Canada & Alaska

Michele & Stephen's trip in 2013


At the top of the Dempster Highway is the town of Inuvik. As well as the intrinsic interest in any town at the end of a 700km gravel road, Inuvik is also the home of the Great Northern Arts Festival.

The figure of 3485 on the sign is the population. It is probably a bit less than that now.

Inuvik is the third largest town in Northwest Territories, an area five times that of the UK. In case you missed that I will repeat it. Inuvik (Population 3485) is the third largest town in Northwest Territories, an area five times that of the UK.

Inuvik was created in 1955 as a base for government in this part of NWT. It is not a pretty town.

Lonely Planet lists three things to see in Inuvik. Jàk Park (not actually in Inuvik) Northern Images (see right) and Our Lady of Victory Church. After seeing these three sights Lonely Planet suggests that "the best thing you can do in Inuvik is get out of town".

Actually it's not that bad.

The Igloo Church is indeed worth a visit. Built by volunteer labour between 1958 and 1960 (using "good old Catholic guilt" to quote the ex-mayor who showed us round) it was constructed without written plans and designed by someone with minimal education and no architectural training.

The internal structure of the roof is amazing, particularly as no stress calculations or even drawings were done until well after the church was finished.

Flattened aluminium cans were apparently used on the inside surface of the cupola to reflect low angle sunlight into the church.

Because of permafrost all utilities in Inuvik are supplied above ground using a system of "utilidors".

Another unusual feature of Inuvik is the communal greenhouse. Apparently the only one north of the Arctic circle.

The Great Northern Arts Festival is billed as "a dynamic blend of exhibitions, workshops, demonstrations, sales, seminars, culture, music, and special events". The prospectus is impressive the delivery a little less so.

The workshop area should have had about 10 courses in progress when we were there, however we could only see two or three actually at work.

The exhibition/sales area had about 1,500 items on show, however when we were there, there seemed to be few active buyers.

The outdoor carving demonstration area only had two people working (one with a face mask one without).

The "special events" included...

Gumboot Dancing from South Africa demonstrated by Estelle Marcoux from Quebec (far right with bells on her boots. As the programme said "bring your own gumboots or not".

A Northern Games (Inuit traditional sports) demonstration that included the Alaskan High Kick. "The competitor sits on the floor below a target with one hand grasping the opposite foot. With the other hand planted on the floor, the athlete springs up and attempts to kick the target with the free foot. After kicking the target, the competitor must land on the same side of one’s body. Height is the objective."

Finally a series of Inuit Social Games were demonstrated that were eventually decided by a laugh-off, won by the girl on the left.

Inuvik is well worth a visit (if you are passing Dawson City, have a week to spare and a robust vehicle).