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A Bear Necessity: How an Arctic Expedition Warmed My Soul

Carolyne Parent has travelled to more than 120 countries and territories. Her new book, "Un Monde à voir: 100 aventures à vivre au temps nouveau du voyage," features her top 100 recommendations for meaningful travel experiences. An Adventure Canada Arctic expedition was her first choice, and here she explains why.
Akpatok Island cliffs Carolyne Parent

© Carolyne Parent

Akpatok Island, Ungava Bay

What is it that makes us want to take a trip? It is an intriguing question. Our travel desires can stem from so many things: a film, a newspaper article, even an exotic spice tasted for the first time. One particular summer, it was a picture of a polar bear floating on an ice floe, staring defiantly at me, that sparked my Arctic longing.

Plane and signs in Kangerlussuaq Carolyne Parent

© Carolyne Parent

Kangerlussuaq airport, Greenland

I had already sailed at the other frigid end of the world, from Punta Arenas, in Chilean Patagonia, to Ushuaia, Argentina. I had even ventured deeper into glacial Chile at Campo de Hielo Sur. But the photogenic ursus maritimus gracing the cover page of Adventure Canada’s brochure somehow reminded me that right here at home, beyond the tree line of my own country, lies an Arctic territory I knew nothing about. I had to go.

Along with 200 other enthusiastic guests, some hailing from my own home province of Québec and some coming from as far away as New Zealand, I boarded the Ocean Endeavour for a 10-day small-ship expedition from Kuujjuaq to Kangiqsujuaq in Nunavik, through Nunavut’s southern Baffin Island, and on to western Greenland.

Kangerlussuatsiaq fjord Carolyne Parent

© Carolyne Parent

Kangerlussuatsiaq Fjord, Greenland

There also were about 30 expert expedition team members on board–Arctic scholars, naturalists, botanists, ornithologists, and geologists, one oh-so-rare female explorer, and even a renowned sushi master! An Arctic expedition is no ordinary navigation—the exploration and learning that it entails is so rich that it needs some deciphering to be fully appreciated.

Give and Take

Meeting local people was nonetheless my preferred type of learning of all, and for good reason: everywhere we stopped, the communities’ welcome made us feel like rock stars on a long-awaited tour!

In Kangiqsujuaq, our guide Yaaka taught us the ABC’s of harpoon fishing.

Yaaka Markusie Yaaka hunter with harpoon Carolyne Parent

© Carolyne Parent

Yaaka Yaaka of Kangiqsujuaq, Nunavik gave Adventure Canada guests a tour of the town and taught the basic techniques of harpoon hunting.

On other stops, we were offered the chance to sample “Inuit tapas”—beluga whale maktaaq. Two women broke into a throat-singing recital that gave us goosebumps. Artists proudly showed off their soapstone sculptures. One family invited us over for tea. The communities' cultural pride was palpable.

Community of Kimmirut Nunavut Carolyne Parent

© Carolyne Parent

Kimmirut, Nunavut

Rapidly, I came to understand that I was experiencing exactly what sustainable and regenerative tourism are meant to be. Of course, Adventure Canada had orchestrated all of the social and cultural events that had enabled us to meet with and learn from the locals. But by playing matchmaker, the company had also helped the communities share their cultural heritage and contributed to keep it economically thriving.

Space, resources, infrastructure—traditionally, tourism is a business that takes a lot from destinations. Many of us have already acknowledged that fact, haven’t we? Now is the time for us travellers to give something back in return to host communities. Surely, one good start is to choose a travel provider who operates with a cohesive, sustainable approach.

Polar bear Akpatok Island Carolyne Parent

© Carolyne Parent

A polar bear walking the shores of Akpatok Island

“Very well, but what about the bear?” I hear you ask.

Well, on the second day of the trip, sitting in a Zodiac, I watched a mamma polar bear and her baby ambling along on their morning walk on the shores of Akpatok Island in Ungava Bay. What a sight! For sure, I’ll always remember my ursus maritimus. Just as I’ll never forget that up there, in that wide white land, I was once rewarded with a rare sense of shared humanity.

About the Author

Carolyne Parent

Carolyne Parent

Adventure Canada Guest

Carolyne Parent is a travel writer based in Montreal, Quebec. She is a regular contributor to Montreal daily Le Devoir and ELLE Québec magazine, among other major Canadian publications.

Her latest travel book, Un Monde à voir – 100 aventures à vivre au temps nouveau du voyage, is published by KO-Éditions.

Transparency disclosure: Adventure Canada invited Carolyne Parent to join an expedition of her choice in her capacity as a travel writer. The company had no say whatsoever in the content of her articles or recent book, which were not submitted for review before publication.