Unrestricted (import regulations apply; June 2013)*
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There are no bank branches. Light banking service is available at the Co-op. Internet banking is recommended.
Telephone and Internet (limited bandwidth) service is available. Cell phone service is not currently available.
Grise Fiord has the distinction of being Nunavut’s smallest community and the most northerly civilian settlement in Canada. Its Inuktitut name, Ausuittuq, means “the place that never thaws out.” Stories from Greenland indicate that there were travelling groups of Inuit who visited the area in the 19th century, but there is no evidence of the establishment of any permanent camps. The Norwegian explorer Otto Sverdrup gave Grise Fiord its current official name, thinking that the many walruses in the area sounded like “grise” – pigs, in Norwegian.
Unlike many communities throughout Nunavut that grew out of regular occupation associated with the presence of wildlife, the community of Grise Fiord is a result of the forcible relocation of Inuit from Northern Quebec and Pond Inlet to the RCMP post at nearby Craig Harbour in 1953. The RCMP post has been in existence since 1922. Families were moved from Craig Harbour to the current location in 1956, and in 1962 the Canadian government built the first school and housing in the community. The federal government offered Inuit a formal apology for the treatment they received in 2008, and in 2010 a monument was erected in memory of the event and the families who did not survive.
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.
Although residents of Grise Fiord have adapted to modern life in terms of school, office work, and the use of information technology, their lives are still deeply traditional. People engage in hunting, fishing, sewing, carving, drum dancing and other activities that preserve their Inuit heritage. Snowmobiles are a practical part of everyday life, but dog teams are still kept for participating in the traditional polar bear hunt.
There is only one church in Grise Fiord. St. Peter’s Anglican Church shares its clergy with the Anglican churches in Pond Inlet and Resolute Bay. Community members can provide information about the service schedule.
Grise Fiord is unique in Nunavut for both its tiny size and, even by Nunavut standards, extreme isolation. Most people in the Hamlet are descended from one of the two Inuit family groupings that were relocated there, those from Northern Québec and those from northern Baffin Island. Inuktitut is the prevalent language, with 85% of the residents identifying Inuktitut as their mother tongue in the 2011 Census. Around the same number of residents use Inuktitut at home as either a first or second language. There are a few French speakers in Grise as well, and all but a handful of the population speak English. You can expect most public events and meetings to be conducted in both English and Inuktitut, but you will hear Inuktitut used in daily life and you should not expect general Inuktitut conversations to be translated automatically just because an English speaker is present. Inuktitut dialects vary widely across Nunavut, so if you have been speaking Inuktitut in another community, be prepared to learn dialectal differences and perhaps have local residents correct your usage. 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.
The 2011 Census counted 10 pre-school and 45 school-age children, making 42% of the population under 18. The median age of the community is 24.7, and in 2011, no one over the age of 65 was counted for the Census.
The local economy of Grise Fiord is focused largely on providing goods and services to local residents. Many people participate in traditional subsistence hunting, chiefly for marine mammals and occasionally muskox, to help offset the extremely high price of food in the community. Grise Fiord has relatively few economic opportunities compared to many Nunavut communities, but efforts are being made to increase the Hamlet’s tourism potential, given the abundant wildlife and spectacular scenery. Many local residents supply goods and guiding services for the commercial polar bear sport hunt, a strictly regulated activity, which is of great economic importance to the community. Occasionally, visitors to Quttinirpaaq National Park visit the community as well. Artists and craftspeople, including carvers and seamstresses, sell their work directly and through the Co-op.
As in many Nunavut communities, there are no bank branches in Grise Fiord, and cash supplies can often become very limited. The Co-op offers “light banking” services, which may include the ability to maintain a small cash account with the store and cash cheques for a service fee, etc. It is highly recommended that newcomers establish Internet banking services and online methods of bill payment, particularly because postal service can often be delayed when bad weather disrupts transportation.
Located on the southern shores of Ellesmere Island, the area around Grise Fiord hosts a diversity of wildlife, including seals, narwhal, walrus, beluga and polar bears. Commercial polar bear sport hunting is part of the economy of the community, and is tightly controlled through wildlife regulations. Musk oxen can be found nearby, as can small game, including foxes, lemmings and wolves. The summer brings a wide variety of birds and Nirjutiqavvik National Wildlife Area (NWA) is one of five National Wildlife Areas in Nunavut. A 100 kilometre trip from Grise Fiord, Nirjutiqavvik NWA was listed in 1995, and is renowned for its magnificent seabird cliffs, particularly on Coburg Island, During the summer, you can see 30,000 pairs of black-legged kittiwakes and 160,000 pairs of thick-billed murres on the tiny ledges on the high cliffs of the eastern and southern coasts of the island. The Hamlet’s website describes the local wildlife seasons in detail
Grise Fiord’s Inuktitut name, Ausuittuq, means “the place that never thaws out.” This is certainly true of the glacier in the mountains above the town. The ocean is also frozen for 10 months of the year, with only a brief open period that allows the annual sealift to come in. Winter temperatures average in the -30ᵒC range, summer temperatures seldom reach the teens, and the average temperature over the whole year is -15ºC. Grise Fiord is in a polar desert area and receives relatively little precipitation, although strong winds can create blizzards of blowing snow with poor visibility. Current weather conditions and forecasts for Grise Fiord 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 76 degrees latitude, Grise Fiord experiences the extremes of polar night, when the sun is below the horizon for 24 hours a day, and midnight sun, when the sun does not set at all. It swings very quickly from one to the other. In the winter, the sun sets shortly after noon in the third week of November, and does not rise again until the second week of February. From mid-February to mid-April, the sun rises and sets, then by the third week of April it is in the sky until the third week of August.
