Prohibited (October 2014)*
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There are no bank branches. ATM at Northern and Co-op stores. Interac and credit cards are accepted at most retail locations. Internet banking is recommended.
Telephone and Internet (limited bandwidth) service is available. There is very limited cellphone service; check with NorthwesTel.
Located on King William Island, the current site of Gjoa Haven was chosen in 1903 by the Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen, and is named after his ship, the Gjoa, which is now moored at a maritime museum in Oslo, Norway. Amundsen was the first European explorer to traverse the Northwest Passage successfully, overwintering in the area at that time. He learned Arctic survival methods from the Netsilik people (also spelled “Nattilik”) who frequented the area and called the location Uqsuqtuuq, or “place of plentiful blubber.” His successful attempt to be the first person to reach the South Pole is credited to his use of these traditional skills. The John Ross expedition of 1829-1833 had previously visited this region and John Franklin’s expedition of 1845 perished nearby, making Gjoa Haven a place of significance for people interested in the history of European exploration of the Arctic. The community became increasingly settled after the Hudson’s Bay Company moved a permanent trading post was moved from Douglas Bay to Gjoa Haven in 1927. Gjoa Haven achieved Hamlet status in 1981.
The Government of Nunavut (GN) Employee Orientation website offers an excellent collection of material on the general history of Nunavut, together with an overview of Inuit culture and history and an explanation of how Inuit cultural principles are being incorporated into government operations and services. We recommend exploring this site once it is available again after their restructuring, for now you can try the general GN site for information.
The area around Gjoa Haven has been settled by the Netsilingmiut (“people of the seal”) for over a thousand years. The Inuit name for Gjoa Haven, Uqsuqtuuq, means “place of plentiful blubber” in the Netsilingmiut dialect, from the seals that were abundant in the area. Although Inuktitut is not as widely used in Gjoa as in many communities in the eastern Arctic, the people lead a very traditional lifestyle, with many families spending a month or two “on the land” in the summertime. Hunting and fishing remain important food sources.
As in much of the Kitikmeot region, the Inuit language has suffered some loss. Almost all residents speak English and only 2% are unilingual speakers of Inuktitut. In the 2011 Census, 55% of residents gave English as their mother tongue, and 45% as Inuktitut; there are no French speakers. Most people speak English at home, but almost 64% use Inuktitut at home in some way. You can expect most public events and meetings to be conducted in both languages. Inuktitut dialects vary widely across Nunavut, so if you have been speaking Inuktitut in another community, be prepared to learn dialectal differences and perhaps be corrected in your usage by local residents. The Inuit language (Inuktitut and Inuinnaqtun), English and French are all official languages of Nunavut, so you have the right to request government services in the official language of your choice.
Gjoa today is a young community, with a high birth rate. According to the 2011 Census, there are around 170 pre-school and 385 school age children, so 43% of the population is under 18. The median age is 21.2. However, Gjoa has nearly 60 Elders, a higher proportion of the population (5%) than in many communities.
The Anglican and Catholic churches arrived in Gjoa in the 1950s, and the Pentecostal church in the 1990s. Traditional Inuit shamanistic beliefs are also held by some individuals.
Gjoa Haven is the location for the decentralized offices of two GN departments: the transportation policy and motor vehicles sections of the Department of Economic Development and Transportation, and the Legal Services Board of Nunavut. These two offices have fewer than 20 employees, however, so most people in Gjoa work in community services positions (teachers, nurses, Hamlet employees) or outside of government. Much employment tends to be seasonal, with construction, tourism, and hunting and fishing activities taking place in the summer. Handicrafts, particularly carvings and distinctive wall hangings, provide a source of income for many people. Gjoa carvings are noted for their dark green soapstone and can be bought from nearby sources by snowmobile in the frozen months.
Nearby, the Nunavut Parks Northwest Passage Trail park provides an interesting destination for the tourism industry, and across the Queen Maud Gulf from Gjoa Haven is the federal Queen Maud Gulf Migratory Bird Sanctuary, the largest in Canada.
There are no bank branches in Gjoa Haven and cash supplies can often become very limited. ATMs are available at the Northern and Co-op stores, with limited cash supply. Interac and credit card services are available at most retail stores. It is highly recommended that newcomers establish Internet banking services and online methods of bill payment, particularly since postal service can often be delayed when bad weather disrupts transportation.
There is a small herd of muskox on King William Island and a few caribou. Numerous migratory birds visit the area in late spring and summer, many of them nesting locally, including loons, geese, ducks, terns, jaegers, plovers, snow buntings and snowy owls. In June and July, the bay is home to fish and seals, and local people travel to a nearby traditional weir to fish for Arctic char during their August migration.
