Bathurst Inlet Lodge provides a Nunavut community experience like no other.
In searching for the next big adventure, it’s common to scan the surface of the earth in search of unforgettable experiences. Too often, we overlook the most fascinating horizon of all: the vibrant landscape of human culture.
Cultural tourism is a growing sector in the travel industry, catering to adventurers who crave a deeper connection to the locations they visit. In Nunavut, this means not only getting to explore the distinctive terrain, view the wildlife, and take off on exciting excursions – visitors are able to see these wondrous sights with guidance from locals who carry a deep understanding of the region.
One of Nunavut’s remote communities which offers experiences that go beyond traditional tourism is Bathurst Inlet Lodge. The 51% Inuit-owned and -operated lodge has received distinction from Travel & Leisure, and has been operating in this 25-person hamlet since the 1960s. In addition to excursions on the land, cultural teachings and an introduction to the Inuit way of life are an essential part of the lodge’s offerings.
“We’ve got a long history with the people here,” says Boyd Warner, president of Bathurst Inlet Lodge. Warner’s parents founded the lodge, and he has been visiting the community since childhood. “The Inuit partners and I have known each other since we were all 7 or 8 years old.”
All staff at the lodge, from the cooks and housekeepers to the boat operators and tour guides, are either Warner’s family members, or members of the Kapolaks – the Inuit family who own a majority share of the operation (the one exception to this rule is Page Burt, the staff naturalist who has been with the lodge since 1973 and is roundly considered an honorary family member). Says Warner, “Everyone in the community, of employable age and who wants to work, gets a job with us.”
Guests can choose from excursions such as boat tours, fishing, and hiking. Local staff are able to effortlessly navigate the land and share their innate knowledge, bringing visitors along for experiences that are undeniably authentic.
Some of Bathurst Inlet Lodge’s most notable excursions involve a reverent, respectful exploration of indigenous flora and fauna. “The flowers here are incredible,” says Warner, noting that staff naturalist Burt once co-authored a book on the local blooms, entitled Barrenland Beauties.
“As for wildlife, typically you’ll see caribou and muskox, moose, grizzlies, wolves, and lots of birds.”
After action-packed days exploring waterways and archaeological sites, and visiting with local residents, even the meals at the lodge embrace the resources of the land. “In the evening we try to feature northern food,” says Warner. “Typically, our guests will get to eat foods like arctic char, muskox, and caribou.
A true highlight of the Bathurst Inlet experience is the chance to connect with the local Inuit. Traditional practices are demonstrated during the lodge cultural night, including explanations of clothing and tools. “We try to give our guests a really good understanding of the Inuit past, present, and possible future,” says Warner.
He also notes that the tight-knit nature of their community enables visitors to engage the locals in meaningful, often enlightening connections. “Guests get the opportunity to form friendships, and it allows them to ask deeper questions,” he says.
“With everything that’s happening in politics with regards to residential schools, a lot of tourists want to meet the locals and ask them directly and personally about their experiences. And the people are happy to share those stories and have a conversation.”
The deep level of engagement that can be found in a hamlet like Bathurst Inlet Lodge has the tendency to leave a lasting impression, says Warner. “We always say, ‘Come as a guest, leave as a friend’,” he says. “But when you’re at the airport and there are tears from both the guests and our staff, that’s something special.”
Those tearful goodbyes go to show that cultural tourism in Nunavut offers something above and beyond traditional travel. Visitors walk away from these communities and experiences with much more than just the memories of time spent. You may just leave a changed person – one with a broader understanding of the beauty of the human condition.
Artwork created by Jamesie Itulu of Pond Inlet.