Nunavut at 25: Then vs. Now

A look at how the territory has changed, and stayed the same, since 1999

The retirement of Nunavut’s polar bear-shaped licence plates, now sought-after collectors’ items, is one way the territory has changed in the past 25 years. (File photo)

By Madalyn Howitt

As Nunavut turns 25 years old, Nunatsiaq News is reflecting on the past quarter century and some ways that Nunavut has changed, or stayed the same.


Nunavut was established as a territory in 1999. It was the first major change to Canada’s political map since the creation of Newfoundland, now Newfoundland and Labrador, 50 years earlier in 1949.

As Canada’s population has grown over the past two and a half decades, so has Nunavut’s, but the rate at which the territory’s population increased is notably different.

Nunavut remains the least densely-populated region of Canada with a stark average of 0.0 people per square kilometre, according to the 2021 census. And yet, its population growth rate has been the highest of any province or territory for more than two decades.

Nunavut’s population was estimated at 26,745 in 2001 census data, an increase of 8.1 per cent from 1996 when it was still part of Northwest Territories.

Nunavut also had the highest population growth rate of any Canadian province or territory between 2011 and 2016, increasing by 12.7 per cent to 35,944. This growth trend has continued through to 2024, where the population is now estimated to be a little over 40,000.

And that population is young. In 2001, the average age of Canadians was 37.6 years, whereas in Nunavut it was 22.1 years. In the most recent 2021 census, the average age of Canadians was 41.9 years, but 28.3 in Nunavut.


In the 2001 census, the first to collect data from Nunavut proper, more than 70 per cent of respondents said a language other than English or French was their mother tongue. In comparison, 28 per cent of respondents said their first language was English or French.

In 2021, 55 per cent of respondents said they spoke a non-official language as their mother tongue. That year’s census did record what those non-official languages were, and found that nearly all respondents in Nunavut spoke Inuktut languages as their first languages.

That’s a stark difference from almost every other province and territory, where English is overwhelmingly the most spoken language. In Quebec, of course, the top response is French.

The cost of living 

Affordable and accessible housing continues to be a major issue in Nunavut.

The average price of a single-detached home in Nunavut rose to an all-time high of $615,362 in 2021, a 14 per cent increase over 2020 prices.

And while the Nunavut 3000 housing strategy to build 3,000 new homes by 2030 is already underway, according to a 2022 report from the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corp., the number of Nunavut households living in unsuitable, inadequate or unaffordable housing is more than three times higher than the national average.

Food prices are another concern. According to data in Nunavut 1999, a commemorative magazine published that year by Nortext, two litres of two per cent milk cost $5.71 in Iqaluit, a dozen eggs cost $2.95 and a loaf of bread was $2.59 in 1999, double what they cost in Toronto at that time. Nunavut food prices in 2024 are now often double that.

However, some recent progress to keep up with rising costs and inflation has taken shape. The minimum wage in 1999 was $6.50 for employees under 16 years of age and $7 for workers 16 years old or higher. As of January 2024, the minimum wage is now $19 after the Government of Nunavut raised the wage by $3 from a year earlier.

Old relics, new treasures 

A famous symbol of Nunavut which is no more is the famed polar bear-shaped licence plate, replaced in 2012 with a rectangle design featuring an inuksuk, polar bear and the northern lights.

Those bygone plates are now a hot collectors’ item. A quick look at eBay shows numerous Nunavut polar bear-shaped license plates from the mid-2000s being sold for between $173 and $305.

A look ahead

In January, Nunavut signed a devolution agreement with the federal government, a move heralded as the largest land transfer in Canadian history.

The agreement sets up the territory to assume control of a vast majority of its Crown lands and have final say over development in the territory.

And in the sports world, Nunavut’s sporting contingents on the national and international stages continue to grow. Nunavut has competed at every Arctic Winter Games since 2000, making 12 appearances and hosting once, in 2002, in Iqaluit.

Nunavut won its first-ever Canada Summer Games gold medal in 2022 with a wrestling win from Eekeeluak Avalak.


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(4) Comments:

  1. Posted by Homecare Services to EDUCATION/ Field of Work Experience!?! on

    This certainly raises concern how Territorial Government functions its operations to just pull out JOB’s that sustain employments to training opportunities! The newly hired without any background experience in their field nor merit when JOB’s were just pulled out to southern private businesses to administer northern Home Care, which service Nunavut over 94 year’s with the establishment of Ste. Therese’s Hospital est. 1930’s that created work, and Healthcare to Inuit patients!

    The Naja Isabelle Home Care provided professional services to meet all requirements (at all levels), as HealthCare Services across Nunavut. However, due to POOR admin. of the Dept. of Family Services i.e. executives/ assistant Deputy Minister, or recently newly hired (perhaps less then 4 months) just pulled out EMPLOYMENT’s of the Naja Isabelle open 2005! This raises how media can easily be mislead without any MERIT, or ideology conclusion (political)! The Naja Isabelle Home Care provided excellent service to Nunavut, recently just pulled out without any MERIT nor conclusion. The JOB’s that were created of total 38 staffs to training just transferred to SOUTH by the Dept. of Family Services executives, or assistant deputy Minister perhaps with NO EXPERIENCE in the HealthCare Services! This is Then and Now with April Fool’s (anniversary) in Nunavut economy!

    • Posted by HomeCare Services & Patients (transferred) in South!?! on

      With annual operating costs of the Naja Isabelle Homecare approx. $2 to $4 million, with inflation introduced by the Fed’s 95% went straight to possibly private businesses in south. When Department of Family Services (Social Services) ask where these patients heading? The Social Services response; don’t know??? This certainly raises concern with various GN executives, or assistant Deputy Minister’s that oversee operating with NO Merit on behalf of patients, employees or nurses etc.!

      • Posted by Work Experience & Education!?! Where are the FACT’s??? on

        This may have result in (two) southern (intern’s) with NO background experience in remote work environment nor cultural nursing based on programs & services in Home Care, which may have result in (control staff)/ (micro-manage), and slowly start to get caught-up in work environment, or work ethics (among) certain staff’s, and result in being remove from position, and sent back home south. This may have result in Two intern Stooges, once, (fired on spot), and end-up making calls to Family Services (Head office) in Iqaluit, as part of their act of false reprisal on the Naja Isabelle Home Care reflect on removal of their JOB!

        This may conclude to making false accusations, once outside the Territory, which result in Family Services (Head office) to inquire with Social Services (with NO background EDUCATION nor experience)! Which sadly concluded to WRONG decisions of (new Executives & Assistant Deputy Minister of Family Services) with NO work experience!, and result of poor actor’s with NO EDUCATION nor Experience in the work environment, which perhaps lead to be used as false accusations on the Naja Isabelle Home Care in Chesterfield Inlet, and the media.

  2. Posted by Cabinet Ministers (Primary School) Conclusions!?! on

    The Family Services – Assistant Deputy Minister choreograph this backstage without any concrete inhouse information, which just surface without any MERIT under the NOSE of the cabinet ministers’ (former travel agent corporate business card!). If shoes don’t fit HOW is this primary staffer’s that just started November, 2023 conclude decisions??? This raises concern with the Cabinet Ministers’ (Primary School Class)! What’s the conclusion???

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