High Arctic Haulers

The road to a new vehicle when you live in the Far North

In communities like In Chesterfield Inlet, Nunavut, getting a new vehicle is a little more complicated than a simple trip to the dealership. Watch this first episode of High Arctic Haulers Sunday at 8 p.m. (8:30 NT) on CBC and CBC Gem

In Chesterfield Inlet, getting a new vehicle is a little more complicated than a simple trip to the dealership

Vicki's pick-up

2 years ago
Duration 1:15
Busy mom Vicki Tanuyak is dependent on a vehicle, but it's not easy to acquire and maintain such necessities in her isolated northern hometown of Chesterfield Inlet, Nunavut.

Many of us know what it's like to need a new vehicle. Vicki Tanuyak, a mom of three, depends on her pickup to get around Chesterfield Inlet, Nunavut, where her family lives on the western shores of Hudson Bay. The coastal community doesn't have an auto repair shop, let alone a dealership where one might hope to find parts for their specific vehicle. So when her truck started to break down, Tanuyak knew she had to start saving up for a replacement. 

  • Meet Vicki in the first episode of High Arctic Haulers: Chasing Ice Sunday January 5, 8 p.m. (8:30 NT) on CBC and CBC Gem

"It's not like you can drive into a dealership and get it fixed," the teacher says with a smile. "It doesn't work like that in the North." 

As she put money aside, her aging pickup's shocks gave out, making the hamlet's unpaved roads difficult to navigate. Once, the heater failed when the temperature dipped to 60 below, and she couldn't see out her frozen windshield. Finally, after two years of saving, Tanuyak could afford to buy a replacement vehicle. During a trip to Winnipeg to manage family affairs, she visited a dealership and picked out her new truck. But her wait wasn't over.

The sealift is our lifeline. It is our roads. It is our survival. It is vital.- Madeleine Redfern, former Mayor of Iqaluit

The Logistics

Chesterfield Inlet is like all isolated communities in the Far North, with no roads in or out to link them to the rest of the country. Many of the 400 inhabitants are resilient hunters and anglers, capable of surviving the harshest weather. However, they rely on the sealift, a fleet of cargo ships, to deliver goods the land can't provide — everything from toilet paper to telephone poles. 

"Whether you are Iqaluit, the capital, or Grise Fiord, the smallest [community], in order to grow you need materials and supplies," says Madeleine Redfern, who served as Iqaluit's mayor until October 2019. "The sealift is our lifeline. It is our roads. It is our survival. It is vital." 

Taiga Desgagnes sealift in Chesterfield Inlet (CBC | High Arctic Haulers)

Getting those essential items, like Tanuyak's truck, to the Arctic takes time, money and risk. The sealift has a short window to make deliveries, between July and October, when the weather is clear enough and the waters aren't frozen.  To receive her vehicle in July, Tanuyak had to have it purchased and delivered to a port just south of Montreal by May to ensure it would be loaded onto one of the first ships.

Sure, delivery by plane is faster, but some items can't be flown in. Airlifts are also much more expensive — sometimes nearly six times the cost of shipping by sea. As it is, Tanuyak would have paid about $2,700 to have her new truck delivered to Chesterfield Inlet on the sealift.

A winter view of Chesterfield Inlet, Nunavut

3 years ago
Duration 0:36
A winter compilation of beautiful drone footage of Chesterfield Inlet, Nunavut.

The Delivery

Excited for her new vehicle to arrive, Tanuyak monitored the progress of the cargo ship, the Taïga Desgagnés, as it made its way north. She checked online daily to make sure the massive ship wasn't delayed by ice or weather. 

What she couldn't see on her tablet screen, though, was when the Taïga had to outrun a vicious storm on Hudson Bay. The crew made sure all the items were double lashed so nothing would fall overboard in the high waves, wind and sleet. Running full tilt, the engines nearly overheated, but the ship made it through to clear skies and calm waters with Tanuyak's truck still safely onboard.

Taiga Desgagnes Barges unload in Chesterfield Inlet (CBC | High Arctic Haulers)

The Arrival

"I see something red. My truck!" Tanuyak exclaims the afternoon the Taïga arrives. She and her kids are waiting on the beach of Chesterfield Inlet along with other community members. There's excitement in the air as the ship's crew starts the laborious task of unloading 429 tonnes of cargo for the hamlet.

Vicki's red truck arrives in Chesterfield Inlet (CBC | High Arctic Haulers)

Finally, after years of saving, planning and waiting, Tanuyak gets the keys to her new vehicle. "I'm so happy," she says as she sits behind the wheel for the first time. "I'm going be driving around probably all day today! The whole feeling of just us having a new start is really important."

Vicki is featured in the first episode of High Arctic Haulers, a new documentary series on CBC that follows sealift crews as they travel north to make deliveries to isolated communities like Chesterfield Inlet. In this episode, the fleet faces the worst sea ice they've encountered in years, as global warming has caused tonnes of glacial debris to clog the shipping lanes. In combination with intense summer storms, the ships struggle to reach their drop-off points while communities gather on the beach, awaiting resupply for everything from diapers to bright red pick-up trucks.

Watch High Arctic Haulers Sundays 8 p.m. (8:30 NT) on CBC and CBC Gem