According to the 2011 Census, Grise Fiord has 50 occupied private dwellings, including 35 single detached houses, 10 semi-detached houses, and five row houses. The Nunavut Economic Developers Association website indicates that about 67% of these homes are social housing units and 27% are privately owned. Housing in Nunavut is in short supply, so 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 Grise Fiord.
Water and sewage services, provided by the Hamlet, are supplied by trucked service. This means 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. There is currently no cell phone service available. Internet service is available from local service providers (Qiniq, NorthwesTel dial-up), 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.
Grise Fiord Inuit Co-operative is the primary business operating in the Hamlet and it provides local goods and perishables. There is also a convenience store, Oogliit Sannavik. See the contact list for phone numbers. Basic fresh staples, such as milk, bread, and some fresh produce, together with canned and dry goods, are normally stocked throughout the year, although shortages can occur if supply planes are delayed by bad weather. Store managers can sometimes order special items if they are requested. “Country food” (wildlife hunted or fished for food), such as muskox, fish or seal, is not usually sold in the store, 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.
Food and supplies in Nunavut are generally expensive because of the added cost of shipping items north. In the High Arctic, average prices tend to be higher than most average northern communities (that lies closer to the south), although many employers such as the Government of Nunavut does provide a cost-of-living allowances to off-set these higher cost. 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 identify suppliers 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, including “country food” from other Nunavut communities. Bulk supplies, large or heavy items (e.g., vehicles, furniture) and building supplies are usually brought in by annual sealift. The shipping season is short, and orders must be placed with shipping marshalling deadlines in mind. Companies that provide this service in Grise Fiord are Nunavut Eastern Arctic Shipping and Nunavut Sealift and Supply. See the contact list for phone numbers and websites.
Grise Fiord is served by a Health Centre (also referred to as the Nursing Station), which is staffed by nurse practitioners. Basic medical care is provided, such as regular checkups, the treatment of minor illnesses, and emergency first response. The number of nurses at the Health Centre reflects the size of the community. Grise Fiord has regular visits from community physicians, in addition to visits from specialists and dentists. Regional services are provided through the Qikiqtani General Hospital in Iqaluit, with support from hospitals in Ottawa. Those requiring specialist treatment are frequently sent to Iqaluit 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 a resident of Nunavut 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, and then mail the completed form together with the required documentation, to the Department of Health after your three-month residency. Application forms 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 package you may also receive benefits for expenses such as prescription drugs, dental services and eyeglasses. Check with your assigned Benefits Officer for details.
Pharmacies are located in Iqaluit. Although the Health Centre may supply some emergency prescriptions, the supplies on hand are limited. If you have a medical condition requiring ongoing prescriptions, you should make arrangements with a pharmacy to have your prescriptions sent to you. Be prepared to allow plenty of time for your order to arrive because deliveries can be delayed by poor weather conditions.
Grise Fiord has a dental clinic, which may be staffed by a dental therapist. A dentist visits Grise Fiord 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. A mental health nurse (posted in Arctic Bay) is also available, who provides services to the residents of Arctic Bay, Resolute Bay and Grise Fiord. Check with the Health Centre for the availability of these services.
You can check online for more information about Nunavut’s health system.
Air service into Grise Fiord is limited and is routed through Resolute Bay. Service is provided by Kenn Borek/Unaalik Aviation, which has a few flights per week on small aircraft. First Air is currently the only airline that provides service to Resolute Bay. This service is routed through Iqaluit, so all travel must reach Iqaluit first from any other destinations via Canadian North or First Air. Service is not daily, and can change seasonally, so check with the airline for up-to-date scheduling. See the contact list for phone numbers and websites. Because the airline market in Nunavut is small and specialized, costs are very high. Even if your employer covered your initial relocation costs, you should check prices before making personal travel plans.
There is currently no general taxi service (unless one was started recently) in Grise Fiord, but the Co-op does provide an airport shuttle service. There may be a fee charged if you have a large amount of luggage. Most people get around on snowmobiles in the winter and all-terrain vehicles in the summer. Many families also have a boat to use for hunting in the summer.
The Hamlet operates a community centre and gym. In summer, hiking, boating, sea kayaking, archaeology tours, and fishing are important activities. In winter and spring, polar bear sport hunts and dog sledding take place. 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 intend to hunt or fish.
Under the current Nunavut Liquor Act, Grise Fiord is classified as an Unrestricted community, which means that the sale, possession and consumption of alcohol are allowed in compliance with the general alcohol laws of Nunavut. This means that alcohol can be purchased in licensed premises or can be brought in through a liquor permit system for personal home use. There are currently no licensed premises in Grise Fiord. Ask at the Hamlet office about import permits. 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.