Visiting Northern Canada
Northern Canada consists of the Yukon, Northwest Territories and Nunavut, encompassing over one half of Canada (an area the size of Western Europe) but with just 100, 000 human inhabitants.
We’re throwing Manitoba’s Churchill into this chilly pot of a page too since it’s also part of the vast and icy northern bleakness dominated more by nature than by man, where the long winters are white tinted with technicolor Northern Lights and the short summers a colourful mass of wild flowers.
Hiking the Chilkoot Trail near Whitehorse, YT, Yukon Territory. Photo by Anthony DeLorenzo.
When to go there
A Polar bear seen from a Tundra Buggy near Churchill. Photo by Ian Stewart. More on Manitoba polar bear tourism
Best weather: June- August.
For Wildlife watching: October/November for polar bears awaiting the arrival of ice and seals, September OK.
July-August for thousands of beluga whales, seals and migrating birds.
Northern Canada main attractions
Getting to Churchill
No roads go to Churchill so tourists generally fly in (2 hours) via the international hub of Winnipeg, Manitoba, or take the train (48 hours). Thompson, Manitoba, is the nearest paved road to Churchill and trains run from there to Churchill. More on Manitoba polar bear tourism
The Northwest Territories
Virginia Falls in Nahanni National Park, Northwest Territories. Photo by Paul Gierszewski.
Northwest Territories are inhabited about 50% by Inuit and North American Indians who live by hunting and fishing in the massive forests and rivers, they often coming into conflict with oil and mineral exploration companies. Recently Yellowknife, the capital of the province, has seen unusual expansion as a controversial diamond production centre.
The area around Great Slave Lake is home to many native people and a wilderness activity destination.
Temperatures in Northwest Territories vary greatly, with the sub-arctic south generally -20C to -30C in winter and 10C to 20C in summertime. The northern polar region generally experiences -15C to -50C in winter and 5C to 15C in summer.
This region’s best natural attraction is Nahanni National Park (a World Heritage Site) and its towering Virginia Falls, twice the height of Niagara.
Mountain biking around Cantlie Lake near Whitehorse, Yukon Territory. Photo by Anthony DeLorenzo.
In northern Canada bordering the USA’s Alaska, the Yukon region offers tourists spectacular, isolated alpine lakes, mountains and the largest non-polar icefield in the world in the Kluane National Park (a UNESCO World Heritage Site), complete with fresh icebergs plopping into Lowell Lake and heavenly light shows most winter nights.
The capital and largest city in the province is Whitehorse but the tourist favourite is little cowboy town look-alike Dawson City where the old-fashioned western style that harks back to the Klondike Gold Rush days is now mandatory for new construction, thus preserving the ambience and tourist potential indefinitely. Good move city council!
Travellers that like rugged landscapes, hiking, biking, panning for gold and even golf (9 holes on the Top of the World Course), this could be your kind of place.
The Dempster Highway, Canada’s most northerly major road is one of the world’s great drives, heading on all-year gravel from Dawson City into the Arctic Circle as far as Inuvik town on the Mackenzie River. Your paintwork will never be the same again.
Dawson City, Yukon. Photo by Dlogic.
Temperatures in sub-arctic Dawson average 16C (61F) in summer -27C (-17F) in winter.
Get there: fly in or drive year-round from Whitehorse on the Klondike Highway. There is no rail service.
Things to see and do in Dawson City
The frozen Arctic Sea in Qikiqtarjuaq, Nunavut. Photo by/of Lanny Fisher.
Nunavut (which means Our Land in Inuit), is Canada’s newest province, created in 1999 from the eastern part of the Northwest Territories; much of it is just cold, barren, Arctic tundra inside the Arctic Circle.
It is home to mostly Inuit people (aka Eskimos) who have a great affection for this bleak and unspoilt land. The Inuit city of Iqaluit offers tourists some interesting cultural insights and handicrafts.
And by the way, Eskimo is considered to be a pejorative term in Canada and Greenland, though not in other Inuit communities of Alaska and Siberia.
Main attractions for Nunavut visitors, apart from Inuit culture, involve hiking, wild camping, kayaking, wildlife watching, iceberg explorations, fishing, hunting (strict quotas, seasons and methods) and big ship cruises.
Fog rolling in as usual (just when you were getting used to a little warmth) in Arctic Bay, a typical Nunavut community. Photo by Mike Beauregard.