Whether I am up here or down south, people regularly ask me, “How did you end up in Iqaluit?” Well, here is the answer divided into eight stages of development. This is not a moving to Iqaluit “how-to” guide, but rather a reflection on the decisions, feelings, and thoughts I had when I traded in big city nights for northern lights.
Step One: Be Open to the Idea
I moved back to my hometown of Toronto in mid-2011 after two years living abroad, first in London, England and then in Dhaka, Bangladesh. By early 2012, I was growing restless and feeling ready to take flight once again. I looked into job opportunities in places as different as Washington, DC and Morogoro, Tanzania, but somehow Nunavut did not appear on my horizon. That is until my partner, Justin, was offered a job in Iqaluit, which he promptly accepted (unlike me, Justin had been thinking about and planning a move to Iqaluit for years). Suddenly, the Canadian north became not a viable option, but a highly desirable choice.
Step Two: Do Your Homework
I started doing my research even before I had committed to making Iqaluit my new home. This was mostly in preparation for Justin’s transition, and in the process, I began to learn more and more about northern living. Lucky for us, Justin has a really good friend who grew up and still lives in Iqaluit who was able to give us a lot of insider tips that you can only get from Iqalummiut. We received the standard advice about grocery prices (tip: get a Costco membership and some Action Packers) and climate (tip: it’s really cold), and about finding jobs (see Step Three) and finding a working phone (tip: not an iPhone). But the most valuable information for us was this: Iqaluit is an incredible place to live if you love good friends, unique experiences, and the great outdoors (tip: get a snowmobile!). Now I was starting to get excited:
Step Three: Pick Up the Phone
At this point, I had shipped Justin off to the arctic and was starting to plot my own northern migration. Everyone Justin and I spoke to told us one thing about finding a job in Iqaluit: it’s all about networking. I started sending out my resume, and then Justin started sending out my resume, and then his boss, his coworkers, his friends, and anyone else he could get started sending out my resume. The thing is, it’s hard to network when you’re thousands of kilometres away. The most common response both Justin and I heard was, “If you come up here, you’ll get a job”. I wasn’t quite ready to take that leap of faith, so I did the next best thing: I started dialing. I called the department I was interested in working with even though there were no suitable job openings, and I asked to speak to a director. After she heard about my education and experience, she told me about a potential job opportunity, to replace her colleague who was leaving at the end of the month. Within a week I had interviewed for the position; within two weeks I was offered the job.
Step Four: Bite the Bullet
Steps Three and Four overlapped for me, as I booked my travel from Toronto to Montreal to Iqaluit before I had been officially offered the job, but after I had been interviewed. I did this for two reasons. First, I wanted to show my potential employers that I was committed and ready to make the move. Second, after spending the better part of three months reading, talking, thinking, and yes, even dreaming about Iqaluit, I was finally set on making it my new home. All I needed was the confidence boost of a good interview to convince myself that I, too, could make it in Nunavut.
Step Five: Get Your Gear
This is an essential step when moving from southern Canada to the north. Obviously, I amped up my winter wardrobe with cold-weather essentials like snowpants, ultra warm mitts, and Merino wool base layers. That being said, Iqaluit is not all about sweatpants and wool socks; in terms of day-to-day clothing, I dress pretty much like I did in Toronto, with the cozy addition of long johns when necessary. Remember: it’s not cold inside, and that’s where you spend most of your time. Harkening back to the advice we got during Step Two about Iqaluit being a fun, vibrant place to live, my goal for my gear was to bring up what I needed to be adventurous, be safe, but most of all, still be myself (ie. lots of neon and high-waisted skirts).
Step Six: Sort of Sort Out Your Affairs
There’s something about moving to the Arctic that just sounds intense. I definitely felt the pressure to figure out, buy, and fix everything before leaving Toronto. I went to the bank, the pharmacist, and even the hairdresser to get myself Nunavut-ready. In hindsight, this was a bit silly, as Iqaluit has all your basic, necessary amenities. That being said, taking care of business down south is sometimes easier and cheaper, though there are enough facilities in Iqaluit to get your hair did.
Step Seven: Move!
After all that planning and preparation, you’d think this would be the easiest step. I think it could have been, had I not been leaving Toronto on the most glorious fall day. I will wax poetic over and over about the wild beauty of the untamed tundra on this blog, but let me just take this one tiny opportunity to say that autumn in Southern Ontario is simply delightful (photo below was taken in Trinity Bellwoods Park).
Still, I faced my journey with a great deal of enthusiasm, preemptively claiming a window seat so that I could see my new town (and new life) on approach. And you know what? The scenery was just as spectacular:
Step Eight: Be Prepared to Say, “Yes”
Check your hesitation at the treeline and get ready to get northern. Say yes to country food and Sunday bonfires. Don’t shy away from outdoor activities just because it’s cold and/or dark and/or grey. Greet your neighbours with a hearty hello, take your coworkers up on an invite to Wednesday Wing Night at the Storehouse, and embrace blizzard days as free vacation. Step One was about opening yourself up to the idea of living in Iqaluit; Step Eight is about keeping yourself open to the people and possibilities that come with the territory.
From Toronto to Iqaluit, with love.