Canada’s Newest Highway Is Much More Than A Road

words:: Ben Osborne photos:: Lucas Scarfone (@scarfonephoto)

It’s hard to comprehend the vast size of Canada. While the southern provinces garner much of the attention for their vastness and beauty, it’s easy to forget that Canada is the 2nd largest country in the world. The cities and communities near the border where the majority of the population lies are the heart of Canada, the lifeblood that keeps Canada’s economy running and pushes forward technological innovations and unique cultural exploits. The rest of Canada— the small towns in far flung locations, living off the land disconnected from many modern day technologies? Those might just be the soul of Canada.

Lucky for us, we now have even better access to that soul with the creation of the the Inuvik Tuk Highway. The newly constructed highway, an addition to the famous Dempster Highway, connects Inuvik, Northwest Territories to Tuktoyaktuk, one of the northernmost communities in Canada.

Beauty in simplicity on the Inuvik Tuk Highway.

Our journey began in Edmonton. With fresh snow on the ground and temperatures more than 15 degrees below Vancouver, it already felt like a different world. We then boarded an air taxi with stops in Yellowknife, Norman Wells, and finally the small town of Inuvik, population: 3,243.

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We hopped in a truck with Edmund, our guide of the small town for the day.  As he directed us through the small town, we asked him what brought him so far north, expecting work to be the obvious answer. “Our daughter came up here for shift work 13 years ago. We came to visit her in our camper from New Brunswick and never left. We haven’t looked back since.”, he proudly declared.

As we toured the town, he humble-bragged with a distinct sense of pride for his town. Topics included the unique above ground sewer system, the 3-hole golf course, and the future remodeling of the sewer system. In our world, slowing down is a revelation and you’ll notice when you slow down, you start to  appreciate the small things. To the people of Inuvik, moving slowly is a necessity, a way of life— and why most people never want to leave.

Only in Inuvik will you find an igloo-shaped church.

No place exemplifies the hearty, genuine and welcoming character of the town more than Alestine’s. The husband & wife combo of Pam & Brian McDonald cook the fine  local cuisine in an old school bus covered with stickers, remnants of those of who have passed through and enjoyed their eclectic menu. Items such as Reindeer chili and Arctic Char fish tacos are served in a small wood-stove heated cabin with a firepit in the back. Their motto? Smiles and tea will always be free. With the Mackenzie River flowing right through town and up to the Arctic Ocean and the many lakes in the area, there are plenty of fresh ingredients for them to source, allowing them to give visitors a taste of the Arctic version of farm-to-table.

The kitchen at Alestine’s.
In a landscape dominated by the grey scale, the Community Greenhouse feels especially vibrant.
The first Arctic apples—the forbidden fruit.

While the sights in Inuvik are few and far between, each one has a mysterious depth to it. Their community Greenhouse is a welcome sign of innovation, with community plots bought and tended to by individuals, businesses, and local elders . You can find their Mayor doing any number of tasks:  leaned up against his truck taking calls, guiding us through town, connecting with the locals, and always ready to greet you with a smile. The remoteness of the town seems like bring it’s residents together while being so far away from the resort of the world, giving them a sense of pride in what they’ve created—and best of all, they are excited to share it with the world.

Each night was a 40% change of Northern Lights—this is what we got. Not bad, eh?
The road north.

After a few days in Inuvik, we loaded up the trucks for the day to head up the newest highway on the way to Tuktoyaktuk. Just 30 minutes north of Inuvik is the treeline, leaving you with a desolate but refreshing emptiness in the Arctic Tundra, with other-worldly landscape features such as Pingos, Permafrost, and unexpected wildlife like Arctic Swans.

Until the road was built, Tuktoyaktuk received one cargo shipment of supplies for the year. This road allows them an entirely new type of connection to the rest of the world, even if it is just to to small town of Inuvik.

Beluga whale drying out in a traditional sod house
Traditional Inuvialuit song and dance is alive and well.

The people in town were friendly, welcoming, and eager to share their culture. Much of their sustenance comes from hunting and fishing, with their main sources of protein being Caribou and Beluga Whale. Like Inuvik, these people were not concerned with where you were from, what your heritage was, or where you were going—they simply wanted to share a piece of their culture, and their home with us.

After leaving Tuktoyaktuk and Inuvik, it was hard to deny the happiness that organically runs through the town. While much of southern Canada concerns themselves with mundane matters such as Instagram likes and the clothes they wear, these people are of the few in Canada who are still focused on the essentials: clean water to drink, food to fill their stomaches, and fresh air to breathe. To visit them was a treat, and a lesson in the value of simplicity. The new Inuvik Tuk highway connects us to them not only physically, but emotionally and intellectually—let’s hope that the physical connection of Canada’s coasts can foster an emotional and spiritual connection to benefit us all. –ML

Special thanks to Chevrolet Canada for organizing the trip and supplying the vehicles. Check out their newest truck, the Chevrolet Silverado at www.chevrolet.ca

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