Summer temperatures are moderate by Nunavut standards, often rising to 12-15ᵒC. Winter temperatures are very cold, ranging from -20ᵒC to -40ᵒC before the wind chill. The area is considered to be polar desert because there is very little annual precipitation. The sea ice freezes solid in November and breaks up in July or August. Current weather conditions and forecasts for Gjoa Haven are posted on the Environment Canada website.
People’s tolerance for cold varies with experience, but warm winter clothing is required for several months of every year. If you are moving to Nunavut, make sure you bring essential winter gear. Although you can sometimes purchase hand-made clothing, such as parkas and mitts from local seamstresses, their services are not always available, and commercial winter clothing and footwear may be in low supply in the local stores. Check- in with your principal or colleagues for their advice on practical winter gear to purchase and bring with you.
At 68° degrees latitude, Gjoa Haven is located far enough north that the sun is below the horizon, creating polar night, from November 30 to January 11. It stays above the horizon, creating the land of the midnight sun, from May 19 to July 22.
According to the 2011 Census, Gjoa Haven has 275 occupied private dwellings, including 165 single detached houses, five semi-detached houses, 105 row houses, and five apartment buildings under five storeys. Housing is in very short supply, demonstrated by the fact that 67% of households have four or more persons living in them, significantly above the Canadian average of 2.5 per home. It is important to ask your employer about the housing provisions of your employment and its cost. There is a possibility that you may be required to share housing with another colleague. You should also ask about the appropriate housing insurance to acquire. If you have pets, the need for pet-friendly accommodation should be clearly indicated in any housing applications or documentation. You should also be aware that there is no veterinary service in Gjoa Haven.
Water and sewage services, provided by the Hamlet, are supplied by trucked service. This means that you will have water and sewage tanks in the home, which are filled up and pumped out respectively on a regular schedule. Contact the Hamlet for details. People on trucked service need to be conscious of their level of water consumption, as supplementary fees may be charged if you require a special fill-up or pump-out. The Hamlet also provides a garbage pick-up service. Most homes are heated with oil furnaces and the Co-op is the local heating fuel provider. Electrical power is supplied by Qulliq Energy’s local power plant. All telecommunications arrive in Nunavut via satellite. Telephone service is available only through NorthwesTel. Very limited cellphone text service may be available from NorthwesTel, but cellphones are not available for purchase within the community so check with NorthwesTel before arriving. Internet service is available from the local service providers (Qiniq, NorthwesTel satellite), with limited bandwidth capacity, or direct-to-home satellite (Xplornet), which requires special arrangements for satellite dish installation. Cable TV is provided by the Co-op and direct-to-home satellite TV by Bell Canada TV.
Local shopping and perishables are available from Qikiqtak Co-Op and the Northern Store. Basic fresh staples such as milk, bread, and some fresh produce, along with canned and dry goods, are normally stocked throughout the year, although shortages can occur if supply planes are delayed due to weather. Store managers can sometimes order special items if they are requested. “Country food” (wildlife hunted or fished for food) such as caribou, fish or seal is not usually sold in these stores, but if you are interested you can sample these delicious and nutritious foods at community feasts and may occasionally be able to obtain them from local hunters. The Amundsen Hotel dining room chiefly serves guests but will take special reservations for meals. The Co-op operates a coffee shop, and the Gjoa Haven Fast Food store opened in December of 2013. See the contact list for phone numbers.
Food and supplies in Nunavut are generally expensive because of the added cost of shipping items north, despite the cost-of-living allowances paid by many employers, such as the Government of Nunavut’s Northern Allowance. Perishable items arrive by air freight, sea shipping lanes are open for only a brief period every year, and there are no highway links. Weather conditions also affect the arrival of planes, occasionally causing temporary shortages. If you have special dietary requirements (e.g., gluten-free, allergy-related, organic), you may wish to look into stocking up on particular supplies or find sources that will ship north. You can find information about obtaining the food subsidies available for direct or personal orders under the Government of Canada’s Nutrition North program on its website. Many businesses will also ship items in unsubsidized food mail. Free shipping from Internet-based suppliers often becomes an important consideration. Local residents can suggest favourite delivery methods and suppliers for food and supplies not available in the community.
Bulk supplies, large or heavy items (e.g., vehicles, furniture) and building supplies are usually brought in by annual sealift, more commonly known as “the barge” in the Kitikmeot region. The shipping season is short and orders must be placed with shipping marshalling deadlines in mind. Companies that provide this service in Gjoa Haven are Nunavut Eastern Arctic Shipping and Northern Transportation Company Limited. See the contact list for phone numbers and websites.
