Connecting Canada’s Far North: A Documentary Series

Canada is the warmest, and also the coldest, place in the world. By that I mean: the people are extremely welcoming and kind. However, we also have some of the worst weather you can imagine (I arrived in Canada from tropical Shenzhen in January of this year, right in the middle of a “Polar Vortex” when Toronto was at -35c). Even in the south, Canada regularly gets snowfall late into April and May. (One more thing about Canadians: they love to talk about the weather. So I’ll stop that bad habit right now).

What I’d really like to tell you about is a recent trip I took to Canada’s Far North.

About the Project

I recently visited Canada’s Arctic, spending several weeks in Iqaluit, Nunavut and Inuvik, Northwest Territories. Huawei has been connecting northern communities across Canada for almost 10 years, and the goal of this trip was to see first-hand how our equipment is changing lives in remote Inuit and Inuvialuit communities.

Chris with a team member in Frobisher Bay, Iqaluit

After some research about Huawei’s work in Canada’s Far North, I realized we had stumbled upon something incredible: an important story of connection that no one anywhere was telling. I decided that something had to be done.

So we proposed a documentary project to highlight the importance of connection to Canada’s northernmost communities. We codenamed it “Project Borealis”, or “Connect the North”.

Iceflows melting in a river near Iqaluit

The goal of the Connect the North video project is to bring awareness to the importance of connecting rural and remote parts of Canada. We highlighted the lives of several local residents of Iqaluit, and interviewed dozens of people in Inuvik. The video project was done in cooperation with our customer Ice Wireless. With support from Huawei Canada’s Consumer BG, we also brought brand-new P30 Pro smartphones with us to document the entire trip using the best smartphone cameras available.

During the same week that I was in Northwest Territories (June 2019), Huawei was working with ICE Wireless to bring 4G LTE Internet service to Inuvik. Service came online that same month.

Challenges

The first challenge was just getting to these communities in the first place. To get to Inuvik in Canada’s Northwest Territories, for example, we had to fly west from Toronto to Edmonton then stay there overnight. The next morning we flew to Yellowknife, where we caught a connection to a place called Norman Wells. From Norman Wells, we took another even smaller propeller plane to Inuvik.

In summer, the sun never sets in the Arctic! (This photo was taken at 2.30 am)

The second challenge was finding accommodation. In Iqaluit, I bought my flight tickets without any problem, then went to find a hotel. Oops. The only hotel in town was full. There were ZERO openings in the city for when I was supposed to be there! So we had to get creative, and looked online for AirBnBs. Luckily we found a great location overlooking Frobisher Bay, in a house about 15 minutes outside of town.

Frobisher Bay, Iqaluit (June)

The third challenge was connecting to the Internet. In the last few years, Huawei has connected a variety of remote places including Whitehorse (Yukon Territory), Yellowknife (Northwest Territories), Inuvik (Northwest Territories), Iqaluit (Nunavut), and even Grise Fiord (Canada’s northernmost civilian settlement, which currently enjoys 4G service, and is 5G ready). But even though the central parts of most large communities in the north are now connected with a 4G LTE service, there is still a lot of work still to be done. The moment you leave the town center, you lose all signal (not even 2G). This means that when residents go hunting or fishing (which represents a significant proportion of their time), they are completely disconnected and unable to call for help if an emergency arises.

Frobisher Bay, Iqaluit (June)

The fourth challenge is of course the weather. Any equipment up north must be capable of operating in frigid cold, brutal wind, and relentless ice. It also needs to be self-powered, since it’s unlikely to have access to an external power source.

Results

As a strong follow-up to our awareness campaign, Huawei Canada announced in July that we will partner with ICE Wireless and Iristel to help them connect over 70 more rural and remote communities by 2025, including 20 communities in the Arctic and 50 communities in Northeastern Quebec, with even more communities planned in unconnected areas of Newfoundland & Labrador. These commitments make me and everyone else at Huawei Canada extremely proud.

5 km outside of Iqaluit. No Internet but plenty of beautiful sights!

I want to thank all of the people in Canada’s Far North who shared their stories with us for these amazing short films. It was inspiring to see a new generation connect not only with their communities… not only with their traditional cultures… but also with the world. It speaks to the power of connection – and the importance of extending this opportunity to each and every Canadian, no matter where they live.

Everyone on the team at Huawei Canada is extremely proud of these efforts. That is the power of connection. Stay tuned for more great things coming from Huawei Canada!

To see more footage (images and videos) from the trip, visit and follow the Huawei Canada Facebook page.

Inquisitive Friends attracted by our drone work in Iqaluit

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