Just weeks from now, Canada’s Arctic coastline will be linked by road to the rest of Canada for the first time in history. Local residents hope the new $299 million highway will be a pathway to prosperity.
Ahead of its anticipated Nov. 15 unveiling, CTV’s Melanie Nagy was granted special access to the Inuvik-Tuktoyaktuk Highway, which snakes its way through 137 kilometres of Northwest Territories tundra.
Welcome to Tuktoyaktuk, N.W.T. a small village of just over 900 people nestled next to the Arctic Ocean. (CTV News)
The road connects the Town of Inuvik (pop. 3,200) to Tuktoyaktuk, a village on the Arctic Ocean whose roughly 850 residents are currently linked to the south only by sea, bush plane or winter ice road.
The landscape around Inuvik is seen in this aerial view. The highway will run through northern Canada from Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk, N.W.T. (CTV News)
Inuvik has been connected to Whitehorse, Yukon, since the Dempster Highway opened in 1979, but locals there see Arctic access as a big economic opportunity.
Dean Ahmet has been building roads for nearly 40 years but he’s never worked on anything like this.
“It has been quite logistically challenging,” Ahmet said. “We have been working two shifts, 24 hours a day, 12 hours per shift.”
Among the obstacles of road building in the far north are winter temperatures that dip below -40 degrees Celsius.
Another problem is permafrost, the thick layer of soil, rock and ice that can melt and shift during summertime.
And getting equipment to the remote area wasn’t easy: some of it came on barges up the Mackenzie River.
CTV News has been granted an exclusive sneak peek of a specially constructed, all-season highway that will run through Arctic Canada. (CTV News)
Inuvik resident Kurt Wainman’s says the road will be worth the effort. His company, Northwind Industries Ltd., is proudly constructing the southern portion.
Wainman said he thinks it will provide long-term economic impacts.
“They call it the road to resources,” Wainman said. This is where the gas is, the oil is out here.”
The highway was originally envisioned during the Stephen Harper era as a path to oil and gas resources in the Beaufort Sea, but hopes for developing that sector were crushed last year when Justin Trudeau’s government banned offshore oil and gas licences.
Inuvik Mayor Jim McDonald, who was born and raised in Inuvik, said the town has struggled economically. The four-year project with $200 million in funding from Ottawa and $99 million from the territorial government has already been a boon.
McDonald said he hopes the highway will lead to more local trade and new jobs in sectors like tourism.
“I think it is time we develop the region,” he said. “Because I think that is the future for the next generation.”
With a report from CTV’s Melanie Nagy in the Northwest Territories