Gjoa Haven turns to Parks Canada for runway expansion

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The Hamlet of Gjoa Haven is seeking a runway extension that would allow jet service to the community, and mayor and council are leaning on Parks Canada to help fund the project.

Gjoa Haven Mayor Joanni Sallerina and his council have sent a letter to Parks Canada to request assistance in having the community’s runway lengthened and widened to accommodate jet service. photo courtesy of Joanni Sallerina

Because Gjoa Haven is aiming to capitalize on tourism associated with the Franklin shipwrecks – the nearby HMS Erebus and Terror national historic sites that Inuit co-manage with Parks Canada – the federal agency could play a key role in making the runway extension a reality, said Gjoa Haven Mayor Joanni Sallerina.

“A lot of times we now have cancellation of tourist ships. We were expecting seven (cruise ship visits) last summer and all of them had to cancel because of ice conditions,” Sallerina said. “If we had jet service… it would be more accessible from the south.”

Several other communities in the territory are also seeking to have their runways equipped for jet service, as supported through a motion at the Nunavut Association of Municipalities’ annual general meeting in Cambridge Bay last November. Rather than simply getting in line for Government of Nunavut support, Sallerina suggested that Gjoa Haven is better off exploiting its alliance with Parks Canada.

Hamlet council doesn’t have a cost estimate for lengthening and widening the runway to accommodate jet service, senior administrative officer Ed Devereaux noted.

“We are still in a deficit situation here but we are very proud of the fact that we are progressing towards working out of it. So right now we cannot afford to expend any of our resources towards such a (runway upgrade) study,” Devereaux explained. “With that, we are hoping that Parks Canada will take a look at our situation and see value in making such an investment in our runway.”

A Parks Canada spokesperson said, as of Jan. 24, the agency had not yet received the letter from Gjoa Haven hamlet council, which was sent by mail in mid-January. Therefore, Parks Canada had no comment at this time.

In 2016, Parks Canada announced $16.9 million over five years for Franklin wreckage research and for a field research centre in Gjoa Haven. Devereaux noted that $6 million has been committed to the expansion of the community’s Nattilik Heritage Centre, where some Franklin artifacts will be on exhibit.

“Our view is that the expansion to this (heritage) centre will help draw tourists to our community but we need to improve our transportation infrastructure so that tourists will be able to get here,” Devereaux stated.

Potential to lower costs

Sallerina added that a runway extension and jet service could also result in lower airfares and cheaper cargo rates, as only turbo-prop planes can currently service the community.

Oranges in Gjoa Haven sell for about $3 apiece and an individual serving of no-sugar-added juice costs $3 to $4, he said. Airfare to Yellowknife is commonly priced around $3,000, if booked on short notice, according to Sallerina.

“It’s hard when you live way up north and the only way in and out is through the air,” the mayor said.