Tourism operators in Northwest Passage gateway worry about safety, security

Without improvements, Cambridge Bay could become a “free-for-all”


Cruise ship passengers must disembark directly onto the beach in Cambridge Bay from zodiacs. (FILE PHOTO)

Cruise ship passengers must disembark directly onto the beach in Cambridge Bay from zodiacs. (FILE PHOTO)

Dancers and drummers entertain cruise ship visitors during a Cambridge Bay stopover in 2014. (PHOTO BY JANE GEORGE)

Dancers and drummers entertain cruise ship visitors during a Cambridge Bay stopover in 2014. (PHOTO BY JANE GEORGE)

CAMBRIDGE BAY — Security and safety issues such as threats from terrorists, drug-dealers, poachers, artifact-hunters and illegal refugees, who could all use Cambridge Bay as an entry point to slip into southern Canada, or to other countries: these are among the concerns raised Oct. 15 in Cambridge Bay during a Government of Nunavut tourism consultation.

If these aren’t resolved, the situation in this largely unsupervised gateway to the Northwest Passage could deteriorate into a “free-for-all,” as one participant suggested.

Those attending the consultation — more of a focus group because the poorly-advertised sessions drew only a few residents — were invited to weigh in on Nunavut’s future Travel and Tourism Act.

The new legislation, to be introduced next spring, will aim to keep tourism industry workers and visitors safe and happy by setting standards to protect tourist and public safety.

The consultation participants, who all had links to local tourism and outfitting, said security risks are only likely to increase in this community of 2,000, where the Canadian High Arctic Research Station will open in 2017.

A participant mentioned seeing a group of international visitors this past summer who departed for Yellowknife with unusually-constructed crates, that could have contained wildlife or other contraband items, from the airport in Cambridge Bay, where there is no security.

The security risks will also increase when the Franklin expedition’s Erebus, now a national historical site, becomes more accessible from Cambridge Bay.

One participant in the consultation wondered what would be done to prevent divers in smaller boats from wanting to dive to the wreck to see it for themselves. That risk was enough to send an RCMP security detail to visit Cambridge Bay last month.

Cambridge Bay has already seen its share of security and safety problems due mainly to visitors arriving by yachts and other watercraft.

These include jet-skiers who wanted to go through the Northwest Passage for a reality television show and ended up being rescued; misbehaving private yacht crews like those on board the Fortrus who partied on illegal alcohol and set off fireworks; and the Berserk II’s “Wild Vikings” who were in Canada illegally.

Participants, including several who deal with cruise ship visitors, as hosts, cultural performers or guides, also said a lack of basic infrastructure poses additional safety risks to tourists.

Cambridge Bay’s small dock is often clogged with yachts or barges.

And, when large cruise ships come to town, their passengers disembark on the beach from zodiacs, with some elderly passengers struggling to get out of the zodiacs or even to walk.

Cambridge Bay also lacks large buses to transport passengers to and from the airport, which is increasingly used for crew and passenger changeovers of up to 100 people or more.

All that raises liability issues, because some ride to the airport in open pick-ups, participants said.

These kinds of challenges are likely to increase: the huge Crystal Serenity cruise ship, with its 665-member crew and 1,070 passengers, is scheduled to call at Cambridge Bay on Aug. 29, 2016.

To cope, longtime cruise visit organizer Vicki Aitaok raised the idea of forming a local tourism committee — similar to a committee formed in the early 1990s that took on building the first road to Ovayok and opening the visitors centre in town.

Over the longer term, participants at the consultation said they would like to see a tourism program at Nunavut Arctic College in Cambridge Bay.

And they’d like to see the tourism industry return more economic returns to the community.

“It’s a renewable resource,” said Sarah Jancke, who performs as a throat singer for cruise ships, but it’s one needing development.

“We’re so nice and welcoming and warm that many think we don’t need to get paid,” she said.

Among the other needs raised:

• a code of conduct for tourists;

• certification of hotels;

• training and certification for guides;

• improved and streamlined communication between communities and vessels, large and small; and,

• community tourism training.

The representatives — from the GN’s department of Economic Development and Tourism, Nunavut Tourism and a consultants’ firm which oversaw the consultation in Cambridge Bay — went on to Gjoa Haven Oct. 16.

They’ve hosted similar discussions in Naujaat, Rankin Inlet, Pangnirtung and Pond Inlet, and next week they’ll look for feedback on the new tourism legislation at Nunavut Tourism’s annual general meeting in Iqaluit.

If you want a say what you would like to see in the new legislation, you can also fill out an online survey here and enter your name for a chance to win an iPad.

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