November 18, 2009 / 9:36 PM / 8 years ago

Canada puts remote Far North town in G7 spotlight

VANCOUVER, British Columbia (Reuters) - Delegates to next February’s G7 finance minister meeting in the Canadian Far North should watch their spelling and remember they are not far from the Road to Nowhere.

The Group of Seven meeting, set for February 5-6, will take place in Iqaluit, the tiny capital of the giant Arctic territory of Nunavut, Canadian officials said on Wednesday.

It will mark the second time in six months the Canadian government has put the political spotlight on the community of about 7,000 people on Baffin Island along Frobisher Bay and a growing outpost on Canada’s northern frontier.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper held a cabinet meeting in Iqaluit in August alongside a military exercise designed to reinforce Canada’s claim on sovereignty to the Arctic -- a claim that the United States partially disputes.

The name Iqaluit means “place with many fish” in the native Inuktitut language. But some of those on the August tour discovered the hard way that English speakers often misspell the name as Iqualuit, with an extra “u” that changes the word’s Inuktitut meaning to “people with unwiped bums.”

Iqaluit road signs are written in both English and the geometric lettering of Inuktitut, and one street on the edge of town could draw attention from delegates wondering if the world’s economy is headed into uncharted territory.

The Road to Nowhere, as it is officially known in English, leads off into treeless hills.

CLOSER TO GREENLAND

Accessible from the rest of the country only by air or sea, Iqaluit is closer to Greenland than Canada’s major population centers.

Although the town boasts some large modern buildings, including the legislature, high school and a couple of hotels, most inhabitants are crowded into small wooden homes.

The roads are covered with snow in the long winter and dust in the short summer months.

G7 delegates, from the world’s leading industrialized nations, will want to dress warmly. The average February daytime temperature is -23.8 Celsius (-11 Fahrenheit), with a good chance of fog, and somewhat smaller odds on heavy snowstorms.

“In the middle of the winter...it’s the most beautiful scene I’ve ever seen in Canada,” said Canadian Finance Minister Flaherty, who decided on the locale.

“It’s spectacularly pristine and gorgeous, and yes it’s very cold, but we’re Canadians; we’re used to the cold.”

He said his G7 colleagues approved and were intrigued. “I promised we’d get them big coats and dress them properly.”

His counterparts from the European Union -- which has banned imports of seal products -- might also face a dilemma if as expected the Inuit serve seal meat at a feast they are preparing for the ministers and central bankers.

“It’s a traditional food of the Inuit, so I would expect that that would be available, so it’s up to them (the delegates) whether they want to eat it or not,” Flaherty said.

FOOLS GOLD

Like many isolated communities in Canada’s Far North, Iqaluit suffers more poverty and social woes than much of the rest of Canada. “Drugs and alcohol -- it’s at the root of all the problems,” a city councilor said during Harper’s visit.

The community overlooks a bay named for English explorer Martin Frobisher who sailed into it in 1576 thinking he had found the famed Northwest Passage and a route to China.

He then returned home with what he thought was gold from the area. It turned out to be pyrite, or “fool’s gold.”

Iqaluit was established near the site of an air base that U.S. military built during the Second World War and operated through much of the Cold War until 1963. The airfield is still the key passenger link to the outside world.

It wasn’t even big enough to be officially classified a village until the mid-1970s, but the population has grown to the point where local officials recently debated whether to install the community’s first stop light.

Additional reporting by David Ljunggren and Randall Palmer; Editing by Janet Guttsman and Frank McGurty

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