Friday, January 11, 2013

Working in Nunavut, Part 1: Making the Move

Update November 2013: You can read part 2 here.

Recently, I was asked to write for a blog community in my field about working in the Arctic. I started writing without a clear plan, and came up with an honest reflection of how I feel after working here for a few months. Here is what I came up with - apologies to everyone I already spammed with the article; I just really wanted to share it here as well. :)

After many discussions with our families, my husband and I packed up and moved from everything we knew in Southwestern Ontario to the territory of Nunavut. I’m not sure what possessed me to apply to a job so far away from friends and family, but this bold move has led to a life-changing experience that we’ve been living for the past half year.

I was prepared for the drop in temperature, the (extreme) increase in cost of groceries, and the other changes one would expect from moving to a new town. What I wasn’t prepared for was the changes I’d be faced with in my work, and in what I know about my field. Having worked in the field for the past number of years, in locations across North America, practicing my craft in the north was the least of my worries—I was more focused on how much of our everyday lives we would need to stockpile. Questions that would have previously landed me on an episode of Hoarders suddenly became appropriate: Is it socially acceptable to clear off an entire shelf of pasta sauce at the grocery store? How much shampoo is enough shampoo? While I tried to take it as a compliment whenever someone compared my living room to a warehouse, more than once I found myself hesitating over my purchases, because I kept asking myself, “How different can it be? It’s still Canada.” Little did I know that those 1,600 miles between Home and Nunavut would be paved with a world of change.

Aside from the adjustment to everyday life in the Canadian Arctic, I’ve had to adapt to a culture of which I previously knew little. There are a lot of social nuances in a hamlet of 1,800—nuances that you have to learn pretty quickly. One thing I realised in the first couple of days is that the entire community shuts down for lunch every weekday, with schools, daycares, and most businesses emptying themselves like clockwork, from 12pm to 1pm. As someone who always got caught up at work and who never realised it was long past 5pm in Ontario, I’ve had to adjust to going home right at the end of the day. My office also follows the break schedule fairly religiously – 10am and 3pm are 15 minute breaks that people take every day. Not being used to this practice, one of my first few days on the job I looked around at 10:05 and wondered whether I had missed hearing a fire alarm!

But I’m not writing all of this so you can get an idea of how mellow the north can be, in comparison with Ontario. What I’m saying is this: I’ve had to learn how to re-order my life, disassembling it and learning how to piece it back together in a northern-patterned-puzzle. I’ve had to take my straight-edged schedules and curve them to the demands of my new surroundings—in much the same ways as I imagine companies must have, in their earlier years.

Being so far away and isolated from major cities and resources, organizations need to be resourceful in their operations. Best practices may not always work in the north because of technological or resource gaps—for example, the cost to have an internet connection with high bandwidth is an astronomical expense, and it isn’t even close to the same speeds. Equipment, machines, supplies, and other such necessities need to be flown or shipped in, in the summer, because while all roads may lead to Rome, none lead to Nunavut. The territory’s 26 communities are accessible only by plane or by barges when the ice thaws. As well, employee turnover is higher because there aren’t enough skilled workers to complete the work, and many roles need to be filled by southerners (those who hail from below the 60th parallel) who don’t tend to stay for long tenures. All to say, there are numerous obstacles that present themselves up here that aren’t considerations to organizations in the south.

With so many unique challenges facing organizations in the north, business practices have both pros and cons. On the one hand, the inability to apply certain programs and processes due to cultural, technological and resource constraints makes it feel as though we have fallen behind our southern counterparts and are working feverishly to catch up. There is mounting frustration each time we are held back in our endeavours because we just don’t have the capacity. On the other hand, this lack of resources is also freeing, as not only does it allow for creativity, it demands it. As such, it’s a privilege to be able to establish a new “frontier”, and to be able to see and be a part of the revitalization of traditional practices.

