"Inuvik" Inuvik by PeterVancouver

Inuvik Travel Guide: 9 reviews and 30 photos

200 km North of the Arctic circle

Apart from the fact that Sir Alexander Mackenzie who stayed in the area which became Inuvik in 1789 on his epic journey down the river that bears his name, Inuvik has had only a fairly recent history, being designated a town only in 1970. Even today the population of the town does not exceed 3,500 people.
There are a number of modern Territorial administration buildings in town including a modern hospital which opened in 2003. It only became connected by road to the Canadian highway system by way of the Dempster Highway in 1979 although it is served by three sizable scheduled airlines, Air North Yukons , First Air and Canadian North, the latter two basically having most of its routes in the North. Currently Westjet and Air Canada only venture to Yellowknife, NWT & Whitehorse, Yukon respectively.

As can be seen from my attached video of downtown Inuvik, there is little by way of darkness even well after midnight at this time of the year. The colourful houses and the very modern hospital also painted in bright colours, help the mood of the locals during the winter months when the chill factor can be minus 70 and there is almost 24 hours of darkness.

On the oposite side of the road from the hospital, between the Tourist Office and the Nova Hotel, is an aircraft mounted on a swivel plinth indicating the direction of the wind. This aeroplane belongs to Fred Carmichael who was born in 1935 to the parents of an Irish trapper (and the first elected member of the Territorial Council representing the Mackenzie Delta) and a Gwich’in descendant of a long line of Gwich’in Chiefs. He received his private pilot's licence in 1954 - the first Aboriginal pilot from the region to do so – and bought his first plane the following year. In 1958, he became the first Aboriginal person in the Northwest Territories to earn his wings as a commercial pilot. This idea of mounting an aircraft to indicate the wind direction, is also taken up at Whitehorse Airport in the Yukon where a much heavier DC3 is mounted in a similar vain.

Fred started Reindeer Air Service in 1959, which grew into 15 aircraft including DC-3s, C-46s and C-47s. Reindeer Air employed and trained the northern and Aboriginal people of the area, practising affirmative action long before it became policy.

Inuvik is as far as you can drive in the summer along the unpaved Dempster Highway some 740 km out of Dawson City so the only way to get to the Arctic Ocean at this time of the year is to fly the last 65 miles by charter aircraft which sadly is horribly expensive. In the winter the 194km ice road to Toktoyaktuk is open

The drive from Dawson can be done in 12 - 16 hours, but ideally a two day trip makes it that much more leisurely.
Permafrost is a challege for everything built in and around Inuvik including the Dempster Highway as if not insulated from the frozen ground, it will simply melt and sink. The highway is not simply gravel covered, it can be up to 6 m deep in stones simply to insulate it from the permafrost.The presence of permafrost means that buildings have to be on piles which are driven down into the continuous layer of permafrost and which creates an open crawl space between the floor of the house and the ground of generally 1m, to ventilate building heat away from the ground.

To give you some idea of the complexity of building Inuvik consider that every building, every road, every structure, the entire airport, everything had to be either on piles or on a 1m thick gravel pad. The runway at the airport is 2000 m long and its entire length including the taxiways are on a gravel pad, in some areas the pad is 2m thick.

The airport itself is some 14 km away from downtown and the only way of getting there is by taxi which costs around $35.00 each way. This modern airport has nothing really of interest to the tourist, even if you do find the only shop open so buy souveniers in town, although it does have a facility for the typical airport fast food and soda outlet


There are two basic types of utilidors although there are a number of variations in construction materials. Some are made of wood, others of steel and aluminum. The two types are those that have the water and sewage lines and the high temperature heating system. The other carries only the water and sewage lines. The utilidors with the heating system use the heat lost to keep the water running. In the utilidor with only water and sewage lines, the hot water is heated and the cold water line runs beside the hot water line using the heat to keep the water running even at the coldest temperatures. The lines from the main utilidor to each house are called utilidettes.

Pros and Cons
  • Pros:A nice friendly small town
  • In a nutshell:Great for walking and taking trails around town in Summer
  • Last visit to Inuvik: Aug 2010
  • Intro Updated May 9, 2016
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