Shipping to Canada’s Territories

As the second largest country in the world, Canada features a wide variety of sprawling landscapes across its provinces — some of which can be found at the very northern edge of our country. Canada’s three territories include the Northwest Territories, Nunavut and the Yukon. You may be surprised to learn that the Northwest Territories is the diamond capital of North America, Nunavut didn’t even exist until 1999, and due to its close proximity to the Arctic Circle, the Yukon has one day a year where they experience 24 hours of sun and one day where the sun remains hidden. In comparison to Ontario, which boasts a population of over 14 million people, the Northwest Territories has a population of approximately 44,598 citizens, while the Yukon has just over 40,000, and Nunavut has just over 38,700.

But beyond any interesting facts and figures that define the nuances of these territories, they also have unique logistical requirements. How exactly can businesses ship goods to our northern counterparts? After all, if a business chooses to service Canada, surely they can’t leave the territories behind?

Over the past few years, Mactrans Logistics has had the opportunity to facilitate shipments to Nunavut, and the experience has proved to be a rather notable challenge with no shortage of lessons learned.

You may be surprised to learn that citizens of Nunavut can only receive goods via air or, when ‘the arctic seas have thawed’, by boat. Unlike the seamless convenience and instant gratification offered to citizens living in major city centres like Toronto and Quebec, fast shipping is a relatively foreign concept. Last year, The Guardian published an article titled, ‘Why people in Canada’s remote Arctic capital are obsessed with Amazon Prime’ which detailed the intricacies associated with the shipment process for remote Arctic communities. The piece centered around a man named Iguptaq, who had grown up in Igluligaarjuk, a town of just 500 people.

“Iguptaq had grown up in Igluligaarjuk, a town of just 500 people on the north-western coast of the Hudson Bay, so for him Iqaluit – with a population of almost 8,000 – was the big city. And among its perks was access to online shopping, whose free shipping deal has become crucial to many in Canada’s remotest territorial capital.”

Why is it so hard to ship to these areas, you might wonder? Well, to start with, there are no roads or rail lines into Nunavut. The citizens who live in this territory often reside in remote locations, where the concept of a “close neighbour” is long forgotten. In many cases, there are very few urban centres close to where a citizen resides. This, coupled with the frigid climate, makes it nearly impossible to establish the supply chain infrastructure that we have come to rely on in surrounding urban centres and densely populated Canadian cities.

For supply chain professionals, this proves to be a rather significant obstacle. One which requires the help of a sealift, barge, jet or highly-specialized transportation service. Throughout our experience, we’ve been able to learn the different gateways into the territory in order to deliver the freight to waiting customers. For example, we quickly learned that certain parts of Nunavut do not service flights from Ottawa, but will service flights out of Edmonton. The community of Taloyoak is so distanced away from Iqaluit, shipments require the use of the Edmonton Gateway, as do remote locations in Yukon and the Northwest Territories.

With this in mind, close coordination with airlines is essential to successful shipping, and communicate frequently with carriers to ensure the parcel is — quite literally — signed, sealed, and delivered, despite the long and often complicated trek. In the case of land-locked islands, we often fill up containers and place them on barges in August, which means the citizens and businesses of these territories may only receive shipments during select months/timeframes each year.

Understandably, shipping products across such expansive terrain becomes a rather costly expenditure, which also explains why the cost of living in Nunavut is among the highest in the country. Air cargo is notoriously the most expensive option, and is often only utilized for select cargo or in emergency/time-constrained situations

Although some companies may place limitations on their shipping capabilities due to these challenges, many brands are still willing to service these remote populations. From personal goods to groceries, household items and furniture, construction equipment and more, select providers work alongside transportation management companies like ours to service these norther territories by air or sea. Mactrans Logistics now offer services to Yukon, North West Territories and Nunavut.

Fortunately, the proposed development of a new deepwater port in 2021 has provided Nunavut locals and logistic providers, that the delays and complications so commonly experience throughout this unique supply chain will soon be a thing of the past.