Monday, January 5, 2015

A Tour of Nanisivik - Part 2

(The tour occurred on August 31, 2014).

Former Nanisivik town site.
The Nanisivik town site was large enough to accommodate 50 dwellings, a large building complex, a small church, and a metal-domed teepee.  The complex contained a 10-room school, library, gymnasium, pool, bar, two stores, fire hall, daycare, a shop to fix things, the RCMP, a two-cell jail, a government liaison office, and a health centre with residence for (a) nurse(s).  The domed teepee is the same as the ones that are used down south to store highway salt & sand.  In Nanisivik, the teepee was used as a kitchen and cafeteria.  It was known as "The Dome". 
Garage owned by the GN. Please
excuse the blurriness.
After the mine closed in 2002, the town site was slowly taken apart.  The complex, dome, and most of the dwellings were dismantled, but a few houses and the church were moved to Arctic Bay.  All that remains at the town site is a garage owned by the Government of NunavutGoogle Earth has yet to update its satellite photographs of the area, so until they do, you can go there and look at the former town from space.

We headed down towards the dock, passing a flat piece of land where the mill was located.  The former mill crushed the separated ore into lead & zinc, and waste rock.  Frank stopped his truck about halfway down so that I could take pictures of the surrounding landscape.  The rocky hills had impressive crowns and a small stream ran down a deep rocky cavern towards the docking area.  From where we were standing, we could see snow on one side of "Mount Fuji".

Nanisivik Dock
The Nanisivik deep sea dock is quite small compared to other deep sea ports.  Three large circular piers filled with concrete and rocks were built to enable large ships to come closer to shore without running aground.  There were many shipping containers around the dock when we arrived.  What I learned from Frank is that since the mine's closure, the dock has been used by shipping companies & the Coast Guard for the annual sealift every summer. 

There are certain places in the north, such as Kugaruuk & Eureka, where sea container ships cannot deliver supplies because of thick ice and/or shallow water.  Those supplies are unloaded at Nanisivik and then transported to those places by the Canadian Coast Guard.  Unfortunately, many of the cargo containers destined for Kugaruuk this year ended up in Churchill, Manitoba because of the icy conditions in Pelly Bay.  The Kugaruuk Co-op had to pay to get those supplies airlifted to the community.
There were many large white containers sitting next to the sea containers and wooden boxes near the dock.  They were the living quarters for workers who would be building the tank farm and other infrastructure for the Nanisivik Naval Facility.  I think the tank farm is now complete and construction of the NNF will begin in 2015.

The Nanisivik Naval Facility was announced by the federal government in 2007 and much has changed since then, but not for the better.  The original plans called for the construction of a new docking & refuelling facility but the plans were scaled down because the costs proved to be too expensive for the government.  Instead, Nanisivik will be used as a refuelling station for Arctic patrol boats.  If the Canadian government wants to maintain an Arctic presence, they need to stop doing it on-the-cheap and make serious investments in infrastructure and defence.            

Me standing on one of the concrete piers.  Graveyard Point is the tall mountain behind me on the left.
Me sitting in front of the Interim Site
I walked around the docking area, photographing the circular piers, Admiralty Inlet, the sea containers, and the steep drop looking over the dock.  I also got Frank to take several pictures of me as proof that I did visit the docks.  I also had him take a picture of me sitting in front of National Defence's Interim Site Office.  The long red and white trailer building was built, by order of Defence Minister Peter MacKay, to assert Canadian sovereignty in the north.  The office was locked and not in use during our visit.  How exactly does this assert Canadian sovereignty?, I wondered.
Nanisivik Airport
Frank drove back the way we came.  When we reached the t-intersection, he continued onward towards the Nanisivik Airport (YSR).  As mentioned in my previous post, the airport was built in the 1970s on top of a plateau that is higher than King George V Mountain (KGVM)!  KGVM stands at a height of 1,642 feet, but according to Google Earth, the airport sits at an altitude of 2,069 feet!  Flights had to be frequently cancelled or delayed due to clouds.  Passengers from Arctic Bay had to drive between 30 - 40 minutes to the airport and a taxi ride cost $40 per person one way.  Those passengers who relied on the taxi service always hoped that their flights would never be delayed and/or cancelled.     

The 5,000-foot runway enabled jet planes to land as long as they had a gravel kit - a reinforced underbelly so that the fuselage isn't destroyed by all the rocks being kicked up on landing and takeoff.  The runway is built on a pool of muskeg which soaks up water.  It's almost like a liquid and its always moving during the summer time.  If the runway is not maintained, the muskeg will eventually break it up.  The runway had to be placed there because there was no other place with 5,000 feet of level ground and no mountains close by.

Maintenance Garage.
In 2010, the airport ceased operations and all flights were transferred to the Arctic Bay Airport (YAB).  YAB only has a 3,000 foot runway and is serviced by turboprops.  It has been 4 years since the closure and yet all the buildings are still there.  The federal government and the Government of Nunavut are arguing over whose responsibility it is to dismantle everything.  Meanwhile there are oil drums and bags of calcium chloride sitting around, as well as the ground is contaminated with oil.  The airport is also in the watershed for Arctic Bay's water lake.  Therefore, any contaminates that can be dissolved in water will end up in the town's water supply.  The federal & territorial governments better come to an agreement really soon.

The airport was deserted.  Frank drove onto the tarmac and stopped in front of a small black building that once served as the airport's terminal.  I ventured inside to investigate.  The interior was a mess.  The floor was littered with overturned chairs, tables, wires, and garbage.  Since the closure, people come in, take whatever they want, and leave everything else behind.  I just walked around and took pictures of the departure area, the corridor that leads to the old maintenance garage, and the old weather office. 
The old weather office.
Frank told me an interesting story about an Inuit child being born in the old weather office sometime in 1994.  The doctor who performed the delivery adopted the child.
To finish off the tour, we drove from one end of the runway to the other.  Frank couldn't drive too fast because large puddles of water dotted the runway.  The landing lights were still in place.  When Frank drove off the runway, I made plans to come back in the new year with my new skidoo and drive back & forth on the runway a couple of times. 
Runway landing lights at one end of the runway.
I thanked Frank for the tour as he dropped me off at my place.  The entire excursion lasted 3 hours.

End of Tour of Nanisivik mini-series.

*All in-depth background information was happily provided by long time Arctic Bay resident Frank May.  Thank you.


  1. I really enjoyed this series. I liked seeing all of the old bits of infrastructure and the gradual decay of the abandoned buildings. When you strike out on your own, perhaps there will be some opportunities for extreme ironing? :-)

    1. Thank you for the positive review. The series was six months in the making. Maybe I'll head back to the Nanisivik Airport and do extreme ironing on top of the buildings!

  2. the whole place seems kinda eerie. wonder what it was like when it was hopping.

    1. From what I know from my previous inquiries, the locals remember long drives, frequent cancellations, and the terminal being packed at times. There may be more insights but I'll have to ask around some more.

  3. My family lived i nanisivik late seventies my husband was the town plumber i worked in the chemistry Lab my 2 children attended school, we then moved to Arctic bay for 1 yr 3 years in Nanisivik xgreat series thank you for the memory