The North isn’t known for extravagance.
But sprinkled throughout the Arctic, there are premium lodgings where comfort is paramount and VIP guests (hello, royal family) get pampered.
Up Here has collected tidbits and tales from some of the swankiest hotels, lodges, and bed and breakfasts North of 60.
When one thinks “luxury” in the North, the Explorer Hotel in downtown Yellowknife surely comes to mind. It has hosted royalty on several occasions—Queen Elizabeth II in 1970 and 1994, Prince Charles in 1979, and Prince William and Kate in 2011— as well as a long list of prime ministers, ambassadors, and famous artists.
Manager Karl Schaefers’ philosophy for running a high-end hotel is short and sweet. “If you have luxury customers, you have to have luxury accommodations,” he says. That’s why the Explorer boasts not one, but two signature rooms for upscale clientele.
The Aurora Deluxe Suite, the most expensive option at a base price of $400 a night, is the height of Yellowknife grandeur. It spoils guests with a king-sized bed, electric fireplace, telescope for viewing the stars (or spying on your neighbours, Schaefers jokes) and an outdoor patio with gas heaters. Fine Northern furs line the room, from beaver pillows to a coyote throw over the bed. And if you really want to go all out, Schaefers suggests splurging on an $888-package that features transportation from the airport, VIP dining at the restaurant, late checkout, a private tour of Yellowknife, and extra goodies such as cozy blankets and socks.
Slightly cheaper is the Royal Suite, the room where—you guessed it—the Queen stayed during her Yellowknife visits. In homage to its previous guests, the room is chock-full of British memorabilia. Union Jacks are plastered across bedding. A model of a double-decker bus cheekily sits on the coffee table. Pictures of Elizabeth herself survey the room with a regal gaze. A night in the suite comes to about $345, but that’s a small price for the privilege of telling your friends that you’ve stayed in the same room as the Queen of England.
Illu Inc., a bed and breakfast in Cambridge Bay, is one Canada’s northernmost luxury accommodations. Despite just having opened in 2018, it’s already hosted world- renowned researchers from across the globe, territorial politicians, and a number of film crews working in the area.
The building once served as a residence for the community’s Nunavut Arctic College campus, but was abandoned more than two decades ago after a new facility was built. When owner Cynthia Ene and her husband bought the building in 2017, they decided to go all out and transform it into what she describes as “a bougie backpackers’ stop.”
“Cambridge Bay is such a vibrant, chic, up-and-coming community with these very creative vibes,” Ene explains, “so we wanted to present a facility that reflects that. It’s cozy, warm, comfortable, modern, and chic.”
“People just feel like it’s a home away from home with a little bit of luxury.”
All wooden features in the bed and breakfast, including kitchen cabinets and shelving in rooms, were done by local craftspeople. Each of the six rooms— which go for about $245 a night—has a private bathroom, and guests have access to a common lounge, laundry, and a full- service kitchen, with homemade breakfast offered every morning. Just steps from the Arctic Ocean, the B&B has a wraparound deck where guests can admire the traffic on the sea ice or watch boats come and go during the busy beluga harvesting season.
The lodge may cater to more affluent travellers, but the company believes firmly in creating something sustainable that benefits Cambridge Bay. Nonprofits and community-based organizations get discounted rates to stay in the lodge. Illu also has modular buildings nearby that rely on solar and wind energy, with the units rented as affordable housing options for local residents.
“We’re strong believers that you’ve got to live in harmony with your natural environment,” Ene says.
In Whitehorse, luxury accommodations are in something of a transitional phase.
The Coast High Country Inn, operated by Northern Vision Development, was once the posh place to stay in the city. Boasting a presidential suite with a fourposter bed, jacuzzi tub, and fireplace, it’s where William and Kate stayed on their second royal tour of Canada in 2016—accommodations the British tabloids labelled as “roughing it.”
“We didn’t care,” Adam Gerle, vice-president of marketing for Northern Vision, laughs. “We got amazing exposure for that.”
With the inn closed after being sold to the territory for a housing initiative, Gerle says Northern Vision is now pivoting to make its historic Edgewater Hotel the go-to luxury option in the territory’s capital. It poured $3 million into renovations in 2017, along with another $600,000 this year into the hotel’s new upscale restaurant, Belly of the Bison. Gerle calls it “the fanciest restaurant in Whitehorse.”
The Edgewater’s massive 800-square foot Executive Suite dominates the top floor with a full kitchen, bar, and views over the Yukon River. The more modest King and Junior suites may not have as much square footage, but they’re still extravagant refuges. Guests are treated to evening turn-down services, monogrammed bathrobes, and feather-bed linens. Washrooms come stocked with boutique soaps and creams.
The Edgewater has been around since the late 1890s and has hosted its share of VIPs. Whitehorse-born author and historian Pierre Berton used to stay there all the time, says Gerle, as well as dog-mushers competing in the famed Yukon Quest.
Robert Service, though never an official guest, even has a connection to the Edgewater. When the building, known as the Windsor Hotel at the time, burned down in 1905, the well-known Yukon poet was part of the firefighting brigade that put the flame out.
In the Yukon, the comforts aren’t confined to Whitehorse. A 40-minute drive southeast of the capital along the Alaska Highway brings you to Inn on the Lake. “I don’t rent rooms,” says owner Carson Schiffkorn. “I rent experiences.”
The lodge, which opened in 1996 and sits on the shores of Marsh Lake, has had its share of big-name guests over the years, from governor generals to popular Canadian artists like Jann Arden. Martha Stewart even stayed in the Executive Jacuzzi Suite—with vaulted ceilings, an aurora-viewing balcony, skylights and a jetted tub—when filming her show in the territory. “It was a really cool experience,” Schiffkorn says. “That was only five years into the business when she came, so it kind of validated what my vision for the business was.”
However, Schiffkorn isn’t overly concerned with attracting VIPs. He cares more about showcasing Yukon-inspired dishes in the kitchen, selling locally-made products, and celebrating the landscapes. The lodge is for “experiencing mountains, and frozen lakes, and stars, and northern lights, and midnight suns,” he says. Every guest deserves special treatment, no matter their wallet size.
“That’s part of Northern hospitality,” Schiffhorn says. “Treat people well.”