Decades in the making and four years after construction began, the Inuvik-Tuktoyaktuk Highway officially opened on November 16, 2017. Horizon North Logistics Inc. (HNL) President and CEO Rod Graham and Russell Newmark, who sits on HNL’s Board of Directors, attended the emotional highway opening celebrations, along with Northern community members and leaders, Governor General Julie Payette and the Federal Ministers of Infrastructure and Indigenous Affairs.
The highway creates permanent access by road from coast-to-coast-to-coast for the first time in Canada’s history, connecting the Northwest Territories town of Inuvik and the hamlet of Tuktoyaktuk along the Beaufort Sea. Previously, Tuktoyaktuk had only been accessible via ice road over four winter months, with year-round access by air.
“The North is the home of Horizon North’s first assets as a public company,” says Pat Hammerschmidt, HNL’s Vice President, Aboriginal and Community Relations, “so the creation of something that has been sought by that region for years is exciting for long-time HNL employees, our stakeholders and Aboriginal partners in the area.”
HORIZON NORTH’S ROLE
Horizon North, in partnership with the Inuvialuit Development Corporation (IDC), provided hospitality and catering services to the camps which housed the crews constructing the highway.
“Horizon North’s partnership with the IDC supported 300 guests and employed 30 individuals at any one time to provide meals, housekeeping and janitorial services,” says Warren Murray, HNL’s Senior Vice President, Industrial Solutions. “We value community and are proud to say that 80 per cent of our staff was made up of Inuvialuit and Gwich’in from the communities of Inuvik, Aklavik and Tuktoyaktuk.”
Services were provided to highway crews in seven camps:
- 3 traditional 25-person drill camps
- 2 80-person camps
- 1 barge camp (“the 802”) with 60 rooms
- 1 25-person sleigh camp
Services in another 30-person sleigh camp supported a crew building a northern section of the Mackenzie Valley Fibre Link. The completed fibre-optic cable follows the completed highway north to Tuktoyaktuk and links several north communities with high-speed internet. The cable also connects to the Inuvik Satellite Station facility, which uses Inuvik’s unique position on Earth for 24-hour satellite signal access to provide remote sensing services to international clients.
For those fascinated by construction, the feats necessary to complete the highway are remarkable. Its 137 kilometre length is built over streams, tundra and rock on a layer of permafrost. In the summer, up to two metres of that terrain’s depth thaws, so the road is built deep enough to act as a berm and an insulator, keeping the ground beneath frozen.
Needing to ensure the permafrost layer was undisturbed during construction, the majority of highway construction took place during the winter season. That meant crews working in the harshest of arctic conditions – temperatures of -30 to -40 celsius, wind chill, and darkness or near darkness at all hours of the day – returning to the camps after 12-hour shifts.
As the living landscape surrounding the road shifts and evolves, ongoing maintenance will be required. The highway will also contribute to the future success of similar projects, with a monitoring network along its length contributing to global permafrost and climate change research.
A permanent entry and exit to Tuktoyaktuk by road will change day-to-day life in the community. The cost of living will likely decrease as the previous logistical challenges in getting basic needs like food to the community will be reduced. In emergency events, those affected will not be waiting for a plane to arrive, or worrying about it being cancelled, when the ice road is not open. It is expected that tourism to the area will increase with year-round access to the Beaufort Sea, part of the Arctic Ocean.
The Inuvik-Tuktoyaktuk Highway is a testament to the strength of the North and the power of working together. Its success and any difficulties will be observed closely by our global counterparts with northern climates. For now, the highway is one of the first of its kind and opens opportunities which were previously unavailable for the people it touches.
Says Hammerschmidt: “It’s a project that the North has held dear for a long time, and it will be interesting to see what the future brings for new opportunities.”
Horizon North recognizes the importance of building strong relationships with Aboriginal communities. One of our primary objectives is to maximize the amount of local and Aboriginal community participation in our operations. We seek strategic partnerships that will allow us to create lasting economic value in order to participate in designing a better quality of life for Aboriginal communities, families and individuals.