Tuktoyaktuk, Western Arctic
Tuktoyaktuk, original Inuvialuit word is Tuktuuyaqtuuk, meaning “Place resembling a caribou”.
Of all the small communities in the Western Arctic, Tuktoyaktuk is the community best geared for tourism. Tuk, as it is commonly known, is located in Canada’s farthest northern region. It lies on the shores of the Arctic Ocean at the tip of the Northwest Territories; it’s a unique destination. The hamlet has a population of approximately 950 people. About 90 % of Tuk’s population is Inuvialuit, meaning “original people of the Western Arctic”, known to outsiders as Eskimos.
Over the years Tuktoyaktuk has been a base for Inuvialuit caribou and beluga hunting, as well as a DEW line radar site, and a centre of oil and gas exploration.
First, you have to get to Inuvik! If you are an adventurer like me, you most probably decide to drive the Dempster Highway. The famous gravel highway starts east of Dawson City and takes you to the Yukon/NWT border. It continues to Fort McPherson and Tsiigehtichic, ending in Inuvik.
If you prefer to get there faster, Inuvik has daily air service from Edmonton, Norman Wells, Yellowknife and Whitehorse.
In summer, Tuktoyaktuk is only accessible by air or by boat. Regular flights operate daily between Inuvik and Tuk, leaving Inuvik at 9:30 am and returning at 4 pm.
Aklak Air also operates charter flights, taking 45 minutes to an hour each way. The small plane takes flies low over the amazing Mackenzie Delta and the beautiful Tundra with its many lakes.
When the plane landed in Tuk, my Nikon battery died and I didn’t have a spare. Luckily I had my cell phone to capture a few pictures.
Arctic Adventure Tours and Tuk Tours offer cultural tours of the hamlet, harbour tours and visits to traditional fishing camps, as well as boat trips between Inuvik and Tuk.
My plan was to fly to Tuk and take a boat trip back to Inuvik. Combined trips like this are only offered a couple of times a week. It didn’t work out for me and I had to fly both ways.
The day trip to Tuk was expensive but definitely worthwhile and I fully recommend it to everybody travelling to Inuvik.
Ice Road to Tuk
In winter, the Mackenzie River becomes an ice road and you can drive between Inuvik and Tuktoyaktuk. For Information on vehicle rentals, see Camper and RV Rental.
The ice road between Inuvik and Tuk has been featured in some episodes of TV documentary Ice Road Truckers. To drive the 140 km takes around 2 1/2 hours. It is supposed to be an incredible journey which is still on my bucket list. Make sure to be prepared and talk to locals in Inuvik about the conditions before you head out.
If you don’t want to drive the ice road yourself, check with the tour operators, they offer van tours.
An all-weather highway from Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk is in the process to being built. Because of permafrost, construction only continues during the winter months.
Most probably you’re like me and make your first excursion north of the Arctic Circle to the Land of the Midnight Sun during summer.
During winter, Tuk is also connected with the hamlet of Aklavik via an ice road.
Touring the Settlement
Our Inuvialuit tour guide met us at the Tuktoyaktuk airport in her van and toured with us the small settlement. Most of the houses are old and weathered with tin roofs. Still, it’s a pleasant place, despite the old and rundown buildings.
The location is sensational and the people are very friendly. I would have loved to stay for a night and listen to stories from locals.
Our guide showed us the Trans Canada Trail marker, the mission boat and the picturesque little churches. I was hoping to tour the public ice cellar but it was locked up.
I noticed old dog sleds parked next to the houses and huskies chained up in the back.
Along the beach were old sheds for smoking fish and rendering whale oil.
We explored the sod house, a replica of a traditional sod house used by natives of the area many years ago. We also stopped at a store with local crafts.
Visitors come to Tuktoyaktuk to tour the nearby pingo hills which we only saw from a distance. A pingo is an ice-covered hill that rises out of the Arctic tundra. Pingos were often used by travelling Inuvialuit as navigational landmarks.
Located along the shore of the Beaufort Sea, Pingo Canadian Landmark contains eight of the region’s 1,350 pingos, including Ibyuk Pingo, the largest Pingo in Canada and the second largest in the word.
Our Lady of Lourdes Schooner
I don’t think the Inuvialuit people of Tuk are proud of this historical landmark. The schooner was once used to transfer children in Tuktoyaktuk to residential Catholic schools. Today, aboriginal people are open talking about their story and tell how it affected their lives.
Last used in the early 1960s, the boat now sits on the roadside near the Arctic Ocean. Situated close to it is the Catholic Church, it’s doomed to bad memories and misery.
Dipping my feet into the frigid Arctic Ocean
This is the tradition, to dip at least a toe into the Arctic Ocean when you’re in Tuk. Some brave travellers actually jump in. Two feet in was good enough for me.
After the community tour, our guide invited us into her and her husband’s home for a traditional Inuvialuit meal of caribou stew and Eskimo donuts. We also sampled muskox meat, dry fish, muktuk and smoked whale meat.
Like most residents in Tuk, the Jacobson’s still hunt, trap, whale and fish for their food and live a traditional lifestyle.
They showed us some of the furs and skins that they harvested this past winter at their camp 155 miles out of Tuk. We saw antlers from different types of caribou, different types of fox hides and muskox fur. In addition to furs, Eileen also has some very interesting traditional clothing. She showed us the old parka that her mother wore and the polar bear pants that her husband used to wear when hunting.
Tour operators offer many activities including dog-sledding, snowmobiling, ice-fishing, igloo building and culture tours. To take part in any of the activities will give you a glimpse into the lives and traditions of the local people.
If you decide to stay at Tuktoyaktuk for a night I suggest to book your accommodation before you arrive.
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