A run for the money
Arctic Bay hopes tourism will replace lost mining revenue
Arctic Bay may be running for its economic life this weekend.
For 26 years the Nanisivik mine, only 40 kilometres from Arctic Bay, churned out millions of tonnes of zinc and fueled the High Arctic economy. For the same quarter century it also played host to the Midnight Sun marathon – often called the world’s toughest footrace.
But the mine closed this past September because of falling zinc prices and diminishing ore reserves. The closure left 15 residents from nearby Arctic Bay unemployed and also cut another 10 mine-related jobs.
Almost 10 months later, the community is still searching for a way to replace the mine. Race organizers hope the annual marathon might be a step in the right direction.
“Every year the community is getting behind a lot of other ideas because of the mine closure and this is another, small economic opportunity,” Sherry McLean, the race’s director, said this week.
“One of the reasons I’m so focused on keeping the marathon going is for the tourism benefit to the community.”
McLean, a Cape Dorset resident and long-time devotee of the original Midnight Sun marathon, began organizing the race’s latest incarnation four years ago, after the mining company ended its sponsorship of the event.
Close to 120 participants a year would journey to North America’s northernmost long-distance race at the height of its popularity.
When McLean took over, she moved the event to Arctic Bay and limited participation to roughly 30 racers – the most the small community of 700 could accommodate.
Today the event includes the marathon, an 84-kilometre ultra-marathon, a 32-kilometre race and two shorter walk/runs for the community.
When the mine sponsored the events, participants would pay roughly $1,300 for travel and accommodation.
Runners now shell out $2,700 to participate in the official races. The price tag covers everything from the return flight from Ottawa to accommodation and, of course, the requisite race t-shirt.
For many, the t-shirt and a participation certificate will be the only prizes they earn at the marathon. Instead, racers compete for the bragging rights of saying they conquered Pain in the Ass Pass and for the chance to do something they love in a beautiful and unique landscape.
For Joanasie Akumalik, mayor of Arctic Bay, this fact proves tourism has potential as an economic substitute for the now defunct mining industry.
“There’s a lot of options, [besides the race],” Akumalik says. “We have the park. We have very good carvers here and the landscape is very beautiful. We’ll just have to market it.”
But Akumalik believes the community needs government support to develop this and other possible industries.
Which explains why the mayor, through MLA Rebekah Uqi Williams, during the legislative assembly sitting in Baker Lake this month, invited Nunavut’s MLAs to participate in the community runs.
“It will allow all MLAs and cabinet ministers to realize we’ve been isolated since the mine closed. We have a lot of beautiful landscape and the mine can accommodate jet services and a deep-sea port. We’re hoping if they come, they will at least see the impact the mine’s closure has had,” he said.
As of Nunatsiaq News press-time, Akumalik said he had not yet received any confirmations from the MLAs. But he said he wasn’t disappointed.
“If they show up, they show up. If they don’t, they don’t. It’s only a friendly challenge,” he said. “We’re living one day at a time right now.”
Eight runners, from as far away as Texas and Virginia, are slated to arrive in Arctic Bay on Saturday. They will spend two days in the community before joining 10 or so locals for the June 30 races.
The community runs, which usually attract between 50 and 70 residents, will take place the next day. The races will be run with or without Premier Paul Okalik.