The Current

Grocery store fire prompts panic-buying in Iqaluit, but not everyone can afford high prices, says activist

A fire at one of Iqaluit's only two large grocery stores has left the city's residents concerned about food shortages, but high food prices mean not everyone can afford to stock up, says a community activist.

Food to replace what was lost in fire must be flown or shipped to Nunavut capital

The warehouse of the Northmart in Iqaluit was almost completely destroyed by fire, depleting supplies that are hard to bring to the city. (David Gunn/CBC)

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Shoppers worried about food shortages thronged a grocery store in Iqaluit, Nunavut, Thursday, after a fire burned down the only other large store in town.

But one resident says the high cost of food in the North means not everyone has the option of stocking up.

"There are a number of community members, who are impacted by this fire, that don't have the luxury of being able to afford to go and buy a week's worth of milk and bread and eggs," said Janet Pitsiulaaq​ Brewster, an artist and community activist in the city. 

"I usually go to the store every day on my way home from work, and I spend between $30 and $70 a day, just on the fresh food that we need" she told The Current's guest host Piya Chattopadhyay.

"That's with a family of me, and one 21-year-old and one 12-year-old — both male though, so we know they eat a lot more."

The fire that destroyed the warehouse of the Northmart store was one of several attended by firefighters early Thursday morning. There were no injuries reported, but residents in the surrounding area, including Pitsiulaaq​ Brewster's elderly mother, were evacuated.

Because there is no road connection between Iqaluit and southern Canada, all food must be shipped or flown in, and the city has only one other large grocery store to serve its 7,700 residents.

The federal government's food security program, Nutrition North, provides subsidies for shipping on items deemed to have a nutritional value. But it has been criticized recently for not listening to the concerns of the people it is designed to help. 

Despite the subsidies, prices in the North remain high — a head of lettuce can sell for $24.99 — and food security is a concern.

"The prices are so expensive, that you don't actually look at the actual price because it just hurts so much," Pitsiulaaq​ Brewster joked.

Fire rips through Iqaluit Northmart store

4 years ago
Duration 1:44
Crews work to put out a blaze at the Northmart store in Iqaluit after an early-morning fire forced the evacuation of nearby homes.

To discuss concerns about food security in the North and the challenges following the fire, Chattopadhyay spoke to:

  • Janet Pitsiulaaq​ Brewster, an artist and community activist
  • Madeleine Redfern, mayor of Iqaluit
  • Natan Obed, president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, Canada's national Inuit organization.

Listen to the full discussion near the top of this page.


Produced by Samira Mohyeddin, Caro Rolando and Ines Colabrese.

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