First stop Ulukhaktok: Crystal Serenity cruise ship sails into N.W.T.

The community of Ulukhaktok, N.W.T., has been waiting for this weekend, when the Crystal Serenity cruise ship sailed into the hamlet of 400 people, bringing with it about 1,000 passengers and 600 crew.

Small hamlet first Canadian stop for massive vessel carrying 1,000 passengers

The Crystal Serenity cruise ship sailed into Ulukhaktok on Friday afternoon, bringing with it about 1,000 passengers and 600 crew. (Priscilla Haogak/Facebook)

The weekend the community of Ulukhaktok, N.W.T., has been waiting for has arrived.

The Crystal Serenity cruise ship sailed into the hamlet of 400 people on Friday afternoon, bringing with it about 1,000 passengers and 600 crew. It's the largest cruise ship ever to sail through the Northwest Passage, having left Anchorage, Alaska, on Aug. 16 on its way to New York.

The town's mayor, Laverna Klengenberg, says the community has been busy preparing.

"It's wonderful," she said.

"People have been drum dancing, preparing their traditional clothing, doing arts and crafts, taking training to be tour guides and whatnot. So it's been quite busy, so we're happy to see that."

Janet Kanayok, Ulukhaktok's economic development officer, was eager for the day to come.

"We can showcase to the world what we've been preparing for," she said.

'Won't be congested or overwhelmed'

'I just hope that [visitors] get a sense of how unique and how friendly our people are,' says Janet Kanayok, Ulukhaktok’s economic development officer. (submitted by Janet Kanayok)
This is the Crystal Serenity's first voyage through the Northwest Passage.

In order not to overwhelm the small community, every two hours 150 to 200 passengers will be shuttled off the ship in inflatable boats and brought into Ulukhaktok.

"So we won't be congested or overwhelmed with visitors," Kanayok said.

She said the first thing they'll see is a caribou skin tent and local women handing out bannock and tea.

"There will be people along the shores as well, welcoming people to Ulukhaktok."

Once the customs paperwork is complete, Kanayok and other hamlet officials will board the ship with two traditional drum dance groups. On board, they'll take part in a commemorative plaque exchange.

The tourists will have a chance to go on walking tours of the hamlet, sample local cuisine and shop for traditional carvings and artwork.

"I believe that we'll do a very good job and that people will see that Ulukhaktok is traditionally strong, very friendly and open to [cruise ships visiting]," Kanayok said.

Crystal Serenity's planned route through the Northwest Passage. (Ruby Buiza/CBC)

Cruise line 'considerate and professional'

The stop in Ulukhaktok has been a long time coming. Representatives from the cruise line first visited Ulukhaktok in 2014 to discuss the possibility of stopping in the hamlet.

'It’s been quite busy, so we’re happy to see that,' says Laverna Klengenberg, the mayor of Ulukhaktok. (submitted by Laverna Klengenberg)
"We thought that was very considerate and professional of them, because usually we don't really have much notice when a cruise ship comes in," Kanayok said.

Mayor Klengenberg echoes that, saying it gave elders, hunters and locals the chance to ask questions.

"People had concerns regarding what kind of plan they would have in case of oil spillage or any kind of environmental damage to the water or to the ocean or wildlife," Klengenberg said.

The Nunavut Impact Review Board recently recommended that the federal government approve the plan to bring the luxury vessel through the Northwest Passage without a full environmental review, saying the voyage "is unlikely to result in significant adverse environmental and social impacts."

But Klengenberg says residents were assured that wastewater from the ship would be treated and dumped far from the community.

Ulukhaktok is the first Canadian stop on the voyage. The ship will also stop in two communities in Nunavut: Cambridge Bay and Pond Inlet.

Kanayok says surveys will determine the economic success of the visit for Ulukhaktok. She hopes the passengers will see how unique the community is, and the stop will encourage other cruise ships to stop.

with files from Loren McGinnis, Joanne Stassen