IQALUIT, Nunavut – For decades, high tide has been rush hour in Iqaluit as fishermen and hunters scramble to run their boats up on shore and anchor them before the sea ebbs.
“All the boaters and hunters start to come in all at once,” deputy Iqaluit mayor Simon Nattaq said through a translator. “Sometimes it can get pretty dangerous.”
Those days may become a thing of the past. The federal government on Thursday committed up to $64 million to finance a deepwater port, which has been at the top of Nunavut’s wish list for years.
“I’m glad it’s in my lifetime,” laughed transportation minister Monica Ell.
“It will realize more economic activity and reduce potential economic disruption. We have tourism opportunities — I’m thinking of cruise ships being able to come here more often. For ships, they have a safer and quicker opportunity to unload goods brought here.”
Ell said construction projects have been delayed by up to a year when ships have been unable to offload heavy equipment due to ice or bad weather. A port means those delays would end.
All but one of Nunavut’s 25 communities are on the coast. Only one has any kind of docking facility.
Nunavummiut throughout the territory have long complained that coastlines from Newfoundland to Vancouver Island have hundreds of government-owned harbours, while they have nothing.
Even in Iqaluit, supplies shipped from the south must be loaded onto barges and hauled up onto the only Coast-Guard-administered beach in Canada. Cruise ship tourists must cross sometimes choppy waters on inflatable boats if they want to visit the communities they pass.
At least one Inuit fisherman has died while trying to get to his boat moored offshore, which he was trying to move in advance of a storm.
As early as 2006, federal ministers had a proposal — complete with designs and economic impact — for seven ports around the territory. The total cost would have been $41 million over five years.
The single port in Thursday’s announcement is expected to cost $85 million, which includes about $20 million from Nunavut.
Federal environment minister and soon-to-be federal Conservative candidate Leona Aglukkaq called the project a “game-changer” that will bring big benefits.
“As it is now, many of the fishing industry goes to Greenland to offload,” said Aglukkaq, who was in Iqaluit for the announcement.
“This has been a project that has been talked about for many, many years. I was very honoured to deliver this project for the people of Iqaluit.”
Sources say a federal election is expected to be called this weekend and Conservative ministers are appearing coast to coast to make funding announcements.
“Every time I come to Iqaluit I make an announcement,” Aglukkaq said. “When I come home, I like to share with my constituents what I’ve been able to deliver.”
The port would include a small-craft harbour and larger facility for other vessels. It is expected that it would reduce the off-loading time for dry cargo to 20 working days from 60 and cut fuel off-loading to five working days from 15.
It would increase safety and reduce risk of damage to small boats. It could also be a potential base of operations for military or search-and-rescue operations.
“It’s very important to have a small craft harbour in Iqaluit,” said Nattaq. “It will be better and more convenient for the hunters and fishermen (as well as) very convenient for cruise ships.”
Construction is expected to begin next summer.