I feel the same excitement I felt when I first started working and was convinced I was going to make a difference in the business world. I am more inspired and innovative than ever – having to rely on what I really know, versus resting on the comfort of routine fixes.  Moving to the north was the restart that my career needed to keep me current and reconnected. A 1,600 mile move may not be the best decision for everyone, but I highly encourage a shake-up in terms of problem solving. Dust off the creative cobwebs and think outside the box. It may be the boldest move you make.

-L

36 comments:

  1. Hi, thanks for the post. I have an interview for a position in Nunavut next week and had some questions that I hope you may be able to answer to help me in any decisions should I be offered a position. The job itself would be an incredible professional challenge and opportunity for me but of course, there are other factors. :) The position does not come with subsidized housing and there is nothing online regarding housing costs in Baker Lake (the position states various communities for location with Baker Lake seeming to be my top choice- if I am able to choose). Also, transportation? Is it worth shipping a vehicle or investing in skidoos... Also, food. I know that food is incredibly expensive, luckily I don't tend to eat a ton of processed foods however I am a vegetarian and feel concerned at the lack of affordable food options (especially without tofu... being my main source of protein). Lastly, of course, I am eager to save some money... any thoughts on the needed salary to cover the high cost of living while still leaving enough to save up?

    Any advice is greatly appreciated!

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    1. I drove the ice roads and have a son who is a mechanic in a diamond mine. We both agreed the money is not as good as we can get in Alberta or B.C. The companies treated us poorly, food was scarce and very bad. I have nothing but bad thoughts of working in the north and would not advise it to anyone, at least in the blue collar industries

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  2. Hello and welcome to the blog! :) Hopefully I can catch all your questions here:

    1. Housing is not cheap and most positions that recruit from the south should/do offer subsidized housing. It is difficult to find housing because the waiting list for social housing is long and can take months. Housing would be the first thing I confirm before I consider the move. Even with subsidized housing you are still probably looking at rent around $1000+ for a one bedroom and higher.

    2. Shipping a vehicle is expensive and if you do it, you should do it in the summer on the barges. It will likely cost anywhere from $3500 to $5000 to ship it from Winnipeg or Ottawa. It will be exponentially more expensive to ship it any other way.

    We have debated back and forth around the idea of what we would want as a vehicle and although a skidoo is good for the winter, they are stationary in the nice months. Most people have quads that they also install a block heater in so they can drive them in the winter - that is likely your most economical option unless you can find a used vehicle in whatever community you end up in.

    3. Although the selection of fresh produce isn't huge, there is generally enough to keep us pretty happy from week to week here in Baker. Larger communities like Iqaluit will have a much wider selection of groceries/stores to shop at. Healthy foods are subsidized through the Nutrition North program so they are much cheaper than processed foods. I also do a lot of shopping online or through southern grocers to send up plenty of healthy food options - I have a steady supply of tofu myself! :)

    4. Salary is so personal based on your own situation and where you are in your life financially, so I don't know if I can accurately give you a good answer to this part of your question. Some positions offer a northern living allowance on top of your salary to offset the high cost, so look into that when you are interviewing as well.

    Hope that helps!! Good luck on your interview! If you make it to Baker, look us up! :)

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  3. Lily, do you have any advice for someone moving not as far north? My wife and I will be moving to Northern Manitoba (community of about 5,000). They have a couple of grocery stores, a KFC, a small shopping mall, video rental, music store, and even satellite campus for a university. From what I hear, things are a bit more reasonably priced because a major highway leads to this town. She's teaching and we have housing set up with all of the other teachers.

    My big questions are...

    What kind of car do we need? We've lived in New Brunswick, where they rarely plow and a simple car with snow tires was fine. I have seen photos with all kinds of cars but we're thinking of upgrading so we have more essentials to bring with us. Four wheel drive would be great but we're not sure we would want or even have a reason to head out of town during the winter.

