'We don't make money, but we take pride in it.'
The best little hotel in the Arctic
KUGLUKTUK – It's not every day you can stay in the same hotel as Santa Claus, Elvis and Osama Bin Laden.
But they've all slept at Kugluktuk's Coppermine Inn, at least according to the hotel's guest book, which goes back to the early 1980s and features autographs and comments from many former guests.
"Found some copper, but there ain't no mine," says one guest.
And Osama Bin Laden said he'd "Bin Cold."
Joking aside, since 1984, the Coppermine Inn has sheltered many famous visitors to the Kitikmeot, such as Wayne Gretzky, Susan Aglukark, the late Peter Gzowski, Mr. Dressup and the former Governor General, Adrienne Clarkson.
And nearly every well-known politician from the Northwest Territories and Nunavut – and from as far away as Nunavik – stayed at the hotel at least once.
Having endured a change of territorial government, many elections and even a community name change, the Coppermine Inn is now into its second-generation of Horns, who in 1984 bought what was then called the Iglu Inn.
"People here accept us," says Kerry Horn, who first arrived in 1976 with the federal Department of Transport when the community was still known as Coppermine. "Elders call us. If we weren't accepted here we couldn't stay here."
Back in the late 1970s, Coppermine's population was less than half its current size of 1,300. There were few resident non-Inuit and only three trucks in the community.
When the Horns bought the Iglu Inn in April 1984, they acquired a ramshackle set of A-frames and a nearly windowless main building with a dark warren of rooms.
Kerry recalls that it was a "sleazy place," where the odor of cigarette smoke, booze and honey buckets hit you as you walked down the hallway to the dining room.
"We just came in blind and never came back," Kerry says of those early days.
The remnants of the dungeon-like hotel they bought are hard to see in today's Coppermine Inn. Over the years, the Horns invested more than $2 million in a hotel that they purchased for $250,000.
They renovated all the rooms, the dining room and kitchen. Then, in the late 1990s, they added an airy, wood-panelled lobby where visitors may chat, read or warm themselves in front of a pellet-burning wood-stove.
The hotel was the first place in the community to offer satellite television and high-speed internet service.
And the hotel also was ahead of the times in allowing no alcohol and cigarette smoking.
From the beginning, the Horns decided to ban all booze from the premises. A ban on smoking inside followed in 1994. Some guests grumbled and others went to stay elsewhere, but the policies stayed in place.
"Inuit like to stay here. They like an environment where there's no liquor," Irene says.
Hotel management brought some surprises to the Horns, who had never run a hotel and discovered it's a seven-day-a-week job.
Now their 60s, they're still up every day by 7 a.m. and are in charge of doing repairs, cleaning rooms and preparing meals.
Even as kids, the Horn's two children, Kory, now 35, and Tammy, now 32, worked at the inn.
"It has always been a part of growing up, setting the tables, juice for the morning, " Tammy says.
The younger Horns attended grade school in Kugluktuk where they were the only non-Inuit: Kory got the nickname "aputmiut" because he was pale, like snow, while Tammy was called "hikhik" because the kids thought her red hair looked like a ground squirrel's.
The two left Kugluktuk for high school. Later Tammy studied hotel management, while Kory became a chef.
After returning to work at the inn for many years, Kory recently moved to Edmonton. Tammy, her husband Jason Evans, and infant son Garrett are now back in Kugluktuk to help out.
The 26-bedroom inn is often filled to capacity due to its reputation as the "best hotel in the Arctic," a recommendation passed by word-of-mouth from one traveller to the next.
"Nothing would be finer than Kerry's diner," one early guest wrote in the hotel's guest book.
The inn's kitchen, now presided over by Irene, serves three meals a day, including dishes such as prime rib in the evening.
Last year, the Horns spent more than $70,000 to buy food, locally and in Yellowknife.
"We don't make money, but we take pride in it," Kerry says.
Under Nunavut, the inn's clientele has remained steady, but changed from guests on government business to those with territorial court parties or nearby mining developments.
Tourists have never shown up in great numbers, the Horns say, despite nearby attractions such as Coronation Gulf's spectacular cliffs and Bloody Falls.
The region is the only place in North America that is truly wild, they say – but the cost of travelling to Kugluktuk deters most non-business visitors.
The only complaints you hear about the Coppermine Inn is that the Horns haven't hired Inuit to work at the hotel.
But the Horns say it's a family-run business, and a business that has become their own family.
"The hotel has kept our family together," Irene says.