High Arctic Haulers·Video

Bringing electricity to the 'place that never melts'

How a long-awaited replacement power plant is changing life in Canada's northernmost community.

Waiting for power in Grise Fiord

3 years ago
Duration 1:56
Canada's northernmost civilian community, Grise Fiord, Nunavut, endured constant power outages for years as they waited for their failing power plant to be replaced.

For the 130 people who live in Grise Fiord, Nunavut — Canada's most northern community — power outages were an almost-daily occurrence. A 57-year-old generator was the hamlet's only energy source, and it desperately needed to be replaced. Temperatures in Grise Fiord can drop to -50°C, and its residents spend almost four months a year in complete darkness.

Power is a big deal around here. The house can freeze up within three hours.- Manasie Noah, Grise Fiord resident

"Power is a big deal around here," says Manasie Noah, a Grise Fiord resident. "The house can freeze up within three hours. [Power] also provides light for our children who are walking on the street. Streetlights will give them a warning if there is a polar bear on the beach. We need power."

A warning sign of dangerous wildlife near the residential area of Grise Fiord, Nunavut (CBC | High Arctic Haulers)

A community with a dark past

The generator was almost as old as the community itself. Back in early 1950s, the government forcibly relocated eight Inuit families from northern Quebec to the shores of Ellesmere Island, about 1,000 kilometres above the Arctic Circle. Cold War tensions had the Canadian government wanting to assert its territorial sovereignty over the Arctic, and that meant having a permanent settlement just 1,500 km south of the North Pole. 

The site of the original settlement in Grise Fiord, Nunavut (CBC | High Arctic Haulers)

The original families were told that they would be provided for, that they could hunt and live off the land as they had in Quebec, and, if they didn't like it, they could come home. Instead, they were virtually abandoned in one of the coldest places on Earth.

"Grise Fiord, in Inuktitut it's 'Ausuittuq,' meaning 'It never melts,'" says the hamlet's mayor, Meeka Kiguktak.

'Reliable energy for the next 50 years'

The arrival of a new power plant on the sealift — an annual delivery of everything the community needs, from food to classrooms to remote Arctic hamlets — meant a huge improvement to the quality of life in Grise Fiord.

A the components of an entire power plant for the community of Grise Fiord, Nunavut get unloaded from the annual sealift (CBC | High Arctic Haulers )

This community had more power outages than any other community in Nunavut. They fought to get a new plant for a long time, so to have it arrive on the ship with the rest of the cargo marked a new start in some ways. "It feels good, we finally get something here. Reliable energy for the next 50 years." said James Flaherty, who works for the territory's energy corporation.

It feels good, we finally get something here. Reliable energy for the next 50 years.- James Flaherty, Grise Fiord original resident
A utilities technician works on power lines as a new power plant gets installed (CBC | High Arctic Haulers)

A new plant brings new hope

Flaherty was born in Grise Fiord and he fully understands just how important the new power plant is to the community. 

"I just wish that our parents were alive to see that," says Flaherty. "They went through so much. But they survived. This community is very, very strong."

A monument overlooking the ocean that pays tribute to the Inuit who were relocated to the harsh environment of Grise Fiord in the 1950s (CBC | High Arctic Haulers )

The arrival of the long-awaited power plant is documented in Episode 7 of High Arctic Haulers.