    The other thing is, what kind of stuff should we bring that we will never see during the year? We're fairly quiet and stick to ourselves so we thought, laptops (stocked with videos, tv and music), ereaders, books, board games, etc. What else would you consider? I do like fishing so I'm thinking about that. :)

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    1. Hi! Although there are similarities to a remote community like here in Baker, I'm sure you'll find that Northern Manitoba will be less harsh of a system shock once you move! (Having the ability to be connected to other communities, and the option to drive out, helps!)

      That being said, I will try to answer your questions as best as I can, but please remember these are just my personal opinions! :)

      1. We currently drive an Expedition and find that it's quite sufficient for the roads up here, even when the drifts can get a little dicey. Our company fleet also includes an F250 (I wouldn't recommend a pick-up because the unweighted back makes for some fishtailing when it's particularly slippery out). Around town, there are an assortment of cars, including Rangers, Jeeps, and even a small Hummer. The majority of the cars here are SUV's or larger, and I wouldn't suggest you go any smaller than that.

      From what I've seen, the new cars that get sent up in the summer and are driven through their first winter seem to have a lot of trouble adjusting to the cold. Older cars that are used, and in particular, have been driven in the northern climate, are your best bet. Having a used car, in a small town, the mileage you get out of it is amazing (my neighbours bought a car that is a '99 and has 165,000+ km on it and it runs perfectly fine.)

      Whatever you do decide, I strongly suggest you have a block heater installed before you get it to your community. Oh, and buy a really good outdoor extension cord so you can plug it in once the weather drops.

      2. I'm not sure if it comes across in the blog, but Jeff and I are pretty quiet people as well. Aside from the neighbours, we mainly stick to ourselves unless there is a specific function we've been invited to. For that reason, I totally understand where you're coming from! :)

      You're going to want your fishing gear if you're into that! You'll welcome the change of pace and it'll be nice to have it should you decide to go fishing one day. If you don't bring it and change your mind later, you may regret not bringing it - so better to be safe than sorry!

      You seem to have the entertainment genre pretty well covered, but also bring a portable hard drive if you have one/can get one so you can trade your videos, tv shows, ebooks, etc. with people once you meet them. We found there's a pretty good exchange circle here of people who are willing to swap and it's a lot easier to have a portable drive than having to burn dvds, etc.

      I brought a lot of stationary with me and have found joy in the art of writing home - funny cards, random letters, etc. It keeps the loneliness at bay and it's fun when you start getting them back in return from whomever you sent them to.

      My biggest advice I suppose, is whatever you enjoy doing now - whether it's reading, movies, outdoor things, cooking, or whatever makes you happy - bring things to supplement it. Chances are, your stores in town may not carry that much stuff, or their choices are going to be very limited, so stock up on everything you think you'll need - even at the time you think it's silly, you'll be thankful for it later. (ex. I brought a fake tree for our living room even though it was a hassle to ship - but there are no trees here and it makes me very happy. Same with our Christmas tree and our decorations; the store sells a limited supply but it's crazy expensive and not as nice as the ones we brought. You get the picture!)

      Does that help? I hope I didn't ramble too much! :) Let me know if you have any other questions I can help with. You can either comment here, or contact us using our contact box in the menu to the right of your screen. :)

      Good luck!
      Lily

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  4. Hi Lily,

    After reading it carefully your blog and response to someone's query on moving to Nunavut, I thought of writing to you on something that I would like to know from you.

    My query is: Is it possible for a Asian(Indian Woman) to get job in Nunavut ?

    Thanks
    Winnie

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    1. Hi Winnie - sorry I didn't see this comment until today!!

      I haven't heard of anyone having trouble getting a job because of their gender/race. I am an Asian woman and I found a job. It all depends on what is available and what skill sets may be a match (no different than the south)

      Hope that helps!

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  5. in small communities in the north in your experience, would a gay couple be welcomed? I am looking at jobs in cambridge bay.

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    1. Why don't you email me and we can chat?

