This is our Kugluktuk guide for visitors, part of our series of crowd-sourced Nunavut community travel guides. If you would like to write a guide for your community, please send us an email! This guide was written by Jesse Ajayi.
What it lacks in formal amenities, Kugluktuk more than makes up for in local ingenuity. Visitors who dig into the community will be rewarded with a home-baked, hand-made, off-the-beaten-track, one-of-a-kind experience of life in the Western Arctic.
Strategically located at the mouth of the Coppermine River, the town site of Kugluktuk is built on excellent hunting and fishing lands used by the Copper Inuit for hundreds of years. Like so many communities in Nunavut, the Hamlet grew from a single Hudson’s Bay Company store in the 1920s, followed closely by an RCMP detachment. In the decades that followed a weather station, radio facility, and post office were added. With the provision of electric power, formal schooling, and nursing services in the 1960s, Kugluktuk became a modern settlement with a significant permanent resident population. The hamlet has since grown into a creative and cultural hub that continues to celebrate its unique language, Inuinnaqtun, of which it boasts the largest population of native speakers in Nunavut.
Where to Eat
To the astonishment of visitors - and continual anguish of residents - Kugluktuk offers no formal, regularly available prepared-food services. This means that residents and small businesses have taken it upon themselves to fill in the gaps on an as-and-when, ad-hoc, you-have-to-be-at-the-right-place-at-the-right-time basis. While none of these options are guaranteed to be available during your visit, you’ll experience the same serendipitous joy as local residents if and when you do spot one. For long-time Kugluktungmiut, these pop-up meal services can be a lifesaver.
Food trucks aren’t just for the hipsters and business folk of downtown Toronto any longer. During the occasional summer evening, when the stars align (not that you would know, with the 24-hour sunlight), the mobile hamburger-and-fries joint known as Grumpy’s has been spotted on curbs and park grounds throughout Kugluktuk. As the warm weather approaches, you can bet locals will be on the lookout.
Coppermine Inn Pre-Order
Tourists and kitchen-weary residents are welcome to call in to the Coppermine (they prefer two days’ notice) to reserve a seat at the dinner table. Brunch is served weekends and runs $35/plate. Supper is available weekdays for $50/plate. Group bookings are accepted.
Enokhok Burger Friday
On Payday Fridays look out for hand-made burgers, delivered on order to offices and businesses throughout the hamlet. Email or call in your preferences and enjoy a freshly grilled lunch between 11am and noon. Burgers are $5 each and come with cheese.
The irregularly scheduled and widely celebrated “beer dance” is a rare night when locals gather publicly at the Recreation Complex for music, dance and the opportunity to tip back a cold one. In 2014, the youth of Kugluktuk rallied to keep alcohol restrictions in place during a community-wide plebiscite on the issue. They won, and Kugluktuk remains a “damp” community, where liquor is closely regulated. Under these rules this is the one and only venue where alcohol is approved to be sold and consumed publicly.
Romantic Dinners at the Youth Centre
After kicking off their marquee event – a Valentine's Day dinner and movie night for couples – the Youth Center has put out an increasing quantity of prepared-foods, including re-heated McDonald's meals served through the concession stand window at special events. So if you're visiting from out of town and looking for a taste of southern Canada, stop by the foyer of the Kugluktuk Recreation Complex.
Trifles, Home-made pizza, tarts, cookies, apple pies!
If you want to avoid the best-before-three-days-ago breads and buns at the grocery stores, you’ll need to take aggressive action in the alternative baked goods space. To tap into the underground market in home-made goodies you’ll need to work the social media, get on the email lists, join the phone chains, and become conversant in the local word of mouth. The Facebook Kugluktuk Buy & Sell is your best place to start. Gooey tarts and delicious cookies often sell out while still warm from the oven. So act fast.
Where to Sleep
With warm wood paneling and a crackling fireplace in the lobby, the Coppermine Inn provides more than a place to sleep. Described as “the best little hotel in the Arctic,” the Coppermine is a welcoming starting point for visitors and business travelers alike. Rooms are $225/night, meals range from $30-$50.
