A summer of extensive ice in the Queen Maud Gulf prevented any cruise ships from getting into Gjoa Haven and Cambridge Bay.
That resulted in substantial lost revenue for artists who would have sold their wares to the anticipated 1,550 guests in Gjoa Haven this summer and the close to 1,000 cruise ship visitors in Cambridge Bay.
Carvers, sewers, guides, the Nattilik Heritage Centre and those who provide meals and entertainment all felt the impact, according to Bob Cheetham, Gjoa Haven’s economic development officer.
“All of that is lost income in the community, and that (money) stays right here in the community,” said Cheetham, who added that 24 artists had been approved for government funding for tools and supplies to create fresh art for the visitors. “They’re all busy making their arts and crafts, trying to prepare for the cruise ships and, of course, there’s nothing happening.”
Gjoa Haven was scheduled to receive seven cruise ship visits by five different vessels while Cambridge Bay was expecting four ships.
In Cambridge Bay, cruise ship coordinator Cathryn Epp, who works for the hamlet, said she braced for backlash each time she circulated word on social media of another cruise ship cancellation. Although some residents were disappointed, they accepted the unwelcome news with grace, she said.
“Everybody understands that it couldn’t be prevented,” said Epp. “They’re all really sorry that we didn’t get (the ships) but most people are just like, ‘Oh well, wait till next year.’ They’ve been really positive about it, which was really nice.”
Likewise, Cheetham said people’s spirits were buoyed during the recent Umiyaqtutt Festival in Gjoa Haven, despite not having the anticipated tourists from around the world join them.
“They really enjoyed the entertainment,” he said of the festival.
The Department of Economic Development and Transportation (ED&T) calculated a maximum of 70 cruise ship visits to Nunavut communities this summer, but the department does not log the number of times ships are unable to make it to their various destinations.
A 2015 ED&T Nunavut Visitor Exit Report – the most recent available – revealed that the average cruise passenger spent $692 while in the territory.
The extensive ice in the Queen Maud Gulf has forced Coast Guard icebreakers to provide escorts for sealift cargo ships, which are consequently behind schedule.
Cheetham, who acts as Gjoa Haven’s marine security officer for Transport Canada, said he’s heard from local elders about how the prevailing winds have shifted direction over the past several years, which affects ice, among other things.
“When they went out on the land, they used to follow the angles of the snowdrifts because they were always the same, they were always consistent. And now those snowdrifts have changed direction,” Cheetham said of climatic conditions.