The pope ends his visit to Canada with a stopover in a small town in the far north

In his many papal trips, Pope Francis never traveled further north than Iqaluit, capital of the Inuit-ruled territory of Nunavut. Friday will be the final leg of his somber six-day visit to Canada.

It’s a special destination – home to around 7,500 people but not a single traffic light, with no road or rail connections to the outside world. Its only Catholic church serves parishioners from at least five continents; more than 100 of them regularly fill the pews every Sunday.

Iqaluit has already hosted world leaders. Queen Elizabeth, for example, made a visit of about two and a half hours in 2002, three years after Nunavut was separated from the eastern part of the Northwest Territories to become a territory in its own right.

The pope’s similar brief stopover, on the other hand, is not meant to be a celebration. He will conclude a Canadian tour focused on in-person apologies for the abuse and disrespect meted out to the many thousands of Indigenous Canadians — including young Inuit — who attended Catholic residential schools from the late 1800s to the 1970s.

Given the purpose of the visit, feelings are mixed in Iqaluit, among Inuit leaders and also from the Reverend Daniel Perreault, who oversees the parish of Notre-Dame-de-l’Assomption Catholic Church.

He said only a handful of his parishioners are Inuit. Most of the rest are from Africa, South America, Asia and other distant countries, have no connection to past boarding school issues and would like to happily welcome Pope Francis on Friday, Perreault said.

But Inuit organizations in the area want the visit to focus on their own community, the priest said. “They don’t want it to be a Catholic holiday.”

Iqaluit Deputy Mayor Solomon Awa said the Inuit community – which comprises more than half of the city’s population – is teeming with swirling emotions. There is gratitude that an apology is coming and frustration that it took so long to arrive.

“It will be very exciting for people,” Awa said. “Hopefully this will allow us to move forward to elevate ourselves as Inuit, to the point where we say, ‘Yes, we’ve had a lot of disadvantages in the past, but we have to move on. thing”.

Unlike two of his brothers, Awa was spared from attending boarding school – his father insisted on keeping him at home as a helping hand.

“There are still heartbroken people who went to boarding schools…some of them still hold grudges about what happened,” Awa said. “They are happy that the pope is finally coming to apologize for what happened.”

Iqaluit is by far the largest municipality in Nunavut, a vast territory straddling the Arctic Circle. It’s about the size of Alaska and California combined, with a majority Inuit population of around 40,000.

For much of the year, the weather can be harsh. In February 2010, Iqaluit hosted a meeting of finance ministers and central bank governors from the Group of Seven nations; several dignitaries went dog sledding in sub-zero temperatures.

Pope Francis, however, is expected to encounter cloudy skies and mild temperatures – around 57 F or 14 C.

“My God, he picked the mildest time to go,” teased David Phillips, senior climatologist for Environment Canada. “Until he feels what it is in February, it’s no guarantee of courage.”

Nunavut Premier PJ Akeeagok is pleased and grateful that Iqaluit has been chosen as one of the three main stops on the Pope’s itinerary.

“When people around the world think of the north, they often think it’s vast, white and barren, when it’s totally the opposite,” he told The Associated Press. “We have so much life, in terms of people’s resilience… We have incredible opportunities both culturally and economically.”

In addition to opportunities, Iqaluit has its share of problems. Last fall, government officials declared a state of emergency after the capital’s water was deemed undrinkable and potentially contaminated with oil. They issued a no-drink order and clean water was flown in.

In May, the city issued a warning that some local youths were throwing rocks at taxis – the main source of public transit in Iqaluit.

As for the papal visit, community preparations have been discreet. The city says Main Street will be closed to regular traffic for five hours on Friday, and ahead of the visit, volunteers have been asked to join in a downtown cleanup.

Perreault, the Catholic priest, said his parishioners stepped in, offering to provide food and lodging for priests and other Catholic staff traveling from afar to Iqaluit for the pope’s visit.

“Life isn’t always exciting here,” Perreault said. “But people here are happy and love being in a community, sharing and praying together. It is a very pleasant and joyful community.


Gillies reported from Toronto, where he is AP’s bureau chief. Crary, who reported from New York, is a former Toronto bureau chief who covered the creation of Nunavut in 1999.


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