Canadian Arctic is the ‘new’ Antarctica
Ever see a polar bear over the railing of a cruise ship? Neither had I, until 9 pm on a July evening. A fellow passenger spotted big daddy bear on an iceberg in Frobisher Bay, and a handful of us had a few moments to stare at him in disbelief before he dived into the water and disappeared amidst icebergs.
Until recently, waters on the top of the world were mostly sailed by military and research ships, plus a few hardy (sometimes foolhardy) fishermen. Now, building on the popularity of Antarctic cruises, ice-strengthened or icebreaker ships bring cruisers like me to experience the animals, landscapes and unique people (something Antarctica doesn’t offer) of the far north.
• In 2010, a couple thousand lucky cruisers will voyage through various parts of the Canadian Arctic on a handful of ships.
• Cruise North Expeditions, an Aboriginal-owned company, runs the ice-reinforced Lyuba Orlova almost entirely within Canadian waters, starting in July from St. John’s, NL, and working north through the season.
The hot spots:
• Cape Dorset (Kinngait), NU. About 20% of the population here works in the arts—this is a favourite spot for big-city art dealers to buy wholesale. Cruise passengers visit the community art co-op for a rare chance to see Inuit artists at work and buy this art at rates far below southern-gallery prices.
• Wildlife. Since there are few actual “ports” in the Arctic, ships choose their own places to stop, and you zip ashore in a Zodiac raft (sometimes we just did Zodiac tours and never actually set foot on land). Naturalists choose stopping points based on likelihood of seeing wildlife. On my Cruise North trip through the Baffin Strait, we saw polar bears at Akpatok Island, muskoxen at Diana Island, caribou at Douglas Bay — and we ate delicious caribou steak for dinner that night! We also experienced the Murre, sometimes called the “penguins of the north.”
• Get to know the “locals.” Cruise North Expeditions is owned by the Inuit peoples of Northern Quebec and Nunavut (a region called Nunavik). Their cruises are partially staffed by young Inuit who serve as Zodiac drivers and in other roles, giving passengers a chance to really get acquainted with local people. They’re friendly, fascinating and proud to show cruisers their homeland.