Recently renovated and expanded, the Enokhok Inn now provides a dozen bedrooms with TV and private bathrooms. As part of a larger network of Inns across Nunavut, the Enokhok offers standard chain-hotel amenities like continental breakfast and laundry service. Standard rooms are $225/night.
With an ocean view, this cozy B&B supports “healthy family values” and is ideal for tourists and visitors interested in getting to know the community. It’s also the most affordable bed in town. Save extra cash by preparing your own meals in the kitchen provided, or pitch in for groceries and join the host for collaborative meals. A room with two beds (a single and a double) runs $150 per night, with a minimum stay of 3 days.
What to Do
Delve into Kugluktuk’s rich history at the Visitor & Heritage Centre
Designed in the shape of an ulu (a curved knife for sewing, cutting meat and fleshing hides), the Heritage Centre is a must-see cultural showpiece in Kugluktuk. Having opened just last fall, the Centre features an exhibition of Copper Inuit history and a gallery of contemporary art works and unique local crafts. The facility is open to the public at no charge during regular business hours.
Take the quad out to Kugluk Territorial Park
Rooted in the historical massacre which gave Bloody Falls its name, the Kugluk Park has suffered an image problem since its inception. Recently though, the park has received a face lift and now celebrates the traditional Inuit uses of the Coppermine river and the parkland. With new interpretive materials, signage and a boardwalk, it’s more accessible than ever. A quad ride to the falls and back fits comfortably into a day trip, but don’t be surprised if you find yourself lingering longer to enjoy the great fishing and beautiful cotton-studded tundra.
Join the kids and mosquitoes for a dip in the Arctic Ocean
For children under a certain age the “polar bear dip” is just another Saturday afternoon. For the rest of us – for whom hypothermia seems to set in quicker – it may be wise to wait until mid-July for Kugluktuk’s famous +30 degree weather before you decide to take a swim. But be warned, the mosquitoes are out in full force at that time of the year, and they're about as merciful as a polar bear with a bearded seal. And in case the analogy isn’t clear: you are the seal.
Ice fishing at communal fishing holes
Join local fishers jigging for arctic char and whitefish out on the ice. A thirty minute walk north-west of town, these spots are kept clear of ice by a regular stream of folks searching for their next lunch. Be sure to pick up a $10 fishing license at the local Hunters and Trappers Organization before you head out on the ice.
Take in the breathtaking northern lights over the hamlet
If you’re wondering what the best time is for getting that next National Geographic front cover shot of the dancing aurora, there is a simple guideline. Pick the coldest night of the year, with the fiercest winds, and then wait until 3am. Truthfully, it’s mostly by chance that you’ll catch the Northern lights at their brightest. The good news is that while your pictures may not win awards, you’ll be able to see a delightful glimmer of green on most nights when the sky is clear. Get as far away from the glow of civilization as you can to capture them at their best.
Sew your first pair of seal skin kamiks (use the plural “kamiik” if you want to impress the elders)
Join local ladies (and a few men) for an evening of sewing at the Elder's Centre Mondays and Wednesdays at 7pm. Traditional sewing experts are on hand to help you put together your latest – or first – project. Furs and materials are provided to visitors. Pay a small fee to take your project home. All skill levels welcome.
Cheer on local athletes at the annual Nattiq Frolics
Snow-machine races and traditional dress and dance competitions punctuate a week of rich cultural events each spring as the community celebrates the return of the sun. While serious cash is on the line in many of the races, the real winners are the community members and lucky tourists who catch the excitement and fun. All events are free to attend, and run afternoons and evenings throughout the first or second week of April.
KODA Adventure Tours
Individuals and couples can head out on the land on the back of an All-Terrain Vehicle (or “Honda” as they are known locally) for guided tours of locally significant sites. Boat rides out to the historic Bloody Falls as well as fishing expeditions are available for larger groups. Be sure to call ahead, as one-week notice is required for all land trips. Explore with peace of mind: guides are always supplied with wildlife safety equipment.
All photos by Jesse.
Jesse Ajayi lives and works in Kugluktuk. After three and a half years in the community he still carries his camera everywhere. Inspired by the rich culture and unique way of life, his writing and photography have drawn the attention of newspapers and magazines around the north. He shares photos and stories at jesse+cam.