Cape Dorset (Inuktitut: Kinngait) is a hamlet of about 1,300+ residents, located off the southerwestern tip of Baffin Island. An hour's flight from Iqaluit, it is known as the Capital of Inuit Art thanks to the work of famous artists like Pudlo Pudlat, Pitseolak Ashoona, and of course, Kenojuak Ashevak.
I spent the last weekend of July on a short trip to Cape Dorset to celebrate a special occasion - the birthday of my partner, Justin (last year, we marked this date in Rankin Inlet; check out photos from our weekend on the land). While I was there, I tried to experience as much as possible in three days, and chatted with as many people as I could get to fill in more details about Cape Dorset. Here's what I found out.
Where to Eat
Available to hotel guests every day for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, the kitchen at the Dorset Suites is open to the public Monday to Friday from 11AM to 2PM, and Thursday and Friday evenings from 5PM to 8PM. Diners can eat-in or order food to go.
As a guest of the hotel, I took all my meals at the Suites, and was consistently impressed with the quality and execution of the food. For lunch, I had one of the best crispy chicken sandwiches of my life, freshly-prepared and cooked to tender perfection. In the evenings, I dined on meals like caribou stew and pan-fried halibut in a caper sauce.
In terms of prices and portions, well, it depends on what time of day you're ordering. That chicken sandwich came in at $15 (plus $7 for small fries) - a reasonable price in Nunavut. Our dinners, however, cost us $55 each for what was sometimes a pretty small serving (I ordered an extra half a loaf of garlic bread with my caribou stew - which was delicious, but tiny - in order to satiate my appetite). Again, this varies depending on what the kitchen has on the menu and what you order. Our second supper, halibut for me and steak for Justin, was huge, perfectly cooked, and served with a sparkly birthday candle. Thanks for Martha for that extra touch.
Open Monday to Friday 11AM to 7PM and Saturdays 12PM to 5PM, the Nirivik Co-Op is Cape Dorset's only other food establishment. This take-out-only joint serves up diner classics like cheeseburgers ($11.50), poutine ($13.50 for a large), and breakfast sandwiches ($8.40). Note that the Co-Op is cash-only, no deliveries. Unfortunately, it wasn't open while I was in town, so I can't comment on the quality or quantity of the food, except to say that locals love the offerings.
Where to Sleep
The best and only hotel in town - and perhaps in all of Nunavut! The accommodations are a mix of hotel rooms, executive suites, and two guesthouses. We stayed in a hotel room, which was nicely-appointed with fluffy sheets, a large bathroom, and a great view.
As stated above, hotel guests can order food from the kitchen for lunch and dinner; just be sure to notify a staff person in the morning that you will be dining at the Suites. The breakfast is self-serve, with continental options like cereal, toast, and juice (most items are $3 each; coffee and tea is free). The hotel also includes a brand-new, modern, communal kitchen, so if you want to avoid fried food, high prices, or limited vegetarian options, then you can grab items from the nearby Co-Op or Northern grocery stores and cook up your own meals. The suites and guesthouses all have their own kitchens as well, which is great for long-term visitors.
What to Do
Go for a hike above town. Cape Dorset's Inuktitut name is Kinngait, which means high mountain, apropos for a town that is surrounded by rolling hills. Trek to the top of any of them for 360 views of the local landscape.
Check out one of the many look out points - but watch for bears! A little further from town are various scenic spots, along the beaches and shores, atop hills on the coast, that offer spectacular vistas and views of the surrounding waters. There are lovely picnic spots along the trails, and you'll find families barbecuing for hours when it's warm (ish). Follow the roads away from town, beyond the tank farm for secluded spots and interesting finds, like the one below.
Get out on the land. We were lucky to have been invited on a family fishing trip late Sunday evening. Check out the Snapchat story below for a glimpse into my night with the Pingwartuk family (you can follow me on Snapchat for more quick updates of life in Nunavut; just search for my screen name, an00ba).
When the waters are frozen, you can go snowmobiling or dogsledding. Contact Huit Huit Tours for pricing and options. Cape Dorset's surrounding geography and geology is really special, and definitely not to be missed.
Cross over to the mainland via the land bridge at low tide. This land bridge is available twice a day, so if you time it properly, you can cross over to Baffin Island for a half-day hike and picnic before heading back to the island of Cape Dorset.
Get yourself to Mallikjuaq Territorial Park. Full of archaeological sites and local florae and faunae, the park is actually an island. You can contact Huit Huit Tours to organize a 10-minute boat trip and tour, or, if you're feeling adventurous, you can make the 45-minute trek across the tidal flats.
Visit the Dorset Fine Arts studios. Founded in the 1950s, the studios showcase items from local printmakers, carvers, and other artists. Call them at 867-897-8827 to book a tour, or just pop in and see what's available. We found out that during the summer months, there is little to no activity at the studios, though one of the staff members graciously opened up the entire space to us and gave us a brief overview and tour. It smelled like art.
Buy art! It's not called the Capital of Inuit Art for no reason! From the minute you land at the airport, you will find yourself confronted with some of the most beautiful art pieces in the territory, made and sold by local carvers. These talented artists will offer prices well below Southern mark-ups, and even Iqaluit prices. Bargain hunter that I am, I never once negotiated any prices, as I thought they were always more than fair.
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