Swimming in the Arctic

Written by Dustin Manley

During the winter most people prefer to abscond to a sun-kissed paradise, spending their days lounging in swimsuits on golden shores while enjoying the warm tropical breeze. 

Well, as my friends and colleagues will tell you, I’m not most people. Take me to the Land of the Midnight Sun where the alabaster tundra expands passed the horizon, the howling of the qimmiit and -50C wind chills your soul, and the brilliant emerald of the aurora borealis flutters like ribbon in the clear sky. 

I will bring my swimsuit though. In fact, I brought 50.

Five years ago I cobbled together a dream of visiting and photographing each capital city in Canada. By that point, this small-town Ontario boy had only seen Quebec and British Columbia. I certainly saved the best for last when I took a brief working vacation to Iqaluit at the end of February. 

It’s an overly simplistic comparison, but I find the territorial capitals to microcosms of Ottawa. They are culturally and ethnically diverse government cities, surprisingly francophone, and a bit chilly. However, as an island capital with only one flight departing and arriving from Ottawa each day and only 26km of road serving the community’s 7,740 residents, Iqaluit is significantly different than its territorial sisters of Whitehorse and Yellowknife. 

With this in mind I reached out to the Piviniit Society, a volunteer-run organization committed to fostering sustainability in Iqaluit and Nunavut. I had an extra 50lbs of checked luggage available so I asked if there was anything I could bring up to for the community.  The answer was surprising. 

“Could you bring up about 50 men’s, women’s, and children’s swimsuits?”

On January 26, Iqaluit’s $40 million Aquatic Centre opened to the public. The state-of-the-art facility comes equipped with a 25 meter lap pool, a waterslide, hot tub and saunas, and a full fitness centre. However, there was a tiny little setback as Iqaluit’s stores do not carry swimsuits.

I was more than happy to assist, so I ventured down to my local Value Village for possibly the most awkward shopping experience of my life. I went to the men’s, women’s, and children’s sections—which were naturally at opposite ends of the store—and began filling my shopping cart with every stich of swimwear I could get my hands on. I received more than a few strange looks while gingerly placing items like a women’s polka dot top and striped navy bottom in my overflowing cart. 

“Could you bring up about 50 men’s, women’s, and children’s swimsuits?”

“Could you bring up about 50 men’s, women’s, and children’s swimsuits?”

Upon my departure to Iqaluit I packed them all into my hockey bag, somehow avoiding any awkward questioning from the VIA Rail staff or CSIAB, and delivered them to the Piviniit Society.  

Knowing that more families will have access to Iqaluit’s Aquatic Centre facilities makes my final capital city visit much more meaningful and memorable. It doesn’t have to be a grand gesture, but consider reaching out to local community organizations when planning your next business or vacation trip—the people will appreciate it and you will establish roots in the community.

I did bring my own swimming trunks too, and while it wasn’t in Frobisher Bay, I can say I have gone swimming in the arctic. 

All photos by Dustin Manley. All rights reserved.