Family connections run deep for Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk, N.W.T., road builders

The era of the N.W.T’s Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk ice road is coming to a close and there are bittersweet feelings from the people building its replacement.

Two contractors building the new all-weather road were responsible for maintaining the old ice road

Kurt Wainman (left) owner of Northwind Industries, and Mervin Gruben (right), with E. Gruben Transport, celebrating when the two sides of the Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk Highway connected. (EGT Northwind)

The era of the N.W.T's Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk ice road is coming to a close and there are bittersweet feelings from the people building its replacement. 

Crews are in the final stages of building the all-weather access road, which is set to open in November.

But the owners of the joint venture building the road have mixed emotions. They're the same people who've been keeping the ice road in shape for 40 years.

"The ice road's been part of my life my whole life," Kurt Wainman said. "It's going to be missed, we enjoy going out on the road and maintaining it."

Wainman owns Northwind Industries, an Inuvik contractor. He took over the company from his dad, who originally helped build the road. He still remembers his first time working on the road with his dad when he was 10 years old.

"The family connection has been lifelong. Dad's passed on, but it's still there and we're going to miss opening it every season," he said. "It's always been the first thing we do before Christmas."

Kurt Wainman first went out with his dad to work on the ice road when he was 10. He says the ice road has a lot of family memories. (Joslyn Oosenbrug/CBC)
 EGT Northwind, a joint venture between Wainman's company and E. Gruben Transport, owned by cousins Justin and Merven Gruben, is building the $229-million all-season road.

Their grandfather Eddie 'E.' Gruben founded the Tuktoyaktuk-based company, and Merven Gruben also has memories of getting the road ready for the season.  

Merven Gruben is working to build the new all-weather road between Inuvik and Tuktoyaktuk, N.W.T., but he maintained the old ice road for years. (Joslyn Oosenbrug/CBC)
 "I was there right from the start," Merven Gruben said. "I used to go out with my dad [Bobby Gruben] with a Bombardier to chisel holes before we had an auger just to check the ice."

Merven Gruben and Wainman both say things changed over the years, going from taking a Caterpillar tractor out to using ground-penetrating radar to determine ice thickness today. They both agree a new road will benefit the Inuvialuit region.  

"Once you get the road open, you'll get more people to Tuk," Merven Gruben said. "The end of the road always attracts people."

The territorial government and the Hamlet of Tuktoyaktuk are holding a celebration of the ice road on April 13, with Inuvialuit drum dancing, a community feast, snow sculptures and polar dipping. 


  • An earlier version of this story incorrectly referred to E. Gruben as Merven Gruben's father. It also neglected to mention that Justin Gruben is a co-owner of E. Gruben Transport.
    Apr 11, 2017 8:20 AM CT