Friday, 10 February 2017

PM comes to town

Yesterday, I trudged up the hill to the high school where Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was scheduled to have a Town Hall Q &A type public event. I was eager to hear about issues identified by the community, to validate their concerns publicly and to listen to the PM's response. I waited on the bleachers as the space filled with people talking and waiting in anticipation. The day-care kids were even towed in on a rope and told to "Sit quietly because the Prime Minister was coming," although I am not sure what that means exactly to a three-year-old.

Mayor Redford and Inuit organization leaders from
all territories speak of new partnerships. PM is late.
Inuit organization leaders welcomed the crowd and introduced themselves speaking of the announcement of new policy agreements between the federal government and Inuit. But, the official arrival of the PM was delayed. The event was cut short. No translation provided in Inuktitut. Instead of a public forum where issues and responses were shared, the event was changed into a tea and bannock meet-and-greet. Essentially, a selfