You can’t get there from here

by DaniGirl on March 6, 2007 · 11 comments

in Canadianisms, Life, the Universe and Everything, My inner geek

Link surfing is a wonderful thing.

I can’t even remember where I was, but I caught sight of something about a lunar eclipse on March 3. Turns out it wasn’t visible from here, only in a wide swath on the other side of the planet through Europe and Africa. Disappointing. I love stuff like eclipses and meteor showers and the northern lights.

Then further down on the same page, I was reading about the solar eclipses for later this year. (Did you know that there are two lunar and two solar eclipses every year? A lunar eclipse is when the moon travels through the earth’s shadow, and a solar eclipse is when the moon comes between the earth and the sun.) Unfortunately, the solar eclipses for this year will only be visible in eastern Asia and South America.

And THEN, I saw that there will be a total solar eclipse ON MY BIRTHDAY next year, AND it will be visible from Canada. Now that’s way wicked cool.

Except, I kept reading and found out that it will only be visible from the very northern tip of Canada, through Nunavut. And I noticed that the path of totality runs right across Alert, Nunavut, which is the northernmost settlement not only in Canada, but in the whole world. It’s a mythic sort of place, this northern outpost, and I started to think about how I’m always saying that I haven’t seen nearly enough of this gorgeous country of ours, and how I’ve always wanted to see the far north, and an embryonic plan started to hatch in my busy little brain.

Wouldn’t it be way wicked cool to make a family vacation out of going to Alert for my birthday to see the solar eclipse? It’s north of the Arctic circle, but it would be high summer, so not only would the temperatures be moderate, but there would be 24 hours of sunlight – and then an eclipse. Really, could you imagine anything cooler than that? It’s Canadian, it’s astronomical, it’s my birthday: three of my favourite things. This was obviously meant to happen.

So I set out to find out how to get to Alert. And that’s when I started to grasp just how big this country of ours is, and that north as I know it really isn’t so very north at all. I mean, Alert – that’s seriously North. Let’s put it in relative terms. Iqaluit, the capital of Nunavut, is just over 2000 km due north of here. (By comparison, Miami is just about the same distance due south.) Well, Alert is DOUBLE that, more than 4000 km due north. In fact, it’s only about 800 km from the North Pole.

Map courtesy of, used with permission.
Embellishment courtesy of Beloved.

Not only is Alert north, or should I say NORTH, but it’s isolated, and kind of desolate. Just about the only thing that’s up there is a Canadian Forces Base and an Environment Canada weather station. But neither the northness nor the isolation deterred me. I live in a generation of extreme vacations, after all – I never imagined there could be a populated place in this country that doesn’t have some form of tourism. (Okay, so ‘populated’ is a bit of a stretch – according to Wikipedia’s citation of the Canadian 2001 census, Alert has a permanent population of six.)

Typically, all of this actually encouraged me rather than discouraging me from my summer holiday plans. I spent quite a while googling various combinations of terms and surfing travel sites only to find out that for all intents and purposes, you simply can’t get there from here. And even if you could get there, it’s not exactly a tourism hotbed.

Nothing comes up, for example, when you search on “hotels in Alert” or “tourism Alert Nunavut”. And the closest you can get to Alert on a commercial airline is to Iqaluit, about half way. If you’re curious, it would cost a family of four somewhere in the neighbourhood of $6000 to fly to Iqaluit from Ottawa in August. That’s not including the charter flight up to Alert, which seems to be of the principal that if you need to ask the price, you can’t afford it.

Sadly, I think Alert is now off the table as a summer travel destination. Lucky for me, it’s currently -42C with the windchill right here in Ottawa, so I can have my very own Arctic experience simply by waiting for the bus.

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Rebecca March 6, 2007 at 1:51 pm

It would be cool if you COULD go! I would love to see something like that.
I saw the lunar eclipse, it was really funky to see it ๐Ÿ™‚ It was red, mostly.

2 Sharon March 6, 2007 at 1:53 pm

I had a friend who worked for the weather station in Alert. She said there is really nothing there. So I’m glad your not going. Even though it’s summer it ain’t balmy.
ANd HOLY Muck it;s cold today!!!
Jack’s car wouldn’t start so he took my van.

3 suze March 6, 2007 at 2:05 pm

we could see the eclipse – it was just early. But it was partially eclipsed until about 9 p.m. I saw it from the hottubs at Le Nordik spa in Chelsea. (You should go, it’s lovely…)

4 Loukia March 6, 2007 at 4:03 pm

Yup, you could see the lunar eclipse a bit on Saturday night. FYI I had a post about it on my blog. Anyway, Dani – if I ever win tickets for an Alaskan cruise, I will give them to you – promise! I want nothing to do with the cold, the snow. I’ve had it already with winter!

5 mad_hatter March 6, 2007 at 4:10 pm

I like to think that I’ve seen an awful lot of this great land but the North, the true North, is terra incognita for me. I think the furthest north I’ve been is Lac la Biche, Alberta, where I was interviewed for a job after graduating from library school.

6 P. March 6, 2007 at 5:25 pm

I drove from Vancouver to Inuvik one June, arriving on the summer solstice. Inuvik is as far north as you can drive in North America (at least in the summer) and the drive was absolutely beautiful and fascinating. And, despite the hoards of mosquitos at that time of year, it is something I think everyone should do. … although for a drive that long, you probably want to wait until your kids are a bit older.
Perhaps a little more link surfing will lead you to an alternate ‘extreme vacation’ for your bday!

7 Jungle Mom March 6, 2007 at 6:35 pm

I found you link surfing myself! Believe it or not we saw the eclipse a little bit here in Venezuela on saturday night.

8 Phil March 6, 2007 at 8:01 pm

I have a friend in Fairbanks, Alaska, who keeps bugging me to bring the family up there. The upper half of North America is so mind-bogglingly big, most people don’t even realize it because of the lack of, well, people.
I’ve heard the mosquitoes in some places up there can drive a person insane.

9 BeachMama March 6, 2007 at 8:49 pm

It was a nice thought, but perhaps you will find a place a little less extreme for your bday/summer holidays.

10 Fawn March 9, 2007 at 6:20 pm

Well, since I’m in Whitehorse and this post is about the north, I thought I should sign in to say hello, and greetings from North of 60! I’ve lived in Iqaluit, in Fort Liard (NWT) and now Whitehorse, as well as Ottawa. If you want to find out more about travelling north, give me a holler. ๐Ÿ™‚

11 Quagmire January 22, 2008 at 4:02 am

I found your post as I was excitingly looking to find a way to get to the exact same place you were(or are) dreaming about. It is unfortunate that we cant do it. We might be able to sneak in if we were a scientist in Environment Canada!

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