While taking a trip back home to SE Alaska during the summer of 2010, my father and I decided to head up to the arctic circle as I had never been that far north before. We decided to head up the Klondike Highway to the Dempster Highway, ending the trip at Inuvik. We were tossing around the idea of taking a charter flight to Tuk (Tuktoyaktuk on the Arctic Ocean). The problem was, having spent my life in SE Alaska and the Chicagoland area, I knew next to nothing about Western Canada and the arctic region. I was looking for a travel book that covered the Dempster Highway and communities in the area but travel guides for this area seem to be few and far between, so I opted to get a copy of Canadas Western Arctic.
When I began to flip through the pages and began glancing at the book, I was surprised at the quality of the book, the beautiful pictures, and the topics covered. The book is separated into 7 broad sections: Planning Your Trip, Life in the Western Arctic, Activities, Destinations, People, Land and Water, and Plants & Animals.
The Planning Your Trip section is a great overview of the region that covers a myriad of topics. The chapter talks about transportation options for reaching the western arctic, accommodations in the region, medical facilities, mail, communications methods, the weather, protecting yourself from bugs, and permits required to name a few (or a lot). The chapter goes over a number of topics at a high level and sets up the rest of the book.
The Life in the Western Arctic chapter is a short synopsis discussing the life of the residents of the western arctic. It provides a brief description of local art, music, employment, and recreation.
The Activities chapter is where I think things start to pick up. The contents of the chapter are still a bit high level, but it gets to the point where you can really start planning a trip. The chapter talks about hiking, birding, rockhounding, canoeing/rafting, fishing, hunting, photography, cycling, boating, dog sledding, skiing, and snowmobiling. There is excellent discussion on required equipment, safety, and tips on making your activity enjoyable. This section also begins outlining potential routes and areas a person might consider, depending on the activity of interest.
The Destinations chapter is where the book is worth its weight in gold in my opinion. This is a lengthy chapter (about 125 pages) that starts off with the Dempster Highway. It gives tips on travelling the highway and outlines various point of interest (including facilities) by kilometers away from the southern starting point, much like one would see in the Alaska Milepost, but no where near as overly detailed. It then goes into discussing the various communities. There is a map for each community, along with history, demographic information, activities, sights to see, facilities and services, and information on getting there and getting around in the town. The chapter then discusses the various national parks and bird sanctuaries, giving historical information, transportation info, facility info, and activities. Where the chapter becomes exceptional in my opinion is the subsection on rivers. A number of rivers are outlined in the chapter. Detailed information is given about conditions, things to be prepared for, accessing the river, and tips on making the trip as easy and enjoyable as possible. If canoeing, kayaking, or rafting is your thing, than this chapter is priceless.
The People chapter discusses the history and the culture of the traditional inhabitants of the region. An excellent resource if that is of interest to you.
The Land & Water chapter was the low point for me. There is a lot of excellent information on the mountains, lakes, islands, and rivers in the area. The chapter then goes into much scientific data about ecozones, permafrost, geology, and water layers. The discussion is excellent if you are interested in these topics, but personally, I became overloaded in information (did you know there are multiple types of ground ice? I do now).
The final chapter on Plants and Animals discusses exactly that, plant and animals of the region. It outlines the animals, plants, aquatic life, and some of the insects that inhabit the region.
Overall, I found the book to be a phenomenal resource. When the book calls itself the definitive guide of the western arctic region, it definitely is that. No matter what your interest is, the book has information on it. If it does not discuss it in detail, it will tell you where to find the answers at.
At the time of this writing, my trip to Inuvik is still pending, so I can not comment on accuracy. However, between this guide and the Milepost, I was able to gain an excellent understanding of the region and plan my trip around my personal interests. Based on what I have read in this book, if you are heading to the western arctic region of Canada, I highly recommend purchasing this book. Whether simply driving the Dempster, canoeing down the river, chartering a plane to a rarely travelled village, or flying to the remote tundra for a hunt, this book will give you the resources to help you determine your options and make the appropriate plans.