Current Problems


‘We will have to adapt’: Record high temperatures in Nunavik pose threat to Inuit way of life

April 27, 2023

‘Huge thaw’ in northern Quebec significantly reducing time out on land, says locals

Three boys walk on a dirt road, one pushing a bike. They have their coats off.
Kuujjuaq, Que. experienced record-breaking temperatures this week. Locals say winters are becoming shorter, changing their way of life. (Submitted by Adamie Delisle Alaku)

CBC News: Spring jackets were peeled off on Monday as people wore T-shirts and children biked around sunny and balmy Kuujjuaq, Que., in what became one of the warmest spring days the region has experienced to date.

Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) reported it was 16 C on Monday and 13 C on Sunday — setting two new record high temperatures in the town, located 1,400 kilometres north of Montreal. “It’s one of those days where it feels like it’s very early summer even though we’re in late April,” said Adamie Delisle Alaku, executive vice-president for the Department of Environment, Wildlife and Research at Makivvik Corporation, the organization representing Inuit in Nunavik in northern Quebec.

“That’s the talk of the town right now.”

Delisle Alaku says the melting snow in Kuujjuaq has left the town covered in dust, dirt and puddles — a rare occurrence at the start of spring in the region that’s indicative of bigger issues and widespread consequences on Inuit across the region. “Into almost early summer people are still able to go out on the land. But right now we’re seeing a huge thaw in the region,” he said. “Right now all the lakes and the surrounding lakes and rivers are very, very slushy.” “For the southern part of Nunavik, it is becoming very, very difficult to access our hunting grounds because there’s practically no more snow to drive on and we have to rely on lakes.”

A little pile of snow is surrounded by dirt and puddles. Children play together in the distance
Adamie Delisle Alaku says a lot of the snow has melted in Kuujjuaq after the two warm days this week, leaving behind lots of dirt and puddles. (Submitted by Adamie Delisle Alaku)
‘We will have to adapt’

André Cantin, a meteorologist for ECCC said temperatures usually range between zero and –9 C this time of year in Nunavik. “We’re forecasting temperature, let’s say 10 C to 12 C above normal during the day,” said Cantin. “So that is quite unusual.”

“The trend that we observe over the last few years is that the temperature is generally well above normal in the North from year to year.

Delisle Alaku says less snow has prevented Inuit from travelling on the rivers and fishing and hunting in the spring. “It’s becoming a big issue that we are unable to provide for our families,” said Delisle Alaku. “Since time immemorial, we have lived off the land and off the sea and the rivers that provide … It’s becoming really difficult nowadays. We will have to adapt. We will need to switch maybe to alternate forms of accessing our territory.”

Snowmobiles lined up in a row on a dirt road
Locals say the winters have become much shorter in recent years, reducing the time they can use snowmobiles. (Submitted by Adamie Delisle Alaku)
Snowmobiles fall through ice, reduced time on the land

The thin ice has become a hazard in the fall and spring to such an extent that people are advised not to go hunting alone and people also equip themselves with spare clothes and ropes to pull others out of the water, said Delisle Alaku. Just last fall, Larry Brandridge heard about a person whose snowmobile fell through the ice.

An Ontario resident who is the chief diving instructor for the Nunavik Arctic Survival Training Centre, Brandridge says the person was lucky to have been rescued. “But if they had been out there on their own, they probably would have perished,” said Brandridge. “It kind of worries me on two different levels. It worries me on my own personal safety and my friends’ safety. Because I know they’re going to go and travel their traditional routes. And now knowing that those [routes] are not as stable as they used to be … It does concern me.”

He notes that winter generally comes later and ends earlier, significantly reducing the period when they teach arctic survival training in the region.

A man in a winter coat stands in the snow looking at a pack of wild muskox
Allen Gordon runs a ecotourism camp near Kuujjuaq where visitors come to observe wildlife like muskox. (Submitted by Allen Gordon)

“Normally we couldn’t do that in the months of January, February because it was just too cold. It would be –40 C. Where now March and April it’s almost too warm to be building an igloo to be going out on the land and teaching a winter survival course,” said Brandridge. “It’s just kind of bad all the way around when the ice leaves early … Once the snow starts to go, the rivers all open up, the ponds and lakes all open up and you just can’t travel.”

Region losing out on 2 months of winter

Allen Gordon, a resident of Kuujjuaq, says the warming weather has significantly hurt his business. He works at the Nunavik Tourism Association and runs his own ecotourism camp located 72 kilometres from town. “My observation since the 1990s is that it’s changing, definitely changing,” said Gordon.

A man kneels on the land next to an Inukshuk
Allen Gordon pictured with an Inukshuk in Nunavik. (Mike Beedell)

“Spring comes very quickly and it melts the snow on the ground which reduces our time to be out on the land.”

Since his fly-in camp can only be accessed by snowmobile in the winter, the warm weather forced Gordon to change his plans. “My plan was to go out pretty well daily and haul a lot of equipment that way because I’m renovating the camp and on my last trip I barely made it,” said Gordon. “The snow was so soft I got stuck.”

A few cabins spread along a green grass overlooking the water
Allen Gordon hasn’t been able to access his ecotoursim camp located 72 kilometres from town because of the warming temperatures. (Submitted by Allen Gordon)

In total, he says the region is likely losing out on about two months of winter, with spring coming earlier and fall extending longer. “It’s sad,” said Gordon. “Sad in a way that what we got used to doing every year, what we were able to plan and what we pretty well knew would be safe is now so unpredictable and it’s a lot more risky.”


Rachel Watts, CBC journalist

Rachel Watts is a journalist with CBC News in Quebec City. Originally from Montreal, she enjoys covering stories in the province of Quebec.