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Chicken Wings $25 a Plate — and a Minus 50 Degrees Wait

Think it's cold in Swampscott today? Check out this fascinating account that Betty Holmes sent us about one of the coldest cities in the world.

From Betty Holmes

I first learned about Baffin Island and the Eskimos in my fourth grade geography class. My nephew traveled to Iqaluit, Nunavut, Canada which is located on the south coast of Baffin Island, at the top of Frobisher Bay. It is not quite within the Arctic circle, but the climate is Arctic and no trees grow there.  My nephew was in Iqaluit in mid-April 2010.  He wrote me about his trip. 

The city of Iqaluit, with a population of 6,699, is the coldest place Dan had  been. This was once an American strategic air force base called Frobisher AFB, on Baffin Island in Canada. During World War II, Frobisher AFB was a refueling stop for planes on the way to Europe to support the war. And in 1955, Iqaluit housed the construction crews building the Distant Early Warning line, the DEW line . When United States left Frobisher AFB, in 1963, the Inuit took over the buildings, and ultimately, the Canadian government set up a territory for the Inuit. Iqaluit became a city in 2001.

Dan wrote, it was -50F every day that I was there in April of 2010.  There are no trees.  The permafrost is 4” below the surface, so 4” is the maximum height trees can grow.  While I was there I got to eat; Lemming, Raven, Ptarmigan, Marmot, Arctic Char, Arctic Prawns, Arctic Hare, Caribou, Yak, Seal, and Polar bear.  I also had the worst chicken wings ever. (FYI:  My favorite food of all time is Yak.)

Once there, I had to stay to finish the job. It takes two days to get to Iqaluit, from the United States, and the plane tickets cost $4,000, so they wouldn’t let me come home for a family funeral.

Well, how would I describe Yak???  Let’s see…  It doesn’t taste anything like chicken.  I suppose the closest thing it tastes like would be goat, and goat is a like lamb but leaner.  In the arctic, the locals hunt and fish then trade with the restaurants for freezer space in the summer months.  (Easier than digging a hole in the frozen ground.)   All of the restaurants serve local food, and it’s cheaper than anything that has to be flown in.  A hamburger like you get at Wendy’s costs $45, but a caribou tenderloin steak is only $10.  They use Yak like beef, and it comes as steaks, roasts, and burgers.  It tastes great, and my favorite was Yak cheese-burger, with French fires made from something like a parsnip.

As for the chicken wings, Wednesday night is “wing” night at the Frobisher Inn, the only hotel on Baffin Island with heat in every room! You get a basket of 10 emaciated wings done any way you like for $25, and the locals can’t get enough.  (I had one basket of Buffalo wings and one of Lemon Pepper)  Since there’s such a demand, you’re required to place your entire order and pay (with tip) up front.  When you’re finished they boot you out the door so someone else can use the table (Get up Jack, let John sit down!)  Meanwhile, the locals are lined up around the building waiting their turn to get in, and it’s minus 50.  They wait in line for hours. Everyone is dressed for the weather, and the momma’s wear jackets with huge hoods.  The babies sit in a papoose under the hood and peek out beside mom’s head.

The wall of the Fire Station, is the only building that doesn’t face south.  So, due to the prevailing winds, they can keep the doors open longer to get fire equipment in and out.  As a result, they have a south- facing wall that the kids can paint. The southern wall gets enough sun to warm it up, so the paint can dry.  When they catch the kids painting they chase them off.  Some of the graffiti is quite like modern art.

Iqaluit was a fun trip, and I made some friends.  I’d love to go back some day, I didn’t get to go dog sledding, which was on my list of things to do while I was there.  There were high winds that were blowing the snow around.  As a result, there was a constant fog of snow that was about waist high once you got away from the buildings.  One local was out hunting seals while I was there, and a Polar Bear got him.  They think it just walked up to him hidden by the blowing snow.  No one was taking tourists out on joy-rides till the snow stopped blowing.  One day a bear came into the area, just outside of town, and a 9 year old boy shot and killed it.  There was a huge party to celebrate, and the kid got to keep any money raised from the bear.  I was going to buy one of the claws, but I was told that I wouldn’t be allowed to bring it into the U.S., so I bought a bear steak instead.

The traffic signs are in English and Inuit.

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