A rare lingering fog and thick ice have caused majors delays in food shipments to Iqaluit, where store shelves that were bare for nearly a week are only now beginning to be restocked.
Cargo planes that deliver perishable goods were not able to fly in or out of Iqaluit for five of the last seven days, according to First Air spokeswoman Anubha Momin, leaving people hustling for other options. Cargo planes and combo planes (planes that carry cargo and passengers) are the town's only source for perishable goods, and their absence resulted in dwindling stocks and bare produce shelves until Monday, when the fog started lifting.
At the same time, an abnormal amount of ice in Frobisher Bay – which also enabled polar bears to wander into town – is making it difficult for an icebreaker to carve a path for cargo ships delivering gas and annual food shipments that residents order to avoid the Arctic's high food prices.
The problems were caused by an unusual amount of ice and wind, and an airport runway cut short for repairs, hampering landings in the two-week-long blanket of fog. The lack of food is a "major inconvenience," the town's deputy mayor said, but it underscores how close residents in Canada's most remote capital are to serious hardship when things go awry.
"It has been one thing after another … and it really does affect people," said Romeyn Stevenson.
Until the shipments known as "sea lifts" arrive, residents who run short have to turn to local grocery stores, where a can of black beans costs $8. Food is one of the highest expenses for any family in the North, but for those who struggle "it's an absolute constant day-to-day problem and it limits the way they can feed themselves healthy food," Mr. Stevenson said.
Frank Reardon, an IT manager at the Nunavut Court of Justice and father of two, resorted like most residents to frozen vegetables and powdered milk to feed his children the nutrients they need.
"I was at the grocery store the other day and I see people running in and taking pictures of all the empty shelves," said Mr. Reardon, who has lived in the Arctic for eight years. "Yeah, we are in the North and this really, really shows you how isolated we are."
The pictures circulated on social media and made for lively conversations among residents this week, Mr. Stevenson said. In fact, food is always on people's minds in Nunavut. Prices more than double those at grocery stores elsewhere in Canada have prompted cries for better food subsidies and government action.
And the weather doesn't help. More than 100 passengers were stuck for more than three days in Iqaluit and Ottawa.
"I've been travelling in the North for about 17, 18 years and this is the first I ever got stuck for more than one day," said Laura Cabott, a Yukon-based lawyer. She said she watched as planes coming from Ottawa and Kuujjuaq, Que., made attempts to land through the dark haze, only to circle back. "You could hear this big roaring engine right over top of the air strip."
The exceptional bad weather has also affected fishing, one of Iqaluit's traditional sources of food, because the ice prevents boats from going out.
"For a lot of Inuit, a lot of people that live here … that's significant to their economy, their personal finances. The ice isn't just an inconvenience for recreational vehicles, it's an inconvenience for the way they harvest their food," Mr. Stevenson said.
Although forecasts show more rain and fog for the area, the fog has let up enough for planes to land. Patches of produce have started to appear on shelves, but Mr. Reardon said a trip earlier in the week to the grocery store yielded only onions and cabbage because the rest of the available produce wasn't fresh.
Isabelle Pelchat, a representative of the Canadian Coast Guard, expects the ships will be passing starting next week – first with an oil tanker, then the regular shipments the week after that. Forecasts show the ice will have melted by the end of the month.