The Sanikiluaq Sea Urchin Expedition

Someone told me it’s Spring. I don’t believe them. Spring means tulips and lambs frolicking in meadows. I see neither. I see snow. Still, so much snow.

But, not as much snow as what was in Sanikiluaq, Nunavut where we were a few days ago. So for that I can be thankful.

Now, that’s snow!
  My contribution to building the igloo.
Beautiful “downtown” Sanikiluaq, Nunavut.
Population 800, located on the eastern side of Hudson Bay, in the Belcher Islands.
 $20 for a case of pop.
 And $7 for a head of lettuce. Ouch.
 The “marina”. Those boats aren’t going anywhere for a while.
The purpose of this trip was to harvest mussels and sea urchin from the saltwater inlet that flows to Hudson Bay. Sanikiluaq is the most southerly community in Nunavut; it’s about 1300 kms north of Montreal.

Our crew that day consisted of a couple of Inuit elders and their niece. We traveled by snowmobile for about 20 minutes to get to the inlet. Joe, the elder in charge of this little expedition, was born 60 years ago in an igloo on the land near the inlet.

Joe peers down into the clear waters. The ice was about 4.5 feet deep and we could see fish, mussels and urchin 15 feet down.
That’s hard work taking pictures in -28 Celsius weather. I needed a break.

 Joe’s technique comes from over 50 years of experience.

He was way better at it than I was. His net is loaded with mussels and urchin.

Mine, not so much.

That’s sea urchin, and we ate it right then and there. It doesn’t get fresher than that!

A good haul of mussels and sea urchin. Our northern food night this year is going to be extra special.

 Even starfish…who knew?

And sea cucumber! Elizabeth (above) holds one in her hand.  They gave me one to try, which I did. I popped it right into my mouth and bit down. Saltwater and “stuff” spurted into my mouth, I chewed…crunchy bits. What were those? Then I got through the rubbery flesh, and swallowed, grimacing just a little bit (okay, a lot actually), but I smiled and said, “Interesting!” Then they told me I was supposed to spit out the salty juicy stuff and the crunchy bits. Thanks guys. That would’ve been good to know before I swallowed all that.

They also neglected to tell me we were fishing right in polar bear hunting grounds and that you need to continually scan the horizon, because “polar bears can come out of nowhere…all of a sudden, they’re right there!” I scanned the horizon a lot that day.

Just to be safe, I was never far from the ice chipper, a 10 lb rebar pole with a razor sharp blade on the end that could split ice blocks with one whack.

I asked Elizabeth if she was a fast runner. She said no, and I hung on to that because you know what they say: if a bear chases you, you don’t have to run fast; you just need to be ahead of the slowest person in the group.

Next week we travel to the western side of Hudson Bay–to the community of Arviat. I wonder if it’ll be warmer there. God, I hope so.

Author: Twyla Campbell

World-wide wanderer, CBC Edmonton AM Restaurant Reviewer, Member of Edmonton’s Slow Food convivium, oenophile, epicurean explorer and a freelance writer whose works have appeared in several magazines and newspapers including More, Above & Beyond, Avenue (Edmonton), Up Here, Northern Flyer, Opulence, City Palate, the Edible Prairie Journal, The Edmonton Journal, Slow Food Canada, Lifestyle Alberta, and on Slow Food Edmonton’s website. Grant MacEwan University (Professional Writing Program) Bachelor of Applied Communications Degree (in progress). I’m a Tweeter @wanderwoman10

11 thoughts on “The Sanikiluaq Sea Urchin Expedition

  1. holy moly, what an amzing experience. i’m so jealous of your fresh live sea urchins. that must’ve tasted out of this world. i’ve had sea urchin before, but never fresh like that. and $20 for a case of pop??!! makes me glad i’ve kicked my pop addiction.
    lol at “you just need to be ahead of the slowest person in the group”. thank you for sharing this awesome experience with us.

  2. LeQuan,
    I’ve only had sea urchin (uni) at Japanese restaurants but I love it. When I ate it out there on the land, it was amazing: buttery, delicate, delicious. And yes, the price of pop is out of this world, and unfortunately is consumed at staggering amounts in the northern communities. Stay tuned for our Arviat adventure in 10 days or so. Who knows what we’ll eat there!

  3. I have just recently started following your blog and am wondering what is your connection with the north,you have done several articles about it.

  4. Hi Jay…
    My husband travels there frequently for work. He lived in Nunavut and the NWT for over 20 years and many of his clients are from there still. Sometimes I accompany him on his trips…if you need more info, you can email me at I’d be happy to answer more questions if you have them. Thanks for following my blog 🙂

  5. What an incredible experience. Again, though Canadian, I have never experienced this, yet I want to. Just like dog sledding – Vanja and I finally got to this at Christmas in Banff. I know that is not the real north – but it is still considered a quintessential Canadian experience (something like our National sport – cricket – which is not even played in schools)…
    Building an igloo. MY GOSH! Fishing a sea urchin and eating it right there. I cannot imagine. You need to invite Martin – the WILD CHEF – to come with you and do a show there sometime – OH the fun that you have – the places you go… Dr. Seuss could rewrite a book just with your family in it!

  6. Hey…Martin is one of my food heroes. He’s amazing. And yes, I think it would be great to have him with us on some of these adventures. The places we go, the fun we have…yes, if you consider freezing your chachas off in -40 weather and having urchin guts squirt in your mouth, that might be fun for some! 🙂

  7. It was cold AND fun. One of the best experiences I have had up north and I have had many. The urchin and sea cucs were a great fresh experience although the urchin actually tasted wonderful. The cucs, well not so much. We only tried the small cucs and have some larger ones for NFN. I wonder if they will taste different.

    If you know of a anyone, chef or otherwise, that wants to come north with us Valerie, have them call. Always an adventure to be had and nothing goes quite as planned (well this trip acutally did go as planned, but it is the rare exception). Not enough people know about the incredible adventures to be had going north…southerners are too conditioned to go south. There is much fun and knowledge to be gained in a parka. Not everything fun has to be in a bathing suit.

  8. I have no doubt igloos could serve as ice-fishing huts. That would be SO much fun! And you wouldn’t believe the skill these guys have in building igloos. They defy all laws of physics. True craftsment. I wish everyone could go up north and see what I have seen. Thanks Steve, for stopping by. Let’s do another northern trip again huh?

  9. Okay, hang on…I need to rethink this. If you built an igloo on the ice it would mean you’d have to transport the ice blocks from the land to the ice. That could be quite labour intensive. Also: the height of an igloo may not accomodate the long pole that is used to scoop the mollusks from the bed of the Bay…so Steve, igloos might not be best-served as ice fishing huts. Hmmm…the things you learn.

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