As Arctic settlements go, Cambridge Bay is a modern, sprawling town featuring many of the amenities southerners crave: gym, library, curling rink - even a golf course.
Last week, Ottawa acknowledged that sophistication, awarding Cambridge Bay the Canadian High Arctic Research Station, a cutting-edge residence and lab scheduled to be built within seven years.
But despite the cushy new facilities, the 55 researchers set to move in should steel themselves for a strange cultural acclimation. Syd Glawson, mayor of the 1,400-person hamlet along the Northwest Passage, recalls southerners arriving in his town completely ill-prepared for the 24-hour daylight, the absence of water and sewer service, the high-priced veggies, the ongoing struggles with booze, the local obsession with karaoke and, yes, the cold.
"Will there be culture shock? You're darn right there will be," Mr. Glawson chuckles.
He loves recounting the frigid October day when he met former Liberal leader Stéphane Dion as he shivered across the tarmac wearing a suit and business shoes.
"There was shock all over his face," the mayor recalls. "So many people from away think they understand the North. They don't."
Local politicians lobbied heavily for the station, envisioning a generator for jobs, visitors and learning opportunities for local kids. But northern researchers already have a reputation for isolating themselves from the community, according to residents, often exacerbating a latent cultural divide between white professionals and local Inuit.
While the research station is not expected to open until 2017, the social upheaval that will come with arrival of dozens of construction workers followed by international scientists is a matter of anticipation and trepidation in the place northerners simply call Cam Bay.
"That's a lot of non-Inuit people in the community very suddenly," says Karen Wilford, a local lawyer. "Sometimes when people come in from away, they work hard and play hard and don't always bring values that have the best interests of the community at heart. There is always a concern about what they might be bringing in."
Alcohol abuse is a constant problem - and the import of alcohol is banned during holidays such as Christmas.
There's also a worry that the southerners will sequester themselves away from residents, as they have done often in the past. The most glaring example of this exists among the 18-member crew of the local Distant Early Warning line station. They live between the station and the airport, rarely setting foot in the town's shops.
But cultural engagement is a growing priority among Arctic researchers.
"It used to be that researchers would come and go and no one up there would know about it," says Gary Stern, an Arctic contaminants expert with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and a professor at the University of Manitoba. "Every proposal we submit these days has a major component of sharing with the local community."
That same ethic exists at the Polar Continental Shelf Program base in Resolute, Nunavut, which can accommodate up to 70 scientists at once. Director Marty Bergmann has been hosting open houses for the past three years.
"Northern people are acutely interested in what we're doing," says Mr. Bergmann, a day after hosting this year's open house. "It goes both ways: The community becomes interested in science and the researchers, in turn, learn much from their way of life. It's a relationship that's had bumps and bruises over the years, but it's getting better."
Mayor Glawson wouldn't have it any other way. "If these academics want to come in and fence themselves off, we don't want them," he says. "We want to seem them in the curling rink and the hockey rink. Heck, after a few years, I want to see them run for council and take my job."
The Hudson's Bay Company and the RCMP built posts here in the early 1920s when most of the Inuit population remained nomadic. Ever since, a rotating cast of southern characters have filtered through, many of whom decide to stay for good.
"It's a wonderful place to live and work," says Ms. Wilford, who arrived in Cam Bay six years ago on a two-year contract with her husband and two boys. "If you can earn the trust of the local community and cross the cultural divide that exists here, particularly between white people and locals, you can have a great life."
Rather than the lonely, tedious existence many southerners expect in the North, Ms. Wilford can list dozens of new, life-altering experiences she's had in Cam Bay, including kayaking on the Arctic Ocean, helping beached belugas, spotting 47 muskoxen in a single day, feeling the earth shake as a massive caribou migration marched past, joining a curling team and crooning karaoke.
"In my old life I would have no more sung karaoke than go to the moon," she says, "but that's what you do here."
Vicki Aitaok, manager of the local visitor's centre, suggests that the glut of newcomers could overcome the social divisions by embracing the town's quirks. That means having a Friday beer at the cramped Elks Lodge, accepting that weather determines the pace of life rather than caffeine and adjusting to paying $7 for a head of cabbage.
"Thanks to regular flights and great Internet access, we're probably more sophisticated than most people expect," Ms. Aitaok says. "So sometimes the cupboards go bare because the [food]planes can't get in - you get used to it."