Despite being massive - a territory encompassing one-fifth of Canada's landmass - Nunavut in the country's northern stretches, far from everything Canadian most people are familiar with, is often unheard of. And those who can pinpoint this magnificent region on a map usually know very little about the place, except that it's north, cold, and where many Arctic animals dwell.
But there's so much more to discover than snow and ice in this raw, underdeveloped area, where indigenous cultures and way of life continue in the midst of the hectic modern world, and untouched landscapes provide a haven for ice-dwelling wildlife. For those that are keen to know more about this beautiful part of Canada that offers an amazing Arctic adventure, here are a few fascinating facts that might just spark a spontaneous trip to the wild, pristine territory of Nunavut.
13 The World's Largest Land Carnivore Roams Freely
That's right - the Nunavut territory, with its northern location and Arctic climate, is home to mighty polar bears. The area is estimated to have a sizeable population; around 2,800 are said to inhabit the approximate one million square kilometers around the Baffin Bay, as well as parts of Baffin Island and Bylot Sound.
Amazingly, male polar bears can weigh around 1,500 lbs and measure a whopping 10 feet tall when standing up, and in spite of their beauty and intrigue, bumping into one unprepared while exploring the lands and extensive tundra isn't usually a welcomed surprise. Hence, any reputable tour of Nunavut will incorporate an experienced guide who knows their stuff, and how to handle an encounter with this incredible species.
12 Nunavut Is The "Sea Unicorn" Capital Of The World
Also known as a narwhale, the narwhal is a species of whale with a large "tusk" from a protruding canine tooth - resembling a unicorn horn for which the animal has achieved its apt nickname. Narwhals typically live in the Arctic waters around Canada, Greenland, and Russia, and on average weigh a hefty 1,760 to 3,530 pounds (800 to 1,600 kilos).
About 75 percent of the planet's narwhal population spends a generous amount of time in the waters in and around Nunavut; many folks report seeing pods of them passing by, with their signature "unicorn horn" poking out of the water as they pass by so majestically.
11 Nunavut Is Canada's Youngest Territory
The region used to be part of the Northwest Territories, but on April 1st, 1999, it became Canada’s newest territory, with Iqaluit taking the crown as the nation's newest capital city. Coincidently, Nunavut also has one of the youngest populations in Canada; as of 2015, the median age is 24.7 years, and people aged 65 and over make up only 3.3 percent of the population.
10 It's Also The Largest Territory In Canada
Nunavut is Canada's largest province covering over two million square kilometers. And with this Arctic archipelago's more than 36,000 islands, it also boasts the longest coastline in all of Canada - which not only means plenty of water activities like kayaking, but also ample area for wildlife spotting in such an extraordinary, cold region that many polar bears call home.
9 Nunavut Has Four Official Languages
English, French, Inuktitut, and Inuinnaqtun are Nunavut's official languages, with the most commonly used being English and Inuktitut. Anyone who visits the region will see signage in both English and Inuktitut - an old indigenous language that was historically only a spoken language, not a written one, much like many indigenous languages around the world. But today, there is a syllabic system for written Inuktitut that was introduced in the 19th century by Europeans, which can be seen in many more developed places, like in shops or on road traffic signs.
8 Nunavut And Its Capital City Have Indigenous Translations
In the territory's Inuktitut language, Nunavut means "Our Land" - a rather wholesome name and meaning that highlights the region's proud indigenous culture and history. Furthermore, the capital city used to be called Frobisher Bay, however, it was changed to Iqaluit in 1999 when Nunavut became its own separate territory from the rest of the Northwest Territories.
Iqaluit means “Place of Fish”, which of course comes from the fact that there is a heck of a lot of fish in the area. As the name suggests, Nunavut's prolific fishing scene means there's plenty of sumptuous seafood cuisine, with lots of fresh fishy delicacies to try when visiting the region (smoked arctic char is a particular favorite amongst locals and visitors alike!)
7 Nunavut Is Very, Very Old
Not to be confused with its political age, Nunavut's actual, scientific age defies belief. A billion-year-old fossil was once found in the northern parts of Nunavut's Baffin Island - a species of red algae that are believed to be the oldest ancestor of today's modern fauna and flora, indicating that this part of the world is exceptionally ancient. And that's not all - Nunavut also hosts some of the oldest rocks on the planet as evidenced in a report once made by Canada's CBC, which told of a volcanic rock found in the region that was dated at over 4.5 billion years old.
6 There Are Minimal Roads
There are only 32 kilometers of paved roads, however, there are plenty of unpaved roads used by locals who have to use strong vehicles suited to all-weather. Visitors will also notice that there are hardly any traffic lights, although there are minimal numbers of vehicles on what little road there is, so it's not like they're needed that much anyway. Also, to give an idea of just how underdeveloped the roads system is: the capital city of Iqaluit's major intersection is referred to as “four corners”, and is the only official four-way stop in the area.
5 The Locals Often Use Snowmobiles And Dog Sleds
Due to the intense weather, conditions for vehicles are often horrific. This is when good ol' tradition comes in to save the day - or every day for those living in Nunavut. The ancient Inuit sled dog breeds are still used today by people in order to get around, especially when the weather is too much for road vehicles.
These adorable dog breeds are well adapted to live and work in the freezing arctic climate and love a good run through the snow. However, they are animals after all - and animals can only go for so long before they get too tired. This is when a handy snowmobile comes in, which many local people in the region own and use - particularly for much longer distances.
4 Long Days And Long Nights
Iqaluit is very far north, which means a dramatic change in daylight hours depending on the time of year. During summer, the sun sets just below the horizon for about four hours, resulting in incredibly long days and short light nights. In contrast, however, lengthy summer days translate to lengthy wintery nights; the winter sun comes above the horizon only for around four hours, meaning the season's days are short, somber, and dark.
However, areas in some of the most northern parts of Nunavut, such as those above the Arctic Circle, experience 24 hours of night or day. In the peak of the summertime, the sun doesn't even set, whereas, in contrast, the middle of winter sees a whole day of darkness.
3 Iqaluit's Tides Are The Second Highest On The Planet
The rich seas of Nunavut are powerful and mighty, and their tides are equally as impressive. In fact, the capital has the second-highest tides in the world that range between eight and 12 meters. One of the most spectacular ways to witness these tides is to visit during winter when the bays are frozen with ice; the sea appears to breathe in and out, rising and falling as the tides come in and out, marking the cliffs with ice and water that references just how much the tide changes.
2 There Are Almost No Trees
Prolific wildlife aside, those who venture to Nunavut will notice that, bizarrely, there's a distinct lack of trees, which is very strange for Canada. This actually makes the tundra horizons breathtakingly unique, offering vast, sweeping panoramas without any tree foliage in sight - which is odd but still undoubtedly beautiful. The only area of the territory that's home to trees is its southernmost parts, particularly near the Manitoba border. But the tundra is completely free of trees.
1 The Regional Flower Is The Purple Saxifrage
Purple Saxifrage is Nunuvat's signature flower species and there are tons of them thriving all over the lands in the wild. Dozens upon dozens of other gorgeous wildflowers grow in the tundra too, decorating the scenery with vibrant colors that make the region look like something out of a postcard.