A Placemaking Journal

Itilleq: Heart of the Arctic Day 12

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

We crossed the Arctic Circle at 07:37 today!

Early in the day, we landed at Itilleq, a tiny community of 97 people, set in a hollow between two hillsides. Itilleq means hollow. The tiny colorful wooden homes are a complete switch from Canada’s Arctic communities, here arranged as compactly as the stony landscape will allow.

The hamlet is around a central soccer pitch, where the locals soundly beat our company at a match, 7 to 6. The pitch also doubles as a helipad when needed, during the parts of the year that the community is iced in. Here, all is frugal and functional.

The planned journey in full. Click for larger view.

The planned journey in full. Click for larger view.

This fishing community takes cod and halibut, and became a trading station in 1847. At 49 kilometres south of Sisimiut, the local school teaches grades one to seven. Right now, seven children attend the Itilleq school.

Several of the elders and children returned to the ship with us for a late lunch, and to talk with us through an inspiring Adventure Canada staffer, attorney and Inuit leader, Aaju Peter. Aaju (pronounced AI-you) is one inspiring woman who stole all our hearts on this trip, teaching us, leading us, and keeping us safe. She also lived in Itilleq through grade one and translated Greenlandic for us.

One of our first questions to the local elders, who were both also women, was about trying to understand the population decline. In 2002, 133 people lived here. This precipitous drop of 27% is largely due to the few jobs, mainly being the fish factory, store, post office and school.

However, in general, even this tiny community shows signs of long-term nurture, both locally and federally. While there are no cars in Itilleq and dirt roads, the government did build a seaport here in the 1930’s, when it moved the community from 1 kilometer away and added a desalination plant.

This level of Danish investment in Greenland is something we don’t see in Canada, where there are few similar seaports in the Canadian Arctic. Here, the tiny Itilleq serves an important role in this hunter/fisher region.

On a lighter personal note, today is also the day we polar dipped! Scores of us jumped into the Arctic waters! Icy cold and extra salty, it was an invigorating and slightly surreal experience. I’d definitely do it again.

This was our last night on the ship. The plural Inuktitut word for goodbye, “tavvauvusit” translates, “There you all are,” and is said with a bow to the brevity of life. This trip helped us all get present, being thankful of our time on earth in one extraordinary region.

John Houston helped us learn that word. It has a similar spirit to the old Irish toast, which he quoted: “Here’s a health to the company, and one to my lass. Let’s drink and be merry all out of one glass. Let’s drink and be merry, all grief to refrain. For we may or might never all be here again.”

My fellow travelers and Adventure Canada staffers were rather amazing people, who’ve taught me much about the top of the world. I hope to see many of them again. Until then, they’ve changed the way I think about conservation, preservation, and community.


To read the entire Heart of the Arctic series, go here.

Hazel Borys

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