Muddy, dusty and busy, Rankin Inlet grew up around nickel mining in the late '50s and is the Kivalliq region's largest community. New gold mines and mineral exploration means it's still an important center. It's also an arty place and a base for accessing Kivalliq, and there's good char and grayling fishing close to town.
Among Nunavut's outlying communities, Pangnirtung, or 'Pang,' is an excellent destination, with a thriving artistic scene and outdoor opportunities galore. Located 40km south of the Arctic Circle, Pang's natural beauty is stunning, set on a fjord and towered over by steep Mt Duval. It's also the main gateway to even more spectacular scenery at Auyuittuq National Park.
On a small rocky island just off Baffin Island's Foxe Peninsula, this is the epicenter of Inuit art. In the late 1950s residents pioneered modern Arctic carving and printmaking, marketing it to the world with remarkable success. A number of Dorset's artists, such as Pudlo Pudlat, Pitseolak Ashoona and Kenojuak Ashevak, have achieved international recognition.
Wind-wracked Cambridge Bay (www.cambridgebay.ca) on Victoria Island is the regional center and stop for cruise ships navigating the Northwest Passage. The federal Canadian High Arctic Research Station (CHARS) is due to open here in 2017, attracting scientists worldwide to monitor climate change.
Sitting on the perpetually icy Lancaster Sound, against a backdrop of snow-covered mountains, Pond Inlet is the gateway to Sirmilik National Park: bird-watching paradise and glacier-draped arctic marvel. Make arrangements with outfitters beforehand for memorable nature-watching experiences.
A clutch of minuscule homes in a wind-lashed gravel desert on Cornwallis Island (known as Quasuittuq, 'Place with no Dawn') is Canada's worst-climate community. It was founded in 1953, when several Inuit families were lured here from Pond Inlet, as well as Inukjuak, Québec, with false promises of a better life, in order to shore up national sovereignty.