Eastern Nunavut stalls when Iqaluit shuts down

“It always impacts us, especially with our perishables, when there’s a blizzard”


Iqaluit's third blizzard in two weeks have caused shipping and travel challenges for Baffin communities. (PHOTO BY THOMAS ROHNER)

Iqaluit’s third blizzard in two weeks have caused shipping and travel challenges for Baffin communities. (PHOTO BY THOMAS ROHNER)

Nunavut residents who live outside Iqaluit like to poke fun at soft Iqalungmiut who complain about blizzards — such as during the recent two-day blizzard that shut down Nunavut’s capital.

But when blizzards do hit south Baffin — and the service hub of Iqaluit — the storm affects services and communities well beyond the capital.

“People who are on medical travel or out on business can’t get back in to the community,” said Deborah Johnson, senior administrative officer for Arctic Bay, on March 21.

You’ll find the same story a little further south, in Clyde River.

“Iqaluit is an important point for all Baffin, so every time Iqaluit shuts down, the rest of the communities don’t receive their freight or mail,” Clyde River SAO Billy Palluq said.

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Food shipments are also affected.

“It’s been more than a week since we received anything from Iqaluit,” an employee at Clyde River’s Northern grocery store said.

That employee estimated the shelves at the store were currently at about 70 per cent full.

“It always impacts us, especially with our perishables, when there’s a blizzard [in Iqaluit,]” the employee told Nunatsiaq News.

That’s because when a storm hits Iqaluit, nothing comes in or goes out.

“Unbelievable” is how Qikiqtarjuaq’s SAO, Geela S. Kooneeliusie, described the blizzard’s impact on her community.

About 30 people from that coastal community are now waiting to fly back home to Qikiqtarjuaq from Iqaluit, Kooneeliusie said.

And they have to camp out at the Iqaluit airport well before their flight, to wait on standby, Kooneeliusie said.

“There was one mother with a baby on medical travel, I heard she went to the Iqaluit airport at 10 a.m. yesterday, when the next flight here was scheduled for 4 p.m.,” she said.

Problems caused by the controversial codeshare agreement struck by Canadian North and First Air, only amplify the impact, Kooneeliusie said.

A vice president with First Air, Bert van der Stege, told Nunatsiaq News March 21 that the two-day blizzard grounded a total of 50 flights in Iqaluit between March 17 and March 20.

“Blizzards are tough for everyone to deal with, but scheduling airlines around them is really not easy,” the VP said.

To get back to normal operations, van der Stege said the airline has been using all of its Nunavut resources: First Air operated 10 flights on top of their normal schedule on March 20 and plans to operate a dozen extra flights both March 21 and March 22.

“So I’m confident the backlog caused by the blizzard will be clear by [March 22],” van der Stege said.

“We have a lot of people working in very difficult circumstances… that’s crucial to us,” he said.

It’s not just passengers and food that are affected but municipal budgets in other communities are as well.

Daryl Dibblee, interim SAO of Grise Fiord, said March 21 that one staff member who attended a conference in Iqaluit has been stranded in a hotel for nearly a week.

“It becomes a substantial cost to the hamlet to have staff out extra days,” he said.

Meanwhile, life in Iqaluit began returning to normal March 21.

Except for those needing gas.

Morning commuters were unable to fill up their gas tanks March 21, as most pumps in the city were shut down. By afternoon, stations were operational again.

And while it caused headaches and lost work for many, the blizzard turned out to be a boon for some.

“We were busy, busy, busy,” said Sylvia Lachapelle-Leggett, general manager at the Discovery Boutique Hotel.

When March 20 dawned clear and calm, people flocked to the hotel for brunch, the manager said.

“I guess everybody, they were inside their house for two days, so our brunch was just outstanding, lots of people.”

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