Got Milk Run? Why I Love Flying in the Canadian Arctic

Pangnirtung, Nunavut


What’s the reward for long layovers? A beautiful view. Photo by Anubha.

Travelling within Nunavut is not easy: We have over 1.8 million kilometres squared of land, three time zones, 25 communities, and no roads between them. This means that almost all travel in Nunavut is by plane (some communities are linked by snowmobile trails in the winter). Airports are certainly the only year-round, all-season point of entry to the territory’s remote towns. So, if you want to see the Canadian Arctic, you’d better be ready to fly.

Dash 8’s and Detours

Getting around Nunavut isn’t quite as easy as hopping on and off a plane. From my experience, your trip will inevitably include some or all of the following: high prices, small aircraft, delays, and detours. While the expense can be prohibitive (a flight from Iqaluit to Cambridge Bay will cost you over $4000) and the delays due to mechanical or weather issues frustrating, the small planes haven’t been an issue for me. Most commonly I find myself aboard a Dash 8, a twin-engine airliner that is suited to fly into remote locations.

As for the detours, what I am referring to are the multitude of stopovers (usually scheduled, sometimes not) on many Nunavut flight paths. This means that what could have been a 1-hour direct flight between two communities may only be available as a 6-hour milk run (this happened to me). What do you lose? Time. But what do you gain? A chance to see for yourself the beauty and diversity of more northern towns, even if it’s sometimes just from the plane. Pit stops on milk runs or other routes have become my favourite part of flying in the north, namely because I may have never stepped foot in many of these hamlets or towns otherwise. Below are some of the photos I’ve taken while en route to a final destination.

Flight from Montreal, Quebec to Iqaluit, Nunavut
Stops: 1 (5+ hours)

Kuujjuaq, QuebecKuujjuaq, Nunavik, Quebec (pop. 2,375)

Flight from Rankin Inlet, Nunavut to Iqaluit, Nunavut
Stops: 3 (6+ hours)

IMG_4206Chesterfield Inlet, Nunavut (pop. 313)

Coral Harbour, NunavutCoral Harbour, Nunavut (pop. 834)

Flight from Iqaluit, Nunavut to Cambridge Bay, Nunavut
Stops: 2 (23+ hours)

kugluktukKugluktuk, Nunavut (pop. 1,450)

IMG_4222Yellowknife, Northwest Territories (pop. 19,234)

You may have noted the extremely long flight times. It takes almost an entire day to get from Iqaluit (eastern Nunavut) to Cambridge Bay (western Nunavut); this includes a necessary stay in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories. Yes, that’s right: Sometimes, in order to get around Nunavut, you have to leave the territory. Again, this is all a part of the charm of northern living, and anyone who comes up here has to be both prepared and patient. When travelling in the Arctic, it’s as much about the journey as it is the destination.

Anubha Momin
Anubha is the creator of Finding True North, an award-winning blog about life in Iqaluit, Nunavut, a remote town of 8,000 people in the Canadian Arctic, where she lived for the last four and a half years. Since she started Finding True North, which garners 10,000+ unique visitors per month, Anubha has transitioned from writing to film and television jobs, working on- and off-screen on various projects with The CBC, VICE, and Netflix. Anubha's words and photos have appeared in VICE, The Huffington Post, The CBC, Canadian Geographic, Up Here Magazine, Briarpatch, Chatelaine, and more. She was named one of 50 Outstanding Canadians by the Huffington Post in 2016, joined The Walrus Talks national tour as a speaker this year, and is a member of the Polaris Prize Jury. Anubha currently works as an Associate Producer at VICE.

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