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Growing economic ties link Inuvik and Whitehorse

John Barker
Northern News Services

Inuvik (Sep 09/02) - In Inuvialuktun, Inuvik means "living place."

And for a growing number of Yukoners, it's becoming a place to find work.

"There were 10 oil and gas camps in this area of the Beaufort Delta last winter," says Inuvik Mayor Peter Clarkson. "Of the 1,200 or so workers, maybe as many as half -- 600 -- came from the Yukon."

Fuelling the move North is the oil and gas boom and the bust of the Yukon's mining industry.

But that's by no means the whole story.

Keep these two words in mind: The Dempster.

Except for about eight weeks each year when ferries can't run because of river ice, the Dempster is Inuvik's link south.

The Yukon border is only 207 kilometres from Inuvik. Whitehorse is 1,253 kilometres away.

It's the route Canada Post takes every day to deliver highway parcel mail from Vancouver to Whitehorse and Inuvik and vice versa.

"We have barge traffic all along the Mackenzie River connecting us with other Northwest Territories communities down and up the river. And our connections with Yellowknife, as the capital, and Edmonton are also important. And if the Mackenzie Valley pipeline is built, we'll have even more economically important ties with Alberta," said Clarkson.

"But the Dempster provides us with a key highway link for goods and services to the Yukon."

Regular flights

A new link is three weekly Air North flights between Inuvik and Whitehorse. Return fares often go in the $400 to $600 range.

Then there's Whitehorse-based Norcan Leasing Ltd. It has more than 600 vehicles in its fleet and an office in Inuvik.

Those vehicles, tagged with Yukon plates, are common sights in the Delta.

While tourism numbers won't be tabulated until mid-month, officials from the Western Arctic Regional Visitor Information Centre in Inuvik say they believe the number of highway visitors from both the Yukon and Alaska is up this year.

"We piggyback on Yukon tourism too," Clarkson says.

"The NWT tourism centre is located directly across the road from the Yukon tourism centre in Dawson City. And we use a company called PR Services Ltd. out of Whitehorse for cross-promotional tourism publications with Dawson, Whitehorse, Watson Lake (B.C.) and Skagway (Alaska)."

Other economic and cultural links between Inuvik and the Yukon include the Inuvialuit and Gwich'in aboriginal communities.

Clarkson's Whitehorse counterpart, Mayor Ernie Bourassa, agrees the economic links between Inuvik and the Yukon and Whitehorse are vital.

"It's (Inuvik) a very important market for us," he says.

Even though the capital city of Whitehorse, with a population of about 19,000, is about six times bigger than Inuvik, with a population of just under 3,000, there "are some big commercial links right now" between the two communities.

Paul Watters, president of the Inuvik Chamber of Commerce, says the Whitehorse chamber recently wrote to them proposing a trade delegation come to Inuvik. While the chamber here hasn't discussed the idea officially yet, Watters said he personally likes the idea and would like to see regular chamber visits back and forth between the two communities.

"I see them (Whitehorse) as local," Watters says.

"These links will absolutely continue to grow," Bourassa says, noting a Mackenzie Valley pipeline, while a huge boom to Inuvik, would also benefit Whitehorse, providing jobs to possibly hundreds or thousands of workers from that area.