Where to Go | Polar Unbound

Where to Go

SVALBARD

SVALBARD

Svalbard’s everything the High Arctic should be: untouched icefields, glittering icebergs and towering snow-swept glaciers. It’s immeasurable Arctic night, unfading summer sunlight. It’s untouched wilderness and epic polar exploration. It’s a distant frontier that takes you out of yourself and into the wild. The archipelago and its point of entry, Longyearbyen, shows you what the Arctic can be at 78° north.  That—and it’s one of the best places to see polar bears in their natural habitat. Kayak among icebergs, venture into the fjords and trek the tundra in Svalbard. 

NUNAVUT

NUNAVUT

Nunavut may be Canada’s youngest territory, but it was settled more than 4,000 years ago. Today, it’s steeped in the Inuit culture, crawling with Arctic wildlife and home to sprawling expanses of breathtaking wilderness. 

Taking up most of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago, Nunavut is a sprawling Arctic wonderland with plenty of sites to offer. It’s home to the northernmost permanent habitation on earth and many also consider it the gateway to the Arctic. 

Popular destinations include the cities of Iqaluit, Pangnirtung, Resolute and Grise Fiord; Sirmilik National Park and Auyuittuq National Park can also be found here.

VICTORY POINT

VICTORY POINT

Victory Point, an otherwise undistinguished spot on King William Island in Nunavut, has gained notoriety in its significant role in unraveling the elusive ate of the Franklin expedition. It was at Victory Point that Frances Leopold McClintock, leading a search party for Franklin, discovered a cairn containing a letter left from earlier search party—a letter indicating 3 cairns standing sentinel at Victory Point. One of the cairns contained two discrete messages from the captain of the HMS Erebus, one of the Franklin expedition ships, detailing both an optimistic send-off for further exploration and the subsequent death of Franklin and abandonment of his ships. 

Travelers to Victory Point can expect rocks, caribou and musk ox, and windswept plains, but it’s worthy of a stop simply because it’s where the paper trail of the Franklin Expedition concludes. 

FORT ROSS (SOMERSET ISLAND; HUDSON BAY CO TRADING OUTPOST)

Fort Ross, a Hudson’s Bay Company trading outpost, lies in the southeastern corner of Somerset Island. These days, it’s a prime Arctic hotspot for travelers sailing the Northwest Passage through Bellot Strait. Despite its tourist attraction, Fort Ross doesn’t offer souvenirs alongside its lonesome views of deserted clapboard buildings. Instead, its primary draw lies in its association with the ill-fated Sir John Franklin expedition. 

Frances Leopold McClintock, hired by Lady Jane Franklin to search for her husband, sailed up Bellot Strait and settled into what became Depot Bay, eventually discovering evidence regarding the downfall of the Franklin expedition. 

The outpost itself—the first east-west trading post through the strait constructed in 1937—was only operational for about 11 years before it was shut down due to declarations that the severe ice made it both difficult to access and inefficient. 

Visitors can walk up to McClintock’s cairn and monument, the outpost’s weather-worn buildings, still-used storehouse and a small house filled with former essentials neighboring four unmarked graves. 

Nunavut's Arctic Archipelago Beechey Island

BEECHEY ISLAND 

Beechey Island, a National Historic Site of Canada, remains a favorite landing for travelers to Canada’s high Arctic. Beechey Island, part of Nunavut’s Arctic archipelago, is not actually an island at all, but a peninsula attached to Devon Island. Stepping foot on Beechey Island takes one back into history, into the era of Arctic exploration. 

Captain William Edward Parry was Beechey Island’s first European visitor in 1819, and Franklin and his crew stopped by in 1845 on their ill-fated journey. You can even see the gravestones of 3 of Franklin’s crew on the island. Beyond Parry and Franklin, many explorers wintered on Beechey Island over the years, drawn by its smooth topography and small hill providing some shelter. After Franklin’s disappearance, Beechey Island was also used as a base-point and supply depot for the search parties. 

When stopping by Beechey Island, look for the Franklin expedition’s wintering camp, the Northumberland House supply depot used after Franklin’s disappearance, two message cairns, the HMS Breadalbane site where the British ship went down, and the Devon Island site located at Cape Riley. 

Lancaster Sound Arctic

LANCASTER SOUND

Lancaster Sound, otherwise known as Tallurutiup Imanga, is the Arctic’s wildlife superhighway located right at the Northwest Passage’s eastern entrance. Lancaster Sound is not only rich in biodiversity; many consider it the “ecological engine” of the Canadian Arctic’s eastern marine ecosystem. Upwelling of nutrient-rich waters and present of polynyas (areas of open water surrounded by ice pack) make this region ideal for marine mammals and birds. And truly, Lancaster Sound’s referred to as a “superhighway” because it serves as a significant east-to-west migratory corridor running from Baffin Bay to the Arctic Archipelago. Many species traverse the region as they travel from their winter to summer habitats. 

If you’re hoping to catch a look at Arctic wildlife, Lancaster Sound should be on your list. Up to 75% of the global narwhal population can be found here and up to 20% of the Canadian beluga population can be found here. 6,500 bowhead whales swim through Lancaster Sound per year. It’s also home to some of the Canadian Arctic’s largest seabird colonies as well as Canada’s largest subpopulation of polar bears.

Recently, Lancaster Sound also became the Canada’s largest national marine conservation area area—the final boundary protection the region from future offshore oil and gas exploration. The conservation area will not only protect the significant ecological region as well as the rich Inuit heritage that has thrived there far back into history.