Posted by: abbyanavilok | November 16, 2011

Gjoa Haven and Me

 Gjoa Haven 3

The community of Gjoa Haven, Nunavut (pronounced “Joe”) is an isolated community located on King William Island (which is above the Arctic Circle). During the winter seasons the weather can reach up to -40 degrees celcius with a wind chill of -50 and the summer months the weather can reach up to 24 degrees celcius. Spring weather is the best; the temperature is just right, not too hot or not too cold. The inuktitut name is Uqshuqtuuq meaning “a place with plenty of fat.” The population is about 1,500. The name Gjoa Haven is named after the wooden ship “Gjoa” which was owned by Roald Amundsen. It has a major tourist attraction to outsiders as it’s the last known place where Sir John Franklin and his crew perished.  It’s also where Roald Amundsen has lived for two years studying the inuit and their culture and he is also the first to discover the Northwest Passage.

Gjoa Haven is known for its culture and tradition. You can find drawings and carvings made by artists that are mainly connected to inuit stories, legends and myths. You can also find talented ladies who can make hand-sewn mitts, kamiks (boots), parkas and wall hangings. You will also see that almost everyone still rely on country food such as: caribou, musk-ox, seal, polar bear, bird and fish. A big delicacy is maktaaq (whale blubber) and walrus meat as they cannot be caught or seen in the waters around the community. Hunting all year round plays a big role in the catch and usually the successful hunter shares his/her catch with the community as this shows their values. Drum dancing and throat singing is part of the community which is interesting to watch and be a part of.

Aside all of the historic and culture attraction, Gjoa Haven is also a modern community like any other community you find in Nunavut. First of all there are houses to live in not iglus! Two stores: a Northern and a Co-op store where you’ll find all your groceries and necessities. Three schools: Quqshuun Ilihakvik (elementary), Qiqirtaq Ilihakvik (high school) and Nunavut Arctic College (community learning centre). Anglican and Roman Catholic are the main religions within the community. A Hamlet Building, Government Building, Fire Hall, old community hall (George Washington Memorial community centre) and new community hall (Gideon Qitsualik Memorial Centre) for special events being held can be seen scattered around the community. There is also a Health Centre and a Continuing Care Centre for the people who need medical attention or advice. Recreational activities also are held for both young and old. You can play all kinds of sports at the high school gym. Hockey, skating and curling can be played at the arena. Weight lifting, inuit sports and table tennis can be played at the New Community Hall. Square dancing and Live Band are popular during special events and occasions and they are held at the new community hall. Last but not least there is an R.C.M.P. station with two cops for any crime that happens within the community.

Living in a community like Gjoa Haven is and always will be a blessing to me. It’s a family-orientated community with strong values and culture. I have been raised in this small community all my life. I love living here. I live with the people I love most and respect everyone else around me. I’ve been taught how to respect my elders and their knowledge. Without their knowledge, who would we be? Where would we learn our culture, language, tradition and values from? This is why everyone in Gjoa Haven treats their elders with pride.

During times of need, the community becomes one  (ex. search and rescue, donations, loss of a family member etc…) We come together as one to help one another and that shows how strong we can be as a community. For instance if someone was lost out on the land, search and rescuers don’t stop until that person is found. When I lost my father to suicide, the community raised 12,000 dollars for us in 2 hours to pay for our tickets to attend his funeral in his home community of Kugluktuk. Even for people who travel to Edmonton for medical that has to pay for their phones and television in the hospital.  That’s how much the community of Gjoa Haven cares for anyone in need. We’ve fought to keep the community “dry” for many years and it has stayed that way. This means we’ve thought and cared for our young children’s  future, to keep it as a safe place for them to be raised in.

Hunting is an advantage in the community. As hunting animals has a strong inuit history behind it. All the meat from the animal is all organic, unlike processed meat.

Getting funding from the government is another advantage for us to attend college or university programs. Fresh clean air surrounds the community for healthy breathing unlike cities filled with pollution.

Transportation in and out of Gjoa Haven during the winter months can be difficult as this can cause flight delays for up to a week the most. Lack of resources in the schools is another major one here in Gjoa Haven. High price of living are a major disadvantage as everything is most likely to be brought by freight. We lack support as well for projects we think might be helpful to the community. Lack of housing is a major problem as most families live in over-crowded homes.

Despite some of the disadvantages, I’m glad to call Gjoa Haven my home. Over the years I know that it can change but Gjoa Haven is and always will be my hometown like the saying goes, “home is where the heart is.” It’s where I’ve been raised and it’s where I want my children to be raised.

I love everything there is about Gjoa Haven, I hope that it stays the way it is for many years as it has been. A strong community with so much pride and love for its members and future members.



  1. Just to clarify, muktuk or maktaaq, is not just whale blubber, like many non-Inuit believe. It’s actually the whale skin, and you can cut off the blubber or leave on a tiny layer when you eat the muktuk. The peices of whale blubber that we do eat is called ookshuaaq (in Inuvialuktun) and is usually just a small peice of aged blubber eaten with a peice of meat.

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