Gjoa Haven

Episode 3 of the series is set in Gjoa Haven, Nunavut. Close to 1300 people live in this rapidly expanding Nunavut hamlet, with 95% of them Inuit. Most people are bilingual, fluent in their first language of Inuktitut and in English. The town currently has 36 Canadian Rangers.

The hamlet sits on the Southeastern shore of King William Island, 1,056 km northeast of Yellowknife. Gjoa Haven got its name from Norwegian polar explorer Roald Amundsen who spent two years there with his ship the Gjoa at the start of the 20th century. Amundsen’s memory is still very much alive in the community. Many elders remember stories their parents told them about that first white man who came to visit them. Besides Amundsen there is another famous explorer who made his mark in the region: Sir John Franklin. He, his crews and ships disappeared after they became trapped in ice off King William Island in September 1846. The disappearance sparked many expeditions to find the remains of the two ships that continue to this day.

Gjoa Haven can only be reached by air or by boat – there are no roads connecting it to southern Canada. The annual sealift brings building materials, non-perishable goods and supplies annually. Because perishables have to be flown in, the cost of dairy products, fruits and vegetables runs three to four times the cost in southern Canadian cities. To stock up for the winter, many locals spend May – August almost exclusively out on the land. The school year ends earlier than most other parts of Canada to match the hunting patterns. Caribou, muskoxen, seals, geese and arctic char are just some of the local game and fish. Many people still wear traditional caribou clothing when going out on the land.

The winters last from September to May, with about six-weeks mid-winter spent in 24 hour darkness. Temperature from December to March drop to about -35 degrees Celsius and wind chills often make it feel another 15-20 degrees lower. The period of 24 hours of sunshine a day begins at the start of May. To celebrate, the town holds a week long carnival. People get together to play games from harpoon throwing and dog racing to seal skinning contests.

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