Highways in Nunavut

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An estimated total of 850 km (530 mi) of roads and highways are spread across Nunavut[when?]. Over the next decade the number of roads is expected to increase due to the increase of population. Nunavut is the only province/territory that is not connected by roads to other parts of Canada.

Most vehicles in the territory are moved from community to community and in and out of the territory by large barges that move during the summer shipping season. Less commonly, vehicles may be flown in on a cargo plane. Car companies will usually fly vehicles in to test them in Arctic conditions.

A stop sign in Inuktitut syllabics, seen in Iqaluit, 1999
A stop sign (nutqarrit) in Inuinnaqtun and English in Cambridge Bay

Highways in Nunavut, the few that exist, are not yet numbered. Street signs are in English, Inuktitut and Inuinnaqtun depending on locations. Compared to the rest of Canada, maintaining a vehicle in Nunavut is expensive. Rough roads and harsh weather result in expensive upkeep for vehicles, and despite being subsidised by the government, gas prices are among the highest in Canada. Parts can take an extremely long time to ship in and are very expensive. Mechanics also charge a premium, since very few do business in the territory. Due to the lack of a cohesive road network, aircraft are still the preferred way to travel, especially between communities, along with ATVs through most of the year, snowmobiles in winter, and boats during the summer months. Travel by dog sled has largely disappeared, although recreational dog-sledding is still common.

About 4,000 vehicles are registered in the territory. Many makes and models of vehicles can be found in the territory, but the most common are heavy-duty four-wheel-drive vehicles such as sport utility, jeeps and full-size vans. A wide range of vehicles can be found in Iqaluit, where the government tends to do most of its business and the road system consists of paved and chip-sealed portions, although it too is primarily dirt.

Despite Nunavut's isolation from the rest of Canada's road network, provincial licence plates can be found from Newfoundland and Labrador, Quebec, and Northwest Territories, as well as government plates from the Department of National Defence; vehicles of all provincial plates can sometimes be found in the territory. Nunavut, at one time was like the Northwest Territories, in that it was one of the few jurisdictions in the world where non-rectangular licence plates could be found, as these two territories issued plates in the shape of a polar bear. Nunavut no longer issues these.

Vehicles can display their old provincial plates for 90 days before they must be registered in the territory.

A road link to Manitoba was once planned. This road, if ever built, will cost an estimated $1.2 billion to build and another $3 million a year to maintain. This road is expected to run 1,100 km (680 mi) from Sundance, Manitoba to Rankin Inlet, Nunavut. However, a study showed that the cost of building the road would likely far outweigh any potential economic benefits.[1] A proposal was also in place for a highway to Rankin Inlet, Nunavut from Gillam, Manitoba with a connection to Churchill, Manitoba, a route that was chosen over two other alternatives from Thompson and Lynn Lake.[2][3]

A road was briefly considered in 2004 for construction between Iqaluit and Kimmirut (formerly known as Lake Harbour), but it would be four times longer than the direct air-distance between the communities, and the idea was dropped.

In 2016, the federal government approved $64 million in funding to build a port and ferry terminal in Iqaluit for service between Happy Valley-Goose Bay in Newfoundland and Labrador, expected to be completed in 2020. It would be used to cut costs for goods that would otherwise have to be flown in, as well as for passengers and their vehicles alongside freight.[4][5]

Important roads and highways in Nunavut[edit]

Tibbitt to Contwoyto Winter Road[edit]

This private winter road was once a way for trucks to drive to Nunavut from Yellowknife. The private winter road services a number of mines and worker lodgings in the region. The entire road is 605 km (376 mi) and is the world's longest heavy haul ice road. It is open between February and March each year. Since the closure of Lupin Gold Mine and Jericho Diamond Mine, only the first 400 km (250 miles) of the Tibbitt to Contwoyto Winter Road have been constructed each winter. The road does not cross into Nunavut any longer. The public may drive on the first few kilometers of the winter road, but must turn around at a security checkpoint.

Arctic Bay to Nanisivik Highway[edit]

This 21 km (13 mi) stretch of Highway connects the town of Arctic Bay to the former mining town of Nanisivik. The road also gained world fame for a number of years when it was used for the Midnight Sun Marathon run but has become less important when the mine shut down in 2002. The mine was later contaminated with lead. However, it should benefit from the Canadian Forces planned $100 million expansion of the Nanisivik deep water port and airport announced on August 10, 2007, by Prime Minister Stephen Harper.[6]

Eureka Highway[edit]

This is a 20 km (12 mi) all-weather highway that provides the link from Eureka Weather Station to CFB Eureka and the Eureka Airport.

Federal Road, Iqaluit[edit]

The main road in Iqaluit, this road provides access from the Airport to the City Centre and to the Nunavut Legislature Building.

Niaqunngusiariaq Road, Iqaluit[edit]

This road provides access from Iqaluit to the original community of Apex (Niaqunguut). The road was built by the United States Army Corps of Engineers in order to keep their soldiers busy while they waited for the sea-ice to open up to let them go home in the summer of 1956.[citation needed]

The bridge across Kujesse (Apex Creek) was a gift from the Government of Ontario's Department of Highways the following year.[citation needed]

The inaugural trip down Apex Hill led to a truckload of soldiers in the ditch. The brakes on the army vehicle had not been tested for several years in the "flats" of what was then Frobisher Bay, and they did not hold when tested on the new road. Only pride was injured when the truck hit the ditch on its first trip.[citation needed]

Prior to the road being built, schoolchildren living near the base at "Ikaluit" walked to Federal Day School in Apex over the sea ice or stayed with relatives in Apex, as the base in Frobisher Bay was "off limits" to Inuit.[citation needed]

Today, this road has been developed along much of its 5 km (3 mi) length. It is now one of the busiest roads in the territory, a typical rush hour sustains 500 cars an hour, although rush hour itself is locally called the "rush minute".[citation needed]

Alert to Alert Airport Road[edit]

This roughly 6 km (4 mi) stretch of all-weather road is the most northern stretch of road in the world.[citation needed] This road provides access from CFB Alert to the Alert Airport.

Ovayok Road[edit]

Runs from Cambridge Bay eastward 17 km (11 mi) to Ovayok Territorial Park (Mount Pelly). Another road runs west approximately 14 km (9 mi) from the hamlet.

Coral Harbour Airport Road[edit]

Connects the hamlet of Coral Harbour on Southampton Island with its airport, 11 km (7 mi) away.


  1. ^ "$1.2B Nunavut to Manitoba road would be a "tough sell"". CBC News. CBC News. October 18, 2012. Retrieved October 18, 2016.
  2. ^ Citizen, Thompson (November 17, 2010). "Time to build 'Eastern Alternative'". Thompson Citizen. Retrieved 2017-06-19.
  3. ^ "Road to Churchill feasible, says engineer, after rail link to Manitoba community damaged".
  4. ^ "Ferry service between Happy Valley-Goose Bay and Iqaluit on the horizon".
  5. ^ "Deja vu? Officials say Iqaluit port could open by 2020".
  6. ^ "Backgrounder - Expanding Canadian Forces Operations in the Arctic". Archived from the original on August 11, 2008. Retrieved August 17, 2007.

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