6 Things About Iqaluit That Will Surprise You


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You hear people say it all the time, don't you? Iqaluit is just not like your average small town. Still, people marvel at many of the realities of the city, namely those that seem too cool, too cosmopolitan to be part of a place with only 7,000 people. I myself am guilty of coming up with false assumptions, only to be pleasantly surprised by Iqaluit and her denizens. And so, here are six things about Iqaluit that I think will surprise you; feel free to add more in the comments!

1. There's a lot to do in Iqaluit.

"There's a yoga studio up here?!" I've heard this so many times while doing tours or welcoming visitors or newcomers. Yeah, we have a yoga studio, and kick-boxing, and hip hop lessons. There is an active curling club in the winter and an indoor skatepark in the spring and summer. Plus tae kwon do, ultimate frisbee, gymnastics, and so much more.

If the arts are more your thing, we have a regular concert schedule featuring international artists and Canadian favourites, courtesy of Alianait. The folks behind Mahaha put on several stand-up comedy shows a year, bringing in big-name comedians like Elvira Kurt, and even bigger laughs. The Visitor's Centre hosts free film and cultural events weekly, and the Nunatta Museum is awesome. You can also take a number of evening classes at the College or learn to sew at Tukisigiarvik.

Sounds like a lot, eh? And I probably haven't even covered half of the options of what you can do in the city. And this definitely doesn't include all the volunteering options!

2. The city is diverse, in many ways.

If you've read my Black History Month post or any of the interviews in the Being Black in Iqaluit series, you'll get a taste of the complex and evolving multiculturalism of Iqaluit. As Tammii T clarified in her interview, yes, there are Black people up here - alongside many other cultures and ethnicities, all layered with the indigenous culture of this territory.

Of course, diversity isn't just skin deep (ha). Iqaluit is now home to Nunavut's first mosque. The Iqaluit Pride Society is growing and hosting more and more events, from all-ages proms to sold-out parties and other special events (the last one even featured a Bieber-Drake parody dance choreographed and performed by yours truly).

3. We have shawarma, and it's good.

Iqaluit has a restaurant called Yummy Shawarma and it serves shawarma and the shawarma is, in fact, yummy. Of the restaurants in town, this one seems to surprise people the most, perhaps because they assume remote places in Canada don't tend to have much more than burgers and fries. See previous point for an explanation as to why international cuisines make sense in Iqaluit.

4. People wear heels.

I don't know why this one is so surprising for so many: people in Iqaluit can be fashionable. A night at the Legion will feature heels, ties, miniskirts, and dress pants. There are also so, so many formal events, from balls to banquets to galas to concerts, that give you many opportunities to dress up. As I wrote in one of my first posts, "I dress pretty much like I did in Toronto," except I have a lot more outerwear now - and I rely on giant sweaters almost all year.

What I will say is that, in my experience, Iqalummiut do not give a hoot what you wear, and that is different from some other cities or places with a more see-and-be-seen attitude. So, while residents can be fashion-forward, there is little to no pressure to follow southern trends, or any trends, unless that's your jam.

5. The movie theatre plays awesome indie flicks.

I guess this ties into the assumption that small and remote means uncultured. (Who came up with that anyway? Was it Toronto? If so, I'm sorry.) I hope the previous points have shown you that that is not the case. And here's another argument against the stereotype: Nunavut's only movie theatre, The Astro, runs art films, plus they regularly play locally-produced features, alongside Hollywood blockbusters and Oscar favourites.

This totally makes sense to me, as the theatre is independently run, and with no competition, is free to play whatever they want. I'm just glad they choose to bring up random little movies and support local filmmakers. Also, The Astro has the best popcorn.

6. Iqaluit is a hot bed for film and TV productions.

I like to call Iqaluit "Hollywood North North" because of it's ongoing and increasing foray into small and silver screen productions. There are local players, like CBC North and Qanurli?, creating Inuktitut programming for a local audience. But there are also national and international production companies flying in and out of Iqaluit (and the rest of Nunavut) to make documentaries, movies, TV shows, and more. Why, just in the last two years, there have been four large, expensive feature films shot almost entirely in Iqaluit: Heaven's FloorTwo Lovers and a BearIqaluit, and (happening at the time of publishing) The Grizzlies.

The influx of film and television productions has created a (burgeoning) industry within the city, with more and more Iqalummiut gaining skills in video arts, management, acting, and more. I know more than one person who makes a viable income just from working on sets - and that's, I think, a really great surprise.

What things about Iqaluit have surprised you? Let me know in the comments!