Iqaluit, Nunavut – A Guide for Newcomers
If you are planning to move to Iqaluit (ee-KAL-oo-it), don’t be surprised if your friends and family say “where?!”
Virtually unknown, Iqaluit remains the least visited provincial/territorial capital in Canada.
Before 1987, this town was known as Frobisher Bay. It was later renamed back to its traditional indigenous name. In 1999, Iqaluit was named the capital of Nunavut, which was previously a part of the Northwest Territories.
Despite being isolated from the rest of the country and immersed in a polar climate, Iqaluit attracts tourists and immigrants. In addition, there are many economic opportunities for those willing to live in this climate.
If you make Iqaluit your home, you can proudly call yourself an Iqalummiuq!
A brief history of Iqaluit
People have lived in the Iqaluit area for thousands of years, drawn to the abundant fishing grounds. In fact, the name Iqaluit translates to “place of many fish” in the local indigenous language of Inuktitut. In 1576, Britain’s Sir Martin Frobisher sailed into the area, hoping to find a passage to China. His name still graces Frobisher Bay. However, there appear to have been no permanent settlements in this exact area.
Throughout the 19th century, many traders, trappers and fishers made their way to Iqaluit from “the South” (as locals refer to the rest of Canada). By 1880, the British officially ceded the Arctic to Canada.
Although the fur and whaling industries declined, World War II saw a massive influx of non-Inuit people in the North. The United States built an air base in the area to refuel aircraft; a man named Nakasuk became the first permanent resident of Frobisher Bay.
In 1949, the Hudson's Bay Company relocated their South Baffin operations to the Iqaluit area to the nearby Apex peak in the Niaqunngut Valley. The construction of the Distant Early Warning Line (DEW line, an important Cold War era radar system) brought hundreds of contractors and engineers to the area, and the town of Iqaluit grew.
The first local community council was elected in 1964, and the first mayor was elected in 1979. In 1987, the town’s name was officially changed to Iqaluit, and it was chosen over Rankin Bay to be the capital of Nunavut in a territory-wide referendum in 1995. It was officially designated a city (with over 5,000 people) in 2005.
Who lives in Iqaluit? Social demographics
According to the 2016 Canadian census, there were 7,740 residents in Iqaluit. The city has a young population, with the median age about ten years younger than the national median (30.1 years old vs. 40.6 years old).
The ethnic composition of Iqaluit is as follows:
• 59.4% Aboriginal (1.4% First Nations, 1.2% Metis, 56.3% Inuit)
• 34.3% White
• 3.0% Black
• 2.2% Southeast Asian (2.0% Filipino)
• 0.9% East Asian (0.7% Chinese, 0.2% Korean)
• 0.9% South Asian
• 0.4% Arab
• 0.3% Latin American
• 0.2% Multiracial; 16.2% with Inuit and Non-Aboriginal mixed 
Most people in Iqaluit report that their native language is either English or Inuktitut, at 45.4% each; 97.2% of Iqalummiuts can speak English, while only 53.1% are Inuktitut speakers. A further 4.8% of locals report that their native language is French.
If you are planning to move to Iqaluit, make sure you pack the warmest Arctic gear possible – it is extremely cold! Despite being located outside of the Arctic Circle, it has a polar tundra climate.
You can expect long, cold winters and short summers. In fact, it doesn’t stay warm enough for long enough to allow for trees to grow! This is referred to as being “north of the tree line,” but there are a few shrubs that proliferate, including the Arctic willow.
Be prepared for freezing temperatures for over eight months of the year and over 400 mm of precipitation. Summers do not get very warm, with the highest temperature on record being 26.7 °C (80 °F) on 21 July 2008. On the other hand, the coldest temperature in Iqaluit was −45.6 °C (−50 °F), on 10 February 1967.
Iqaluit’s Public Transport
To get around Iqaluit, it is a good idea to have a reliable car, or to live near your work. There is no public transportation system, but there is a citywide taxi service.
Top 5 Things to do in Iqaluit
For such a small town, Iqaluit has a lot to see and do throughout the year.
Enjoy Inuit art at Carvings Nunavut – Carvings Nunavut is located inside the Tumiit Plaza building and is home to a massive array of whalebone sculptures, Inuit serpentine, and black and white marble. Make sure you check out the works by some of Nunavut’s most celebrated artists, including Andrew Qappik from Pangnirtung.
Step back in time at the Nunatta Sunakkutaangit Museum – The Nunatta Sunakkutaangit Museum is a small but fascinating collection located in the Hudson's Bay Company building. Admire traditional Inuit clothing, weapons, tools, children's toys and many beautiful carvings. Head upstairs to see the centuries-old Thule artefacts.
Take a free tour through the Legislative Assembly – The Nunavut Legislative Assembly may be housed in a weather resistant prefab building, but that is all part of its charm! Take an entertaining free tour (book an appointment) to appreciate the abundance of Inuit art in the building, including sealskin benches and a narwhal tusk mace.
Go dog sledding on sea ice – You might have been dog sledding in other cold climates, but have you gone dogsledding on sea ice? Book a trip on a Qamutik (kah-mo-tick) with Inukpak Outfitting, and experience the tundra being pulled by a team of delightful Inuit sled dogs.
Get out into nature in Qaummaarviit Territorial Park – Get out of the city and into the depths of nature in the Qaummaarviit Territorial Park, a 12 km snowmobile or boat ride away. There, you’ll find the well-preserved houses of a 750-year-old Inuit (Thule) winter camp. To book a guided tour, get in touch with Inukpak Outfitting.
Immigrant Services in Iqaluit
According to the Canadian government’s Immigration Matters website, 7% of Nunavut’s residents are immigrants. Of these, the majority are people from the Philippines who are drawn to economic opportunities in the North. If you are looking for specific immigrant services in Iqaluit, contact Carrefour Nunavut.
Carrefour Nunavut offers immigrants and permanent residents alike a wide range of services. These include summer camps, translation and interpretation, conversation groups, language classes and networking activities.
Telephone: (867) 979-2800
Toll-free number: 1 844 532-9383
Another good place to obtain information is the official Nunuvut Government website. They can point you in the right direction and answer specific questions you might have about moving to and settling in Iqaluit.
The Iqaluit Public Library
The Nunavut Public Library Services (NPLS) is a valuable community resource that provides residents with materials and technical support. You can borrow DVDs, CDs, books and magazines; the librarians will help you use the computers and access the internet. Children love the library for its study help, story time and friendly play groups. As a newcomer, make sure that you check out their special events and cultural programs to learn about Nunavut’s language and culture.
Iqaluit Centennial Library
220 Sinaa, Iqaluit, NU
Service Canada Office Iqaluit
As a newcomer to Canada, you will need to access a Service Canada office. They’ll help you to obtain your Social Insurance Number (SIN), which you’ll need to gain employment. Services Canada is a part of Employment and Social Development Canada and there is just one location in Iqaluit.
933 Mivvik Street
Phone: +1 800-622-6232
Getting to and from Iqaluit
Iqaluit is not connected to the rest of Canada by roads, as it is located on an island surrounded by tundra and ice for most of the year. It is only accessible by plane and boat during certain times of the year. You can take regularly scheduled flights and charters to Iqaluit Airport (YFB) from Ottawa, Yellowknife, Montreal, Rankin Island, Kuujjuaq and other small airports throughout Nunavut.
Government of Canada, 2016 Census
Iqaluit Climate Data