akpik. This was truly a treat.