Inuvik has a stark layout that feels forced and awkward. Except for the Midnight Sun Mosque, Our Lady of Victory Catholic Church, and the arena-sized greenhouse, most of its buildings are utilitarian drab. But Inuvik is inhabited by friendly, amiable, welcoming and spirited people.
After many studies, Inuvik was built by the government of Canada as a planned community in the 1950’s and by the 1970’s became the first and only town north of the Arctic Circle. Structural support comes from the permafrost and the consequences of any thaw would be severe for roads and buildings. A few years ago, the sewage lagoon heated the ground, resulting in a road collapse.
From their website: “To give you some idea of the complexity of building Inuvik consider that every building, every road, every structure, the entire airport, everything had to be either on piles or on a three foot gravel pad. The runway at the airport is 6000 feet long and its entire length including the taxiways are on a gravel pad, in some areas the pad is 6 feet thick.” (more on Inuvik)
To transfer water and sewage all homes and buildings are connected by aesthetically-challenged, heated above-ground utilidors:
We dropped into the library to talk with staff and learn more about the unique history of this place. With about 3400 residents presently, the Town was established as a government administration centre and transportation hub. It has suffered its setbacks, and like most northern communities, Inuvik is subject to the whims of the global market. Prices for oil and other natural resources directly impact the living conditions of the residents as does government research or military presence. With the military no longer there and Arctic drilling at a standstill, a number of housing complexes were boarded up.
But there is always a pipeline coming right around the corner and the people love the open wilderness land and the endless northern lights that dance the sky through their long winters. It is a blended community of Inuvialuit, Dene, Metis and Non-native. We even met a number of people who originally came from the GTA. Each and every one was happy to be there including a Sudanese man who returned to Toronto a decade after living in Inuvik and left two days later — bolting from the stress of the city. He’s a leader in the Muslim community and told us that the Mosque has about 100 members.
Karen and I registered to run in the annual Midnight Sun Marathon (organized by a man who used to live in Oakville!). We decided to try the 5k and we did great—coming in just ahead of the stream of walkers including a few pregnant women pushing strollers!
As we ran through Inuvik, we waved back to the people drinking beer and visiting on back decks, and smiled at the kids riding their bikes and playing at the park in the bright nighttime. We jogged through the single traffic light at town centre, passed middle-income homes, industrial holding tanks, the gas station ($1.68/litre), campground and a section of roughed-up dwellings with a view to the delta.
In the heat and bright of the midnight sun, as our feet tread through the small neighbourhoods of Inuvik, I began to feel great affection for this community. I said to Karen: “I love this place. Inuvik is the ugliest friendliest town I’ve ever met.”