Before the COVID-19 pandemic restricted travel and large gatherings, Hospitality & Tourism students at the Ted Rogers School of Management had the unique opportunity to learn about life in the Arctic by taking a nine-day trip to the Northwest Territories during their February 2020 Study Break.

Fifteen students travelled to Yellowknife, Inuvik and Tuktoyaktuk in the Northwest Territories as part of my HTT800 Field Course to examine issues, policies and life in Canada’s North.

Leading up to the trip, students attended lectures that provided insight into Indigenous issues in Canada and life in the North. One of these lectures was from Chef Johl Whiteduck Ringuette from NishDish. He spoke about food security issues in Canada while the students sampled delicious Anishnawbe cuisine.

The students first started their trip in Yellowknife. This was an eye opening experience as Yellowknife in February is very popular for viewing Northern Lights.  The students visited Aurora Village and met with an Elder who told them stories of her life in Northwest Territories while they made dream catchers. The day concluded with dog sledding, even though it was 50 below zero that day!

Next they flew to Inuvik, where they met the team from Tundra North Tours, an Indigenous owned and operated business that provides authentic Arctic experiences. Students participated in winter camping by sleeping in a traditional igloo. They tried traditional foods such as muk tuk, cooked bannock with an Elder, snowmobiled, went ice fishing, learned to trap and spent valuable time hearing stories of life in the Delta.

In addition, students visited a school in Tuktoyaktuk where they met with kindergarten and highschool students and exchanged knowledge about each other’s way of life. They also met with the Town of Inuvik Econonic Development Department, Northwest Territories tourism, Parks Canada and other researchers, policy makers, entrepreneurs and Inuit Elders. All in all, the trip was awe inspiring and one that will never be forgotten.

Here is what a few students had to say about their experiential learning trip to the Northwest Territories:

Jarid Palter

This trip is one of the best experiences you could have in university. Not only will you make a lot of new friends, you will get to see some amazing sites, do some incredible things and learn about topics you are interested and passionate about. It will be hard to forget the late nights looking at the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights), sitting around a fire telling stories and sleeping in an igloo. The view from the Bush Pilot’s Monument in Yellowknife (especially at sunset) and snowmobiling on the Arctic Ocean before sunrise were other things that were also unforgettable.

Before the trip, we learned in class about various aspects of Indigenous culture and how it was impacted by colonization, food security in the Canadian territories and the impact mass misinformation can have on small communities. But it was not until we were in the Northwest Territories that some of these learnings really came into perspective while talking to people about their own real-life experiences living there.

We also learned many interesting things about Indigenous culture, tourism, land use, economic development, sustainability and the history of the Arctic region. As someone who will be pursuing graduate studies and eventually a career in the field of sustainability, this trip provided numerous learning experiences relevant to my interests and education that I will be able to take with me wherever I go. This was an extremely innovative trip and learning experience that really made me appreciate the HTM department, and the Ted Rogers School as a whole, for allowing a trip like this to happen.

Andy Tran

As someone who has studied Canada’s Arctic in previous courses, this was an opportunity for me to immerse myself firsthand in what I have read in textbooks. And since I am not very well-travelled, this was also a chance to break out of my shell from a personal perspective.

An experiential trip such as this one is designed to enable everyone to step out of their comfort zone in a challenging, yet supportive environment. Highlights from the trip include: building and sleeping in an igloo, skiing on the Arctic Ocean, ice fishing, seeing the Aurora Borealis and hearing stories from Elders around a fire. This trip has allowed me to develop a deeper sense of respect and understanding for the Indigenous tourism industry, their ways of life and the wide scope for recognizing their distinct culinary, skills, arts and crafts.

Overall, my biggest takeaway from this trip is the relationships that I have built along the way. From the tour operators, the local community and my fellow peers, I have built long lasting friendships that have truly made this trip an unforgettable experience. If asked, ‘Should all students take an HTM experiential trip?’ My answer is, without hesitation, a vociferous “Yes!” This trip was definitely once in a lifetime!

Tharshika Jeyaraj

The HTM Field Studies course has definitely been my favourite course in the program because it allowed me to participate in experiential learning, which helped me enrich myself in a culture and environment I wasn’t used to.

I really enjoyed visiting the only elementary and high school in Tuk. We visited the junior kindergarten class and it was interesting to see what they learn compared. We saw someone in the class demonstrating how to skin a Canada Goose. According to the teacher, students learn from a young age how to skin and prepare a goose and other animals. This is because they generally grow up eating these kinds of meat and to show them how to use the skin and feathers for other purposes, as the communities make sure to not waste any part of the animal.

Throughout the trip, I also got to try so many different proteins that I’ve never tried before. One of my favourites was whale, which it is called muktuk. I thought it was tasty as it reminded me of sashimi. The high school students in Tuk made us some dried moose, which was also delicious. My favourite meat that I tried was caribou, which I tried in a lot of soups. I also tried dried whitefish and arctic char.

We even had the opportunity to sleep in igloos in Inuvik. Prior to our visit, I thought that most of the community had slept in an igloo at least once in their lifetime. It turned out that almost all the people we spoke to had never slept in one and that they are mostly used as emergency shelters when they go ice-fishing.

Tianyun Xiang

The first time I heard that the HTM program was organizing an experiential learning trip to the Arctic, I knew I wanted to go because it has always been a dream of mine. I am thankful to the program for offering this opportunity.

Our trip was one-of-a-kind. We first landed at Yellowknife Airport and spent two days there as tourists. We had a chance to make a dream catcher, go dog sledding and participate in other winter activities.

On the third day, we flew to Inuvik and met with Tundra North Tours and our guides. We went to the camp site and had a wonderful caribou stew for dinner. It was a winter wonderland out there and we sat around the teepee listening to stories from Indigenous Elders. Each story was legendary. We learned how tough people are in the North and how they learn everything from their parents and ancestors.

We spent the night in an igloo. It was quite an experience for me because it was only the second time that I camped outside and the first time doing winter camping. Sleeping in an igloo was better than I expected, and it was so quiet and calm outside.

The highlight of my trip was the school visit. We had the privilege of visiting the local school where children from kindergarten to grade 12 attended. This was the time that I felt closest to the local people. We talked about our lifestyles and how we commute differently. It was very powerful to spend time with local kids and to see how different their lifestyle was.

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The Arctic Experience trip was impactful for the HTM students as they were able to put their learning into practice and understand the issues and challenges around tourism development. They learned about Indigenous peoples in Canada and were able to create relationships and memories that will last a lifetime.

While students enjoyed this unique experiential learning opportunity, the HTM program also offers many virtual opportunities to learn from experts on the front lines of the industry to share how the industry is adapting and changing.

Posted by Sonya Graci

Dr. Sonya Graci is an Associate Professor in the Ted Rogers School of Hospitality and Tourism Management and the Director of the Hospitality and Tourism Research Institute. She is the recipient of a Learning and Teaching Award and a Global Learning Award from Ryerson University.