      Nunavutchillers at gmail dot com

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  6. so I emailed you not sure if you got it but mine is nicholas_gauthier at hotmail dot com

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  7. My husband and I are considering the move to Iqualuit, Nunavut. The pay is great and they're covering the cost of a furnished 2 bedroom apt. I understand that groceries will be expensive and I cook everything from scratch to avoid chemicals and sodium. Can I find fresh vegetables, spices, bread flour, yeast, etc? Can I start a small garden in the summer? What grows in Nunavut? Since fish is local, is it inexpensive and are there farms or is everything expensive? Do they have pet stores? Is there a website where I can find the list of local foods, shops, and costs? There are stores like Walmart and Old Navy, where you shop online and have your items shipped...is that a possibility in Nunavut? Also, I have a health condition and need regular annual checkups with a GI specialist; is this possible in Nunavut? It is still Canada, so I know they have health care.

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    1. Me again - Also, how do we move our belongings (not furniture but necessary equipment and electronics) to Nunavut from Nova Scotia?

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    2. Hi! Iqaluit is quite different from many of the other communities since it is the "big city" in Nunavut. You'll find that it is akin to a small town in the south - there are options for groceries, restaurants, entertainment, etc. that isn't available across the territory.

      Yes, you will have access to fresh vegetables, spices, flours, etc. but it may not be as expansive a selection as you would find outside Nunavut. The last time I was there, the stores were starting to try to carry a variety of items - and I know that stores are open to suggestions if you ask them for certain items you can't find.

      If you can't find things, there are options to have things shipped up as well.

      Many people will do indoor gardens in the summers since the sunlight is so abundant. I believe Iqaluit also has a community greenhouse that you can be part of. I myself grew many simple herbs in the house and they turned out fine.

      No, there are no fish farms. You can sometimes buy off local people if they are willing to share, or go fishing yourself. I don't believe there is a specific site that lists the things you are looking for, no.

      Many places do ship to Nunavut - I have written a couple posts such as this one, that may be helpful to you: http://nunavutchillers.blogspot.com/2013/05/shipping-woes_17.html

      Yes, there is health care - but there are limited services in the north. Iqaluit has a hospital so they can do some things, but if you have an existing relationship with a specialist that requires you to see them specifically, you will need to fly out to see them. Many places of employment will offer the medical travel benefit which means they will pay for your expenses to fly down for appointments. I'd look into that when you start working.

      If you are being relocated by your company, they will assist you with moving your belongings. Most of the time, it is driven as far as possible on trucks and then flown into the territory.

      Hope that helps! Let me know if you have more questions!
      Lily

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  8. Hi Lily: I value all the information you shared. I am not able to see any pictures of houses and would like to have an idea of the rental units. How they look like? There is anything indoor swiming pools in Baker Lake? Where do you do laundry in Baker Lake? Do they offer one bedroom or two bedrooms housing units? How much can a person pay a month for hydro? Do you have telephone services at home? Thank you Patricia

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    1. Hi Lily,

      I'm eagerly awaiting your reply to these questions, I have pretty much the same questions. :-)

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    2. Hi Patricia,

      Here is a link to our post of what our home looked like - though we were really lucky and were in a newly built duplex. It is based on availability, so we were lucky because many places were not as spacious/bright/new, etc.

      http://nunavutchillers.blogspot.com/2012/10/home-sweet-home.html

      Baker does have an indoor swimming pool, but it is only open during the short summer (it is not heated and very heavily chlorinated). There are no laundromats, etc. so most houses have their own laundry.

      Housing is tricky because it is dependent upon availability. There are 1 - 4 bedroom units, but it may not always be available. (For instance, we requested a 2 bedroom unit and ended up in a 3 bedroom, etc.)

      Utilities really depend on the size of your unit and how much of it you use. I really can't give you a specific answer without knowing your consumption and where you would be living, sorry.

      Yes, we had telephone service via Northwestel as well as cellular service through Virgin/Bell.

