"He wants PUV to be the mecca of diving in Nunavik," says Kostas Kyripolous, one of Aubin's instructors. "He wants to turn these guys into super-divers."
If it was up to me, I'd say they were already there. Sailasi Ittukallak, the affable and easygoing 22-year-old instructor I was paired with, has dozens of dives to his name and about 50 skydives. A novice diver couldn't hope for a better partner: On my first day in the water, I panicked about 10 metres down, and he calmed me using only his eyes.
Ittukallak's skills aren't lost on the community either. He and his fellow instructors have become role models to the village's countless kids, and teenaged girls often gather on the water's edge when they're diving. (Aubin told me that he has a waiting list of kids eager to become scuba instructors.)
Then there's the town itself, as remarkable as it is remarkably remote. When I wasn't in the classroom or zipped into my dry suit, I spent my free time wandering the unnamed streets and the rusty, ochre-tinged tundra. Inuit children are everywhere, and retired sled dogs gravitate to you for food or a petting. The town exudes the comfortable, friendly vibe of most small towns that have to endure severe weather.
However, this warmth does not extend to the water, which even in summer floats around zero degrees. By the end of summer, it can be on the cloudy side (because of the buildup of algae), so serious scuba divers would be wise to book in the early spring, when the water runs clear. Better visibility will improve your chances of running across one of the shipwrecks or planes that locals say are on the seabed, or for collecting mussels and sea urchins for dinner.
If that isn't enough diving excitement, Aubin is one step ahead. He has already begun setting up survival training centre offices in Nunavik's 13 other communities, including Ivujivik, which he hopes will become a magnet for underwater whale-watching expeditions.
The diving itself can be both exhilarating and exhausting because of the water temperature and amount of equipment. But where else can spend your days diving and nights relaxing under the Northern Lights? Besides, there are warmer waters to dive in, but you would be hard-pressed to find a warmer welcome.
Special to The Globe and Mail
* * *
GETTING THERE Puvirnituq (about 1,000 kilometres north of Montreal and Ottawa) serves as the travel hub for the Hudson Bay coast with daily flights on a Dash 9 turboprop available out of Montreal's Dorval Airport via Air Inuit. Beginning in December, Air Inuit will offer non-stop flights several times a week on a 737.
WHERE TO STAY Puvirnituq Co-op Hotel 866-336-2667; inuit.pail.ca/puvirnituq-hotel.htm. This waterfront hotel has 25 rooms with private baths, fridges, televisions and Internet access, plus access to a full kitchen. About $195 a night. Hotel Novalinga 819-988-2946; inuit.pail.ca/novalinga-hotel.htm. This smaller hotel offers more modest accommodations. About $125 a night.
WHERE TO EAT Puvirnituq doesn't have an excess of dining options. There is a snack bar in the Co-op Grocery store, and a commercial smoke house that specializes in smoked Arctic char opened recently. Local hunters are more than willing to provide what the Inuit call "country food" - caribou meat, Arctic char and even mussels.
WHAT TO DO
Adventure tours The Nunavik Arctic Survival Training Centre (819-988-2825; www.nastc.ca) offers all-inclusive packages starting at $5,000 (includes flight, food and accommodation). The packages range from basic survival training to multiday treks that find you travelling by dogsled and staying in an igloo. Scuba training packages are also popular; and they recently introduced skydiving adventures.
SOAPSTONE CARVINGS Puvirnituq is known as the cradle of Inuit art, thanks to the formation of the Carvers Association of Povungnituk (the town's previous name) in the 1950s. Dozens of soapstone carvings are on display at the Co-Op Grocery Store (prices range from $30 to $5,000), or you can simply ask around for a private viewing from one of the town's artists.
FURS AND GEAR Souvenir hunters should drop by the Hunter Support Shop in the Puvirnituq Town Hall. It offers everything from furs and seal-skin gloves to traditional Inuit tuques and panaqs (the ubiquitous dagger-like knife that is used for everything from hunting to igloo-building).