Ellesmere Island in Nunavut is the northernmost populated place in Canada. The world's tenth largest island, Ellesmere Island has one small community (Grise Fiord) which is reachable by air (from Resolute Bay on Cornwallis Island) or – seasonally – by sea in summer. A far northern military base (CFB Alert) and weather station (Eureka) are reachable only by aircraft.
Ellesmere Island is the northernmost populated place on Canadian land, 4,654 km north of Middle Island and Point Pelee. Established primarily as a means to establish Canadian sovereignty in the high Arctic, it consists of three small communities:
- Grise Fiord, at the southern tip of the island, is a small native village established in the Cold War era of the 1950s. There is a school, a church and a store.
- Eureka, at 80° north near the middle of the island, is a research and meteorological outpost. There is a token military presence to operate satellite links at "Fort Eureka"; CFB Alert cannot be reached directly by geosynchronous satellite, so the signal beyond Eureka must be carried overland.
- CFB Alert, at 82° north, is a Cold War radio listening post operated by a skeleton crew. The northernmost point, it is geographically closer to Moscow than to Ottawa-Hull.
This is the land of the midnight sun; months of sunlight in summer, months of darkness in winter.
- See also: Next to impossible destinations
Almost all transport is by air. The only scheduled destination is Grise Fiord Airport (YGZ IATA), which has one regular connection from Resolute, 85 minutes away by Twin Otter plane. Flights run twice weekly, costing over $900 return (as of 2005). A Twin Otter can carry 1000-1200 kg, enough for eight to ten people and cargo. Air Nunavut and Borek Air fly cargo and a handful of passengers to the small 134-person village.
Access to Quttinirpaaq National Park requires chartering a Twin Otter from Resolute Bay, an expensive four-hour flight. There are no scheduled services.
Access to CFB Alert is by military aircraft, which operate from Canada's largest air force base at Trenton (Ontario).
- There is an airport van that meets the Borek plane when it arrives from Resolute.
- One may travel by dogsled or snow machine with an Inuit guide from Grise Fiord.
- Marine wildlife, iceberg, Beluga whale and polar bear watching
- Thule and European expedition sites can be viewed nearby
- Hike Grise Fiord's glaciers and ice caps
- Snowmobile and boat trips, hiking, walking, photography
- Spend a night in an igloo.
- Quttinirpaaq National Park of Canada is 640km (425 miles) north of Grise Fiord on Ellesmere Island (a distance comparable to "Drummondville to Toronto") .
With the possible exception of some local handicrafts or locally-caught fish and game, expect practically everything to be very expensive. This is a remote location where everything has to be flown in or brought by boat. The storekeeper has to cover shipping costs not only on the merchandise but also on fuel for heating the store and running a generator.
- There is a small selection of groceries at the co-op store in Grise Fiord. There are no bars, pubs or taverns.
- 1 Grise Fiord Inuit Lodge, Grise Fiord Inuit Co-operative, ☎ , fax: . Attached to a local co-op store (with native crafts and a limited grocery selection), this eight-room lodge with 24 beds is one of few accommodations available. Meals are included in the rates.
Conventional landline telephony is available in Grise Fiord in Nunavut's area code +1-867. Calls destined to Eureka and Alert are placed by calling a federal government number in Ottawa, plus a four-digit extension; voice and data is brought into Eureka by military satellite link then overland to Alert. Bandwidth, unsurprisingly, is somewhat limited.
Mobile telephones have no signal in most Canadian High Arctic points outside the three territorial capitals. Satellite telephone coverage is poor; Iridium works all the way to the North Pole but systems that rely on satellites parked above the Equator may fail to communicate – especially if the satellite's location is anywhere other than exactly due south – as they simply disappear below the horizon.
Quttinirpaaq is polar bear country. Whiteouts and hazardous winter conditions are not uncommon; avalanche risk and glacial conditions are common, while adverse weather may delay departure or return for days. Untested water must be boiled or disinfected before consumption in the wild. Access to first aid is limited; self-reliance, map/GPS navigation and complete safety equipment are a necessity. Experience and training in wilderness travel, knowledgeable companions and/or the services of an outfitter or experienced guide are a necessity.
Any rescue in the park or in uninhabited portions of the island is an expensive and arduous task, as resources may need to be brought in from outside Nunavut. Park visitors must notify authorities of their arrival and their safe return to avoid the unnecessary launch of a very expensive search expedition.
See also cold weather; the island has lots of that.
- Sisimiut, Greenland is also relatively close geographically, but there are no scheduled connections.