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Ship Time

Breaking ice, fuelling and supplying


Ship time is always a major event in every northern community, usually involving at least three types of ship: the coastguard/icebreaker, the oil tanker and the cargo ship. The coastguard comes in ahead of the others to ensure the ice is broken up and the passage safe. The oil tanker brings in the year’s supply of oil, gasoline, heating fuel and aviation gas, while the government cargo ships unload heavy supplies such as lumber and vehicles.

The Northwest Company (which replaced the Hudson Bay Company in the 1980s) have their own ships to re-supply the communities, sometimes racing against time to get in and out before the ice brings winter freeze-up. It is always an exciting time. The Northwest Company ships often hire every male in town to help unload a year’s supply of goods as quickly as possible, from freezers and snowmobiles to frozen foods and Christmas supplies. The last ship’s departure means that winter is close, snow flurries are in the air and once more Inuit can look forward to getting back to hunting on the land again.

Nick Newbery taught in several communities in Nunavut from 1976-2005. He would like to acknowledge the assistance he received for this article from Bert Rose, northern educator and long-time resident of Nunavut. The photos in this article are from Nick’s Arctic photo collection that can be found at www.newberyphotoarchives.ca and should be viewed from a historical perspective.