      Hope that was helpful! Let me know if you have more questions!
      Lily

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    3. Thank you very much!! and about laundry, the rental units will have then a dryer and a laundy machine? your apartment looks great!! Patricia

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    4. I would assume that units would come with a washer/dryer if you are renting a furnished place. :)

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  9. Hello, I am considering to move for work to Nunavut from PEI. Other than Iqaluit, do you have any recommendations as to places to live and work with some of the options that Iqaluit has? I am wondering about Igloolik or Cape Dorset. Thanks for all the info posted. Very helpful:}

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    1. Unfortunately no other community in Nunavut will have all the same options that Iqaluit has since it it by far the largest. The larger the communities, the more amenities will be offered to you - I believe in terms of size, the next largest are Ranking Inlet, Arviat, Baker and Cambridge Bay.

      What sort of options are you looking for?

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  10. I am so glad you've made a blog about your move. I'm considering also making a move to Nunavut. Bakers lake actually and was wondering if you could shed some light on something for me. I was hoping to rack up some savings while living there, but was recently told by an ex member of the community that any money earned must remain in the territory. I've never heard this before and was curious if it was true. Thanks very much.

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  11. Thanks for the reply.

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  12. Is it possible to be hired as a school teacher at 52 in NWT?
    Thank you.

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    1. No different than applying to be a school teacher at 52 anywhere else - just have to go through the process and have the qualifications they're looking for. :)

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  13. Lily, how easy is it to find a job as an Accountant in Nunavut. I have applied for a couple of positions but one of my colleagues told me that jobs are for locals. Thanks

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    1. I suppose it depends on where you're looking and what qualifications are needed/what you bring to the table. It's really no different than applying to a job anywhere else - there are always candidate pools for employers to choose from. :)

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  14. Hi there, I'm currently entertaining an offer in Baker Lake and will be travelling from Nova Scotia. I've read all the responses and am not sure if i should be taking my Hummer.. will I need wheels and is there a licensed mechanic that would do repairs?
    Did you stock up on your supplies prior to going? Shampoo, body wash, etc and is there somewhere a person coukd get their nails done? Priorities! Any info you could provide woukd be appreciated. Hanks so much, Darlene

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    1. Hi Darlene,

      Thanks for the comment! I would advise against bringing a Hummer - 1) the shipping cost is atrocious unless you put it on the barge, and you can only do that in summer and 2) I wouldn't say it's the most practical of vehicles. Most people drive ATVs and snowmobiles, or get a vehicle that is already in town. (Are you coming for a government role? They have vehicles that can be used for staff)

      I did stock up on supplies, yes - you can look up our posts tagged "supplies" to see what I recommend for sure, and see how much we brought with us. The stores also have decent supplies of that stuff, and you can always buy online and have it shipped up. No, there is nowhere in Baker to get your nails done (trust me, I looked.)

      If you have anymore questions, feel free to email me at nunavutchillers at gmail dot com and I will be happy to answer!

      Lily

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  15. Hi Lily, thank you for your response! I really appreciate the feedback. I will email you directly.

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  16. Hi.iam currently living in Nova Scotia. I had recently took a course and met a young lady that was just hired at a hotel up there. I believe discovery lodge .I misplaced the number for her as she was going to give me all the info.what she explained is that they hired her .paid her way up pay for her stay in hotel ,3 meals a day , and a base salary every 2 weeks . Iam really interested in this or other jobs of the such . Would you know what or if there is "a name for this transition" I found hotel on line but nothing explaining this offer. If you have any info regarding this type of situation I would appriciate it .
    Thanks for your time .
    ShelleyP

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  17. I have always fond of cold places. I only got chance to live in hotter areas. I would definitely love to stay in Arctic and see Northern lights. I also love solitude and smaller community. What kind of work an engineer have there?

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  18. Hello Lily. I'm suppose to be moving up mid January for work with The North West Company to Cape Dorset and i'm wondering if I can get some advice if emailing would be acceptable.

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    1. Absolutely!
      Nunavutchillers at gmail dot com

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  19. hi! great comments!

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  20. Going up to bakers lake Thursday for work sorta scared to go

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