The largest Inuit community of Nunavik and also the only one in this northern region of Quebec to be connected to First Air’s network, Kuujjuaq is merely a little over two hours away by plane from Montreal, making it the gateway to the Arctic for southern travellers going North. Whether passing through, in town for business or a visit, Kuujjuaq has a lot to offer to those willing to stay over or make the trip for a weekend out of the ordinary. Extending across the tree line towards Ungava Bay, the area is covered with a brilliant white blanket of snow throughout winter and into springtime, making an escapade out of Kuujjuaq by dogsled the perfect initiation to the Far North and Inuit traditional way of life.
Though it is a known fact that most Inuit travel out on the land by snowmobile nowadays during the long northern snow season, a few purists still breed sled dogs for the sheer joy of riding along with these four-legged loyal companions. For Inuit mushers like Allen Gordon, who lives in Kuujjuaq and enjoys this traditional activity, taking tourists on such excursions is the perfect excuse to get out of town with his dogs. The extra cargo makes for good practice for his dog team as well. His team won the champion title at the Ivakkak dog sled race in 2014. (See related sidebar for more details.)
More than happy to go stretch their legs, Allen’s furry friends certainly don’t need coaxing to pull their share of the load, howling with enthusiasm right up until their master calls the start with the customary “Uit, uit!” Scrambling eagerly before their passengers as they trot in tandem across the remnants of a boreal forest that still prevails around Kuujjuaq, or in a fan-hitch formation as they get further away from civilization onto the tundra or sea-ice, these husky quadrupeds could undoubtedly take you to the edge of the world if you’d let them.
Whether sitting comfortably on your guide’s sled or steering your own, far from the bustle of the city, breathing in the invigorating fresh air, it becomes easy to understand the blissful delight Inuit find while roaming these vast unspoiled lands. Carried by the peaceful silence of the Arctic plain, accompanied by the subtle sounds of the dogs panting and the slide of the sled on the crisp snow, seldomly interrupted by the master musher’s Inuktitut commands, we learn to live in the moment as Inuit have for centuries.
Scanning the sparkly white landscape for signs of wildlife along the way, one can even hope to spot Arctic creatures such as ptarmigans, hares, foxes and wolves, or even encounter one of the small herds of noble prehistoric muskoxen that roam these parts or stray families of caribou wandering the tundra in search of lichen on which to feast.
Before the sun starts to set, your experienced guide will stop to make camp for the night. Whether you end up spending the night in an igloo built by his hands (providing the snow conditions are suitable) or in the cosy warmth of a modern-day tupik — an Inuit circular canvas tent — or cabin, both heated by a woodstove, you’ll be delighted by the experience. When darkness falls, thousands of stars twinkle above your head. And come morning, after a warm cup of tea and a slice of bannock prepared by Allen’s mother for the trip, you’ll be glad you stayed for the return journey to Kuujjuaq, courtesy of your new canine friends — another chance to soak up more of the area’s stunning scenery.
Should you choose not to spend the night out on the land, but return to town and stay comfortably nestled at the hotel, be sure to pop your head out and look up, because, with a little luck and no clouds, you may still be able to catch a glimpse of the legendary aurora borealis – the surreal, dazzling northern lights – as they dance across the Arctic sky, dressed in the most stunning green gowns, adorned with purple ribbons, trying to outshine the street lamps.
When you do return to town, there will still be time to socialize with local residents and learn more about their daily lives. Allen will be happy to take you on another tour, this time on four wheels, throughout the lovely northern village of Kuujjuaq. This will also be the occasion to buy local arts and crafts to add to the memories you’ll be bringing back with you of a weekend you’ll remember for years to come.
To book your weekend getaway by dogsled out of Kuujjuaq, contact Inuit Adventures at 514-457-3319 or 1-855-657-3319 toll free or check out available tour packages (including return flights on First Air, hotel overnights and transfers, guide services and all meals) at www.inuitadventures.com.
Inuit Adventures is a subsidiary of the Northern Quebec region’s federation of cooperatives known as FCNQ.
Ivakkak 2016 – Nunavik’s Own Dog Sled Race
Organized by the Makivik Corporation, the Ivakkak dog sled race goes through a few villages of Nunavik each year to honour this traditional Inuit practice and the Inuit pure-breed huskies, which were once essential to Inuit survival. This year, the teams lead by Inuit mushers from all around Nunavik, will head out of Quaqtaq on March 31 – weather permitting – and make their way down the Ungava Bay coast to cross the finish line in Kuujjuaq a few days later, after having covered over 400 kilometres through the tundra and boreal forest. A true celebration of Inuit culture, this event is one not to be missed!
For more information, check out the race’s official website at www.ivakkak.com or contact Makivik’s head office in Kuujjuaq at 819-964-2925.