We had just gone to bed. It was after midnight and the sunlight was still shining through the tiny portion of our window that wasn’t covered by our curtain. It didn’t even feel like we were on a ship. There was no motion. No swaying left to right or right to left. Just stillness. It had been a long day of both adventure and education. We had learned from experts about the history and biology of the area we were visiting. We had met a handful of the 150+ people we’d be sharing the experience with over 12 days. We had seen a variety of incredible landscapes and bird colonies. But now it was time to rest. After all, we’d be going on another adventure tomorrow.
It seemed like I had just closed my eyes when the PA-system came on.”Ladies and gentlemen, sorry to wake you, but we’ve spotted a mother walrus and her calf on a piece of flow-ice.” Just like that, we were putting back on our pants, socks, shoes, and jackets. We grabbed our binoculars, and our camera and made our way to the deck to see what all the fuss was about.
There it was. A walrus floating along the Arctic Ocean on a piece of ice. Various islands dotted the background. We were moving east. The walrus was moving west. It wasn’t super close to us but with the binoculars, we could get a decent look. I could see the big tusks, glimmering a bit as the ice reflected the small amount of “daylight” off of them. It was quite magical. Not just because of the walrus but because of the entire scenery surrounding us. It was in-between midnight and 1 a.m. Yet, it wasn’t dark. It was almost like that first hour before the sun rises. A calming, gentle light. Relaxing even.
Despite being in Canada’s high arctic, which is known for its rough conditions, the water was as smooth as glass. There wasn’t a ripple. The water was a little dark and the clouds reflected perfectly in the water beneath them. So perfectly that it was almost difficult to tell the difference between the sky and the ocean. It was mesmerizing.
The walrus had long gone, but I didn’t want to go back to bed. This was far too special of a night. My wife, Karla, and I decided to stay longer and just admire the view. Flow ice continued to cruise by the ship as we continued to move east. Arctic gulls would glide above the water, creating their “twin” below. Then, one piece of flow-ice really caught my eye. It had this thin layer of bright turquoise water running through it, almost as if a river had formed on this miniature ice island. The landscapes surrounding it seemed almost black and white while this little “river” provided the only bright pop of colour. I had to capture it. I took many photos of the flow-ice and everything else, capturing a memory that I wanted to re-live later and share with you.
This was only day two of our 12-day expedition with Adventure Canada. We had just arrived the day before via charter flight from Ottawa to Resolute, Nunavut, marking our first time in Canada’s largest territory. The plan was to travel east to Greenland, stopping to visit various historical sites, communities, and other beautiful landscapes along the way. However, we were also told that this wasn’t a “standard” cruise, nor a “standard” destination. This is the arctic and the weather can easily change the “plan”. We actually experienced this on day one when we were told that the ship might not make it to Resolute due to ice blocking the harbour. Luckily, that didn’t happen, but then we experienced a change of plans on day two as well. Ice had blocked our way into Beechey Island, which meant that we couldn’t get onto the island for our scheduled hike. So, rather than do nothing, the crew brought us to another place called Prince Leopold Island with the hope that they’d be able to bring us back to Beechey Island the next day. This is one thing they made sure everyone knew from the beginning. Plans could change (and likely would) but the crew would always make an effort to find other equally incredible things to see and do (and they did, every single time).
Prince Leopold Island
In this case, it worked out perfectly. Not only did we make it to an island that wasn’t in the plan, but we actually did manage to go back to Beechey Island the next day. After sailing throughout the night, we wound up at Prince Leopold Island by the morning. It was foggy and we couldn’t see much. In fact, we could hardly tell there was an island in front of us. We were on stand-by for any excursions. It was a pleasant day none the less, and we decided to go out on the deck and wait. Then, all of a sudden, the fog lifted and this incredible fortress-looking island appeared. The island looked like a mountain rising straight out of the sea. Sandstone and limestone cliffs, which are roughly 250-metres above sea level, jut straight out of the waters to form a flat-topped 64-square kilometre island. It’s truly impressive to see from the ship, but then we jumped into zodiacs and went even closer. As it turns out, this isn’t just a beautiful island. It’s also a migratory bird sanctuary. In fact, it’s one of the most important multi-species seabird colonies in the Arctic, supporting large numbers of nesting thick-billed murre, northern fulmar, black-legged kittiwake, and black guillemot. As we cruised by the colony, we spotted thousands of birds, some of which were surrounding a beautiful waterfall. Some were flying, some were swimming around us, and some were resting in their nests. It was as if we had stepped into a nature documentary. To make things even more magical, our zodiac driver was a Conservation Biologist who has spent many months on this very island doing research on the bird colonies. How incredible is that?
From this moment forward, I realized one of the very special things that separate Adventure Canada from other tours. The boat is LOADED with experts in various fields. Archeologists, biologists, historians, explorers, culturalists, botanists, environmental geoscientists, conservation biologists – you name it. They even had local Inuit people on-board to help give us a better understanding and insight into the territory and culture we were visiting. Whether we were exploring the land or having dinner on the ship, we were surrounded by friendly experts, willing to share their knowledge and enrich the experience for everyone.