Gjoa Haven is served by a Health Centre (also referred to as the Nursing Station) staffed by nurse practitioners. Basic medical care is provided, such as regular checkups, treatment of minor illnesses, and emergency first response. The number of nurses at the Health Centre reflects the size of the community. Gjoa Haven has regular visits from community physicians in addition to specialist visits and dentist visits. Regional services are provided through the Health Centre in Cambridge Bay, with support from hospitals in Yellowknife and Edmonton. Those requiring specialist treatment are frequently sent to Cambridge Bay or “south, depending on the nature and seriousness of the complaint.
New residents of Nunavut are not immediately covered by Nunavut health care. You must be resident for three months, with at least a one-year work contract, before you are eligible. You can download and complete the online Nunavut health card application form, and mail the form, together with the required documentation, to the Department of Health after your three-month residency. Applications are also available at the Health Centre. It is very important that you have a Nunavut health card, because although your previous provincial or territorial health card may still cover your health expenses, it may not cover expenses such as medevacs (emergency chartered plane out of your community). If you intend to have family members or friends that are not residents of Nunavut visiting you, it is highly advised that they purchase medical insurance for the duration of their visit to cover expenses not typically covered by their province and territory. Under your employer’s health care benefits package you may also receive benefits for expenses such as prescription drugs, dental services and eyeglasses. Check with your assigned Benefits Officer for details.
A pharmacy is located in Cambridge Bay. The Health Centre may be able to supply some emergency prescriptions, but the supplies on hand are limited. If you have a medical condition requiring regular prescriptions, you should make arrangements with a pharmacy to have your medication sent to you. Be prepared to allow plenty of time for your order to arrive because weather conditions could affect its delivery.
Gjoa Haven has a dental clinic as part of the Health Centre, which may be staffed by a dental therapist. A dentist visits Gjoa Haven on a rotational schedule. Demand to see the dentist is usually very high. An optical team also visits on a rotational schedule, checking eyes and dispensing eyeglasses. Check with the Health Centre for the availability of these services.
You can check online for more information about Nunavut’s health system.
Gjoa Haven is accessible by air year-round, with most routes passing through Yellowknife, NT, and Cambridge Bay, NU. Travellers from outside the Kitikmeot must fly from Iqaluit, Rankin Inlet or southern Canada to Yellowknife, then fly north. Canadian North and First Air offer flights to Gjoa Haven. For current flight scheduling information, see the contacts list for airline websites and phone numbers. Because the airline market in Nunavut is small and specialized, costs are very high. Your employer may cover your initial relocation costs, so you should check prices before making personal travel plans.
The Amundsen Hotel and Gjoa Haven B&B offer an airport shuttle bus service for guests. However, there is currently only a limited taxi service in Gjoa Haven, so if you are not staying at the hotel, you may wish to arrange transportation from the airport with local contacts before arriving. Vehicle rentals may also be available. See the contact list for details. Most people get around on snowmobiles in the winter and all-terrain vehicles in the summer, but private vehicles brought up on the annual sealift are becoming increasingly common. Please note that garage services for private vehicles are limited.
Bird watching, hiking, camping, fishing and hunting are favourite local pursuits. Hunting and fishing regulations differ for residents who are beneficiaries under the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement. Contact the local GN Wildlife Management Office for any necessary licenses or wildlife tags if you plan to hunt or fish. Boating is a popular activity. Snowmobiles are used in winter and ATVs in summer. The Hamlet arena is open from November to April for curling, skating and hockey. The school gymnasiums are used for some sports activities, such as basketball, volleyball and badminton. In the summer, a baseball diamond is maintained, and there is even Canada’s most northerly golf course, the nine-hole Central Arctic Coast Golf Course.
When the midnight sun begins in early May, the Hamlet holds a spring celebration with community games, snowmobile races, dogsled races, and igloo-building contests. During the Christmas holidays, when there is no sun, community dances and feasts are held, with games and activities for everyone; these may continue throughout the night into the early morning.
Under the Nunavut Liquor Act and Regulations, Gjoa Haven has Prohibited community status. This means that no alcohol is allowed except for sacramental purposes, and importation or possession can make you subject to prosecution. Alcohol may be transported through prohibited communities, but must not be consumed or disposed of in these communities. The Government of Nunavut’s Department of Finance is responsible for overseeing alcohol control and distribution in Nunavut, and you can also consult its website for more information about the system.