Nunavut, is the largest and least populated of Canada's three territories.
In 1996 the Northwest Territories was split into two territories. The western portion retains the original name Northwest Territories. Its First Nation peoples are largely of Dene ethnic heritage. Nunavut's First Nations people are largely of Uniut ethnic heritage.
The territory contains approximately a dozen communities with populations of 1000 or more. There are almost no roads in the Territory. There are no railroads in the territory. Most of the communities are located on or near the Arctic Ocean, and are icebound for most of the year.
Almost all communities in Nunavut have airstrips.
The most northerly spur of the North-American railroad network ends in Hay River, Northwest Territories. An intermodal terminal in Hay River allows cargo to be transferred to barges, which serve the Mackenzie River basin, the Beaufort Sea, and the Eastern Arctic.
A consortium of mining interests is constructing a deep-water port in Bathurst Inlet.
In 2006 Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced that the Canadian Government would construct a deep-water port to service new Canadian Armed Forces vessels. Initially commentators assumed this deep water port would be constructed in the territorial capital Iqaluit. However, the bay on which Iqaluit is located would require dredging to accommodate deeper vessels, and Iqaluit is not on the Northwest Passage. Existing deep-water resources existed in Nanisivik, the site of an abandoned lead-zinc mine.
There are currently no railroad lines in Nunavut. A mining consortium has plans to build a 149 kilometre line on Baffin Island, connecting a Iron mine-site in the Mary River area to Steensby Inlet.
Every winter an ice-road is re-established from Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, to a dozen important mines. During the summer the permafrost is too soggy to support surface vehicles. And it is very expensive to construct paved roads over permafrost, because the Roads foundations shift under the ice.
During winter the permafrost freezes, and the ice on the lakes in the region become thick enough to bear the weight of 18 wheel transport trucks. Mining companies try to use the winter ice-road to transport a year's worth of supplies.
The winter of 2005 was unusually warm, and the water on the lakes wasn't deep enough to bring a whole years supplies. The supply short-fall had to be brought in by air, at great expense, accelerating plans to build the Bathurst Inlet deep-water port. Current plans are for a paved road from the Bathurst Inlet port to replace the winter ice-road from Yellowknife.