Beechey Island and the Franklin Expedition
Over the next ten days, we continued to visit new places, learn about the arctic from a team of experts, and learn about the Inuit culture. We also made it back to Beechey Island, which is where the infamous Franklin Shipwreck occurred when Sir John Franklin was in search of the Northwest Passage back in 1845. This was our first land expedition of the trip and it was a great introduction to Canada’s arctic. We also got really lucky with the weather. According to many that have been there before, it’s rare to find it without any snow, but for us, we got to see its barren snow-free rocky landscape. We landed on a narrow strip of rocky land, kind of like a sand bar, with water on both sides. We began hiking west, making our way up one of the mountains to get views of the surrounding landscapes. On one side of the island, the bay was covered in flow-ice, which really added that “arctic touch”. Despite its beauty though, Beechey Island is famous as a historic site, as it’s home to three graves from the Franklin expedition. While many crewmembers were never found, the remains here proved that the death was due to lead poisoning. There’s also a fourth grave belonging to a searcher who came later. After learning about this tragedy and admiring all the beautiful ice blocks that had made their way onto the island, we jumped back into the zodiacs and went back to the ship.
Devon Island – The Largest Uninhabitated Island in the World
The next island we visited was Devon Island, the largest uninhabited island in the world. Its surface is also so similar to that of the planet Mars that researchers come here to conduct experiments for space travel. Pretty cool, huh? Although we did have lots of red rock when we visited, we came in on the lusher side of the island, in through a beautiful fjord, where we went on one of our favourite hikes. We passed by a gorgeous waterfall cascading down a red cliff, cruised by a family of walruses, and docked near an iceberg that must have been stuck in the shallow waters. We then hiked around the tundra landscape, stopping to admire the view and to take photos of a Muskox skull that we found on a small cliff. It was a very, very, scenic place.
We then got back on the ship to visit Crocker Bay and the Devon Ice Cap, another part of Devon Island. This was the moment when we really felt like we were in the arctic. This massive sheet of ice protruding into the ocean covers an area of 12,000 km2. This is also where the highest point on Devon Island is, which is found at the summit of the ice cap at an elevation of 1,921 metres. As we ate lunch on the ship, we could see the ice cap right from our window. Then, we jumped back into the zodiacs and got even closer, cruising by massive icebergs along the way. Our driver then got word that there was a polar bear in the area. All of us were now on the lookout only to find out that it was a crewmember dressed up as a polar bear, serving hot chocolate with Bailey’s from another zodiac. ha. ha. ha. I must say though, it’s a pretty special experience to sip on a hot chocolate while staring up at a massive sheet of ice.
Our next expedition was also on Devon Island, this time on the eastern shore at a place called Dundas Harbour. We had the better part of a day here, and so we opted for the long hike, which took us all around the harbour. Along the way, we found a number of archeological sites that date back thousands of years. Some were the foundations of sod homes that Inuit hunters would have used while travelling, and others were food caches, which were used to store food for long periods of time as well as keep it away from predators. Once we reached the other side of the harbour, we visited an old RCMP outpost and cemetery. One of the homes was already on its side while the other building was still fairly intact. We were able to walk around inside and even found some really old Hudson Bay Whiskey bottles. Although this would have been a very tough place to live, it was very beautiful. Just steps away from the old building, the waves crashed into the rocky beach, reminding us of the tropics, minus the cold water.
Civilization At Last
After almost a week exploring various uninhabited regions of Nunavut, we finally found civilization in Pond Inlet. This was the only Canadian Inuit community we visited during our tour and it was wonderful to see. Located right across from Sirmilik National Park, it’s incredibly scenic. Once again, we had a lovely day of sunshine and met our tour guide Rosie, who was born and raised in Pond Inlet. She walked us around various parts of town, stopping to show us the type of “homes” her ancestors would have lived in along the way. We then went to the community hall where we watched various Inuit performances, such as singing, dancing, and throat singing. They even gave us an introduction to the Inuit arctic games. Then, we gathered up the soccer team we had formed on the ship just hours before and challenged them to a friendly game of soccer in their indoor soccer arena. This was a really fun way to intertwine with the community. So far, Adventure Canada has never won a game and we didn’t help them break that record. We lost 3-2. After the game, Karla and I quickly visited the two grocery stores to see how crazy the prices are. Foods that are labeled as healthy are subsidized a bit but other goods can be extremely expensive. For example, a can of pop was $5! This is due to them receiving only one or two shipments per year via ship and/or plane, which is very, very expensive. Next, we grabbed a coffee from the most Northerly Tim Horton’s in the world. All in all, it was a short visit, but a special one as well, inspiring us to return one day and dig deeper into the local people and their culture.
After Pond Inlet, we had more than a day of open ocean as we set sail for a new country, crossing over the Davis Strait. However, despite having to spend a full day at sea, there was never a dull moment. Adventure Canada always makes sure that its guests are entertained and informed. Whether it’s the few hours in-between outings or during full days at sea, there is always something to do, see, and learn. We had all sorts of classes ranging from Inuktitut (learning the Inuit language), throat-singing lessons, photography classes with professional photographers, geology classes about the places we were visiting, biodiversity lessons, and so much more. We also got to watch documentaries created by Inuit filmmakers who were on the ship with us, enjoy live concerts, and enter all kinds of various challenges, such as creating our own “whiskey label”. I had fun with this one.
It was a week of wonder as we explored Canada’s high arctic, but after eight days, it was time to head to a new country. A massive country covered almost entirely with ice. A country that’s also home to the Inuit, yet different from those found in Canada. We were heading to communities that have been around for thousands of years and to the place that produces 80% of the icebergs in the Northern Hemisphere.
We were on our way to Greenland.
Interested in exploring Canada? You may like these other articles too:
- Things To Do in the Yukon
- Things To Do in Northwest Territories
- Things to Do in British Columbia
- Things to Do in Tuktoyaktuk
- Things to Do in Inuvik
- Tips for Driving the Dempster Highway
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