“How was the Arctic?” is often the first question I get after returning home from our annual summer expedition. My typical responses are “fun”, “buggy”, and “amazing”. While Arviat was all that and more, I’d have to add “flat” and “friendly” to give an accurate depiction of this amazing Arctic community located on the shores of Hudson Bay.

Two women sitting on the tundra colleting plants.
Ruth Kaviok and graduate student Sam Godfrey collecting plants in the proposed Nuvuk Territorial Park in Arviat, Nunavut. Image: Paul Sokoloff © Canadian Museum of Nature.

In fact, there’s a sign on the airport road into town proclaiming Arviat to be “Nunavut’s Friendliest Community”, and we certainly felt warmly welcomed! We connected with community members through trailside chats, shared meals on the tundra (made all the better with local bannock), and a workshop where Elders shared their knowledge about local plants. A teacher, once she heard the “plant experts” were walking past her house, came out to show us her own collection of pressed and dried plants.

Lyyn Gillespie holds a plant she collected in one hand, while leaning on a table with documents on it.
Expedition leader Dr. Lynn Gillespie examines the day’s collections. Image: Paul Sokoloff © Canadian Museum of Nature.

As for “flat”, the tundra surrounding Arviat is, well, very much so…which gives rise to ferocious winds and spectacular long sunsets, and lets you spot polar bears a long way off.

Closeup of a plant with red berries.
Whether you call them Atungaujat, Kimminait, Mountain Cranberries, Lingonberries, or Partridgeberries, the red fruits of Vaccinium vitis-idaea are a tangy treat. Image: Paul Sokoloff © Canadian Museum of Nature.

Working out on the land with Ruth Kaviok, our local field assistant, and David Beamer, the regional parks coordinator for Nunavut Parks and Special Places, our team collected over 150 species of vascular plants in the proposed Nuvuk Territorial Park, and over 50 more in different habitat types from around the Arviat region.

Three people in a semi-circle stand on the tundra.
Museum lichenologist Dr. Troy McMullin discusses the lichens of the proposed Nuvuk Park with Nunavut Parks regional coordinator David Beamer and graduate student Sam Godfrey. Image: Paul Sokoloff © Canadian Museum of Nature.

Adding Troy McMullen’s lichens, and myriad moss and algae collections to the mix will give us a comprehensive overview of Arviat’s windswept (and therefore diminutive) flora.

Closeup of two species of liches on the tundra.
Many tundra locales near the proposed Nuvuk Park are dominated by lichens, such as the long, sinewy Whiteworm Lichen (Thamnolia vermicularis) and the pale yellow Crinkled Snow Lichen (Flavocetraria nivalis). Image: Paul Sokoloff © Canadian Museum of Nature.

While we didn’t find many plants new to Nunavut (though we haven’t finished determining them all yet), we did find many low Arctic plants that few on the team had collected before, including the small-flowered lousewort (Pedicularis parviflora), and Wettstein’s eyebright (Euphrasia wettsteinii).

Closeup of a lousewort plant.
Over 200 species of flowering plants, including colourful louseworts (Pedicularis parviflora), can be found growing on the western shores of Hudson Bay. Image: Paul Sokoloff © Canadian Museum of Nature.
A researcher crouches on a hillside to collect ferns.
Research Associate Dr. Geoff Levin collects ferns on a hillside near Arviat. Image: Paul Sokoloff © Canadian Museum of Nature.

Now that we’re back home in Ottawa and our plant presses are put away, we’ll work on finalizing the identifications of our 700+ plant collections, and preparing the specimens to be included in the museum’s National Herbarium of Canada. Each of these specimens is proof that that plant was found growing in Arviat in 2016 (useful data for future researchers); for me they’ll also be nice reminders of a month well spent.

Arviat houses in the foreground, with a sunset in the background.
At over 500 km south of the Arctic Circle, Arviat treated our team to many spectacular sunsets over our month-long expedition. Image: Paul Sokoloff © Canadian Museum of Nature.