‘Crazy busy’ for business owners as tourists return to Tuktoyaktuk

Allen Spelce, Jerry Cochran and Jimmy Harvey are Texas canoers who paddled from Fort Simpson to Tuktoyaktuk, N.W.T., a trip that takes 17 to 20 days. (Karli Zschogner/CBC)

Grandma’s Kitchen is run by grandma herself — Joanne Edwards-Steen — and her husband John Steen. 

With a guest book to prove it, people from around the world have arrived to eat there.

It’s right on the Arctic Ocean and it’s currently the only place in Tuktoyaktuk, N.W.T., where paying guests can sit down for a home-cooked meal.

And now that guests are returning after the pandemic hiatus, Edwards-Steen is one of several small business owners in the community of about 900 who is run off her feet.

“It’s been crazy busy,” she said. “I just opened in, like, about a month ago and it’s just been crazy every day.”

John Steen, granddaughter Ariya Ray, Joanne Edwards-Steen and Shelby Steen, the family behind Grandma’s Kitchen in Tuktoyaktuk, N.W.T. (Karli Zschogner/CBC)

“I cook, I clean and [do] everything for this place so I make my own bread, and fry fish,” says Edwards-Steen. She also serves boiled muktuk.

The restaurant has operated seasonally for the past five years. Meanwhile, her husband sells items out of the gift store and fills out certificates for those who dip a toe in the Arctic Ocean.

The newest addition to the business is a separate building where people can enjoy their meals. Before, it was either take-out or people could eat in the couple’s home.

Martin and Elenor Creplin, visitors from Moncton, N. B., say they’ve always wanted to come to the territories — and a stop at Grandma’s Kitchen was on the to-do list.

“This has been a dream of mine to come from Atlantic Canada to the North for many years,” said Martin. “We’re traveling for a few months, and one of our first destinations was to get as far north as we possibly could and to dip our feet into the Arctic Ocean.”

They heard about Grandma’s Kitchen from several people, and knew it was a must, Martin said.

“We had to come and try it out for ourselves and try beluga whale.”

Meanwhile, it’s been Sophie Stefure’s goal to share her love of paddling with others.

Sophie Stefure, owner of equipment rental business Arctic Ocean Canoe and Qayak in Tuktoyaktuk, N.W.T. (Karli Zschogner/CBC)

Now she’s in full momentum with her equipment rental business, Arctic Ocean Canoe and Qayak, where she offers paddleboards, canoes and kayaks.

“It’s been busy pretty much every day,” said the young entrepreneur. “When the weather is good, people want to be on the water.”

Stefure said she enjoys seeing the smiles it brings to tourists and locals when they can paddle close to the brilliance of the permafrost-mound pingos of her hometown.

This year is Stefure’s first real season with her rental business, which she started just before the pandemic.

“Whether it be locals or tourists or you know, people coming in from Inuvik, just for the day or weekend, they’re all trying to get out,” she said. “So it’s good. It’s keeping me busy.”

She doesn’t offer tours out to the pingos at the moment, but has maps people can use. Right now, Stefure drops the boats off at the day use pingo stop. She says her goal is to have a permanent location there.

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: Inuvik, Canada, braces for surge in tourism, CBC News

Finland: Sami Parliament in Finland publishes digital guide for responsible tourism in Lapland, Eye on the Arctic

Iceland: 10% of Iceland’s workforce employed in tourism, The Independent Barents Observer.

CBC News

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