Story Ideas

Experience 24-hour darkness in Canada’s North.

Travellers looking for a raw, authentic winter adventure should head north of the Arctic Circle.

04 November 2015
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Suggested tweet: For a real adventure, travel north of the Arctic Circle in winter + experience 24-hr darkness http://ow.ly/TaVEr #explorecanada

Imagine—if you can—a day without daylight. Now imagine weeks and months without seeing the sun above the horizon. 

Few of us would choose to live above the Arctic Circle, where 24-hour darkness is a fact of life for at least part of every winter. But to visit? That’s an adventure.

Canadian communities above the Arctic Circle extend from Old Crow, YT, to Qikiqtarjuaq on Baffin Island, NU. Some lose daylight for only a week or two in December. Others, like Grise Fiord, the most northerly community in North America, lose it for much longer. This winter, the sun won’t rise above the horizon in Grise Fiord from Nov. 1 through Feb. 9, and when it does peek over again on Feb.10, it’s for just 39 minutes and 54 seconds.

So how dark is it at noon in the depth of winter in Grise Fiord?  “It’s very dark. The only [natural] light you see is the full moon, if there is one,” says Meeka Kiguktak, the mayor of this tiny town of just 150 people.

However, the lack of light doesn’t stop people from embracing winter. This past October, Kiguktak was already excited about winter hunting. “Right now, we’re looking to the ice freezing up. Even in the dark, I’m looking forward to being out there with my 303 rifle hunting seal.”

These days, Kiguktak says Inuit rely on the lights on their snowmobiles when they leave town to hunt. Still, they need to be on their guard in case a polar bear sneaks up in the dark. “Sometimes you’re wondering if that bear is coming right behind you and you can’t see it, so you have to have that rifle ready with a bullet,” she explains. In the town itself, Kiguktak says bears aren’t an issue. “If anyone sees polar-bear tracks, everybody knows about it and it’s posted on Facebook.”

Visiting Grise Fiord would definitely give travellers bragging rights, but it’s a one or two-day trip with several stops from Edmonton, Ottawa or Montréal, plus a possible overnight stay in Resolute Bay en route. If that’s too time-consuming, consider Inuvik, NWT, for a taste of 24-hour darkness. From Edmonton, you can be in Inuvik in just over five hours.

Due to Inuvik’s relative proximity to the Arctic Circle, it loses daylight for about a month each winter, between Dec. 6 and Jan. 6 this winter. Daytime is often more like dawn or dusk in southern Canada. “There is typically a beautiful soft light of pink, red and orange hues that lingers for hours,” says Jackie Challis, manager of Inuvik’s Community Economic Development and Tourism.

Challis recommends visiting early in January when the sun returns and the entire community celebrates with the annual Sunrise Festival. “Not only do you get to see the sun for the first time” she says, “but the warmth of the people and the sense of place is revealed over three days of activities.”

Compete in snow carving, watch the snowmobile parade, plus enjoy drum dancing, fiddle music and fireworks. Say goodbye darkness and welcome back light!

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