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Travel agent captivated by the North

Stephanie McDonald
Northern News Services
Published Monday, August 20, 2007

IQALUIT - The tale is true for many new northerners: curiosity about the land brought them here and falling in love made them stay.

The story holds true for Cecile Guerin, originally from Paris, France, who now makes Iqaluit home.

In Paris, Guerin worked as a manager for a travel agency specializing in trips to the Arctic. After three years setting up trips for Europeans to Nunavut, Siberia, and Scandinavia, she was asked if she wanted to lead trips for tourists in Nunavut.

Her first encounter with the territory happened five years ago when she guided two groups during their stay in Qikiqtarjuaq. Four months later she was back again to work and this time stayed for a week's holiday. She met the driver of the tour boat, "and that's the beginning of the long story."

In January 2003 she quit her job in Paris and moved to Qikiqtarjuaq to be with her boyfriend.

"My life was 100 per cent changed," Guerin said.

Although she had never before carried a gun or driven a snowmobile, she spent her first year in Nunavut hunting and fishing.

Guerin moved to Iqaluit in 2005 with her newborn daughter, an early linguist who can already understand three languages.

She returned to work, first at the French day care and then as commercial director with Odyssee Nunavut, the travel agency of the Associations des francophones du Nunavut.

Her days are now spent selling Nunavut tour packages to five different travel agencies in France. The three most popular are the wildlife tours in Qikiqtarjuaq, a cultural tour in Kimmirut, and hiking trips in Pangnirtung.

"French people love the Arctic," Guerin said.

Explorer and ethnologist Paul-Emile Victor wrote of his trips to Greenland, which continues to pique the interest of French people in the North. The contrast in landscape is also appealing.

"We have a lot of space here that they don't have (in Europe)," Guerin said.

She has now lived in Nunavut for four-and-a-half years and has no immediate plans to return to France.

"At the beginning I thought I would stay for a year," Guerin said.