Cambridge Bay is the vibrant regional centre for the Kitikmeot region of western Nunavut, and it’s gearing up to be a standout community in the territory. With the completion of the Canadian High Arctic Research Centre (CHARS), the town is preparing for more residents and more tourists with new options for dining and accommodation. Not only is it an incredible destination for fishing, birding, hiking, archaeological tourism, canoeing, and kayaking, now it’s Canada’s nucleus for Arctic knowledge.
If you’re in the region, take advantage by getting outside and seeing what makes this area unique.
Live the legend: Climb the giant
While not technically a mountain, the 200-metre Mount Uvajuq, also known as Mount Pelly, looms taller than anything else in the flat landscape of Kiilliniq Island (Victoria Island) near Cambridge Bay. It’s been an important vantage point not just to today’s hunters, but the ancient Saqqaq, Tuniit, Thule, and the direct forebears of today’s Inuit. It looks out over the many lakes in the area, full of fish and home to waterfowl.
A road from Cambridge Bay will take you 15 kilometres northeast to the foot of the mound. As you approach it, and the two smaller hills beside it, alone on the landscape, perhaps you’ll recognize in these hills the legendary resting place of three giants who died travelling this land ages ago. According to local legend, these deaths marked a significant change in the world.
Before any of the Inuit or their human forebears, legend says the land was peopled with giants who lived forever. These giants ate large sea animals, like bowhead whales and walrus. One family, finding little food where they were, set out across Kiilliniq Island to find more. These were Uvajuq, the father; Amaaqtuq, the mother; and Inuuhuktu, the son. They crossed the flat terrain and walked through the island’s lakes with ease, but were no closer to food fit for their giant appetites. The caribou were mere rodents. Eventually, Amaaqtuq became too weak to go further. She collapsed face down and died. Inuuhuktu made it a few steps further then died as well. Finally, Uvajuq collapsed as well, his head pointed south. His bladder burst, legend has it, creating the lakes on the hill’s south side. Over the ages, their bodies were covered by rock and soil, but if you look closely, you can still see the outline of their ribcages in the hills.
There are five hiking trails up Uvajuq, with guides available at the Arctic Coast Visitors Centre in Cambridge Bay. There are the tent rings and caches of an ancient dwelling area along the Cycle of the Seasons Trail. Along the Tolemaqk trail, one can often see muskoxen. Along the Neakoa Trail (“neakoa” meaning the giant’s head), there are plenty of archaeological sites as well as good spots for fishing and camping. The Neakoa Kengmetkoplo Trail (meaning “head to toe”) travels around Uvajuq, as the name implies. Finally, the Ovayok Trail (an alternate spelling of Uvajuq) takes the hiker to the summit.
Keep it casual
Get out fishing. After all, Cambridge Bay’s Inuinnaqtun name is Ikaluktutiak—good fishing place. Contact one of Cambridge Bay’s outfitters ahead of time and line something up, or just ask around at the Visitor’s Centre in the community if you didn’t have much time to prepare for the trip. There’s no better way to see what this land has to offer than to go out, get some fresh air and collect its bounty. You might get a good meal out of it too. Make sure to stop at the Co-op or Department of Environment office to purchase a fishing permit before heading out.
As well, if you are a paddler and are itching to take a kayak out into the Arctic Ocean, for a small fee and after a successful wet exit test, you can get yourself a membership to the Ikaluktutiak Paddling Association and access the club’s boats and gear.
Common phrases (for the brave)
The local language is Inuinnaqtun, an Inuit language dialect. Don’t be dismayed if you can’t wrap your tongue around these words. Inuit languages are difficult to begin learning. Most people you encounter will know English, but if you do want to try, the North is a welcoming place and you’ll find many people will be happy you’re giving the local language a shot. (Just don’t lose too much sleep trying to figure out the q.)
If someone says tunngahugit (“Welcome,” pronounced toon-ngahoo-geet), you can reply tunngahuktunga (“I feel welcome,” pronounced toon-ngahook-toonguh).
If someone asks you kinauvit (“What’s your name?” pronounced kee-now-veet), you can respond with your name plus –ujunga (pronounced oo-yoong-uh; for example, John-ujunga means “My name is John.”)
Some absolute basics are hii (pronounced hee) for “yes” and imannaq (pronounced ee-man-nahk) for “no” but raising your eyebrows or crinkling your nose, respectively, helps illustrate the point.
“Thank you” is quanaqqutit (pronounced kwa-nahk-khoo-teet).