Photo Story | Canadian High Arctic and Greenland

Savvy Shopping, Arctic Style

© Lee Narraway

The North abounds with must-see spots—but what are the must-have products? From iconic masterpieces to useful souvenirs, we present the polar purchases most popular with Adventure Canada shoppers. Here are seven suggestions for artful, authentic items to collect on your journey north.

It always happens: after any visit to an Arctic community, Adventure Canada guests gather back on the Ocean Endeavour for an informal show-and-tell. Sporting the sealskin or muskox-wool fashions they just acquired, or passing around their new soapstone carvings or beaded necklaces, they share the back stories—about meeting the artists, watching them work, and gaining insights into their methods and inspirations.

Yep, there’s no question about it: shopping is a wildly popular part of any polar voyage, connecting you physically to the Far North while giving you—or your lucky friends and family—mementos that will last for a lifetime.

Here’s a run-down of the top seven sorts of items purchased on our Arctic trips. Happy shopping!

Brittany and Laura wearing Qiviut

© Scott Forsyth

Cruise Directors Brittany Manley and Laura Baer brave the chill in their qiviut headwear.

Qiviut

Muskox wool is Earth’s warmest fibre, so insulating that when scientists once tried to count muskoxen using heat-seeking cameras, the animals didn’t show up. In Greenland, you’ll find an array of garments woven from the stuff, ranging from soft-as-cashmere scarves to delicate wrist warmers. As befits such finery, prices aren’t cheap. But whether brightly dyed or au naturel, qiviut products are like a fluffy hug, keeping you cozy in blizzard conditions—and helping you stand out from the herd.

Soapstone carver from above

© Lee Narraway

Artist Pootoogook Qiatsuk carves a piece of stone on the back deck.

Stone Carvings

For eons, Inuit transformed stone into amulets, masks, tools, and cookware. Then, in the 1940s, James Houston (father of Adventure Canada expedition team member John Houston) learned of and helped Inuit monetize these talents, resulting in today’s world-famous Inuit sculpture industry. In nearly every community we visit, you’ll find carvers bringing stone to life, crafting Arctic animals, shamanic scenes, and images of Inuit life. Small carvings make for amazing-yet-affordable souvenirs; larger, more complex pieces are priceless heirlooms.

Inuit ulu traditional culture

Ulu Knives

Known as “women’s knives,” these popular choppers feature a half-moon-shaped blade affixed to a handle of caribou antler, muskox horn, walrus ivory, or wood. Each region then adds its own specific design flourishes. Used in a rocking motion, an ulu is ideal for flensing narwhals—or for slicing pizza. As we can attest, repeat Arctic travellers often end up with quite a collection. Start your own today!

Myna Ishulutak in Pang crochet hat

© Stephen Gorman

Filmmaker and cultural educator Myna Ishulutak of Pangnirtung, Nunavut sports a Pang hat.

Pang Hats

Whether you’re strolling Toronto’s Bloor Street or summiting Auyuittuq National Park's Qairsualuk (Mt. Thor), these crocheted wool caps are the warmest way to keep your head about you. With bright, zigzag patterns, a nearly windproof weave, and a jaunty, bouncing bobble, they’re famously associated with the community of Pangnirtung on Baffin Island, but are now available in an array of Nunavut towns.

Explorer and author james raffan sports a sealskin tie

Explorer and author James Raffan dons a sealskin bowtie.

Sealskin Garments

Sealskin is the blue denim of the Arctic—the most stylish, popular, and sensible polar fabric. In nearly every community that Adventure Canada visits, you’ll be able to peruse masterfully crafted seal products. Sealskin mitts, often trimmed with rabbit fur, are dazzling yet instantly practical, keeping you snug on the Zodiac ride back to the ship. Sealskin slippers, too, are warm and sleek. And, if you live in a place where seal would leave you sweltering, opt for a sealskin broach, hair clip, or bowtie.

Kinngait Artist Qavavau Manumie showing print

© Danny Catt

Artist Qavavau Manumie demonstrates his printmaking techniques.

Prints

Many Arctic travellers know of the late printmaker Kenojuak Ashevak, whose masterpieces are emblazoned on coins, stamps, and the Canadian imagination. But Ashevak was hardly alone. Her hometown, Kinngait (Cape Dorset), has the highest concentration of artists in Canada, many working out of, and selling to, the legendary Kinngait Studio. A highlight of our Heart of the Arctic expedition, in Kinngait, the epicenter of Inuit art, you’ll meet renowned printmakers in action and have the once-in-a-lifetime chance to purchase their prints at the source.

Greenlandic womens national dress

© Lee Narraway

Greenlandic Beadwork

Greenlanders are famous for their bold national dress, which for women includes immaculate white kamik boots, a vivid anorak, and a brilliant, multicoloured shawl of ornately interlaced beads. Inspired by these shawls, delicate beadwork collar necklaces, as well as beaded earrings and ornaments, are all the rage in the Arctic. You’ll find them for sale in most Greenlandic ports and in some Nunavut communities—as well as bedazzling the necks of fellow Adventure Canada guests and expedition team members.

About the Author

Aaron Spitzer

Aaron Spitzer

Historian, Political Scientist, Journalist

For more than twenty years, Aaron has obsessively explored, studied, documented—and yammered about—the world’s polar places.

For a decade he ran Up Here, the journal of Canada’s north, which in 2010 was named the country’s best magazine. Before that, Aaron edited Canada’s northernmost paper (Nunatsiaq News), the world’s southernmost paper (Antarctic Sun), and the highest-circulation paper in the Alaskan “Bush” (Tundra Drums).

Aaron recently left Arctic journalism for Arctic academia. He earned a master’s degree in Northern Studies at the University of Alaska in 2015, and is now working on his Ph.D. at the University of Bergen, Norway, where he examines the opportunities and challenges of Indigenous governance in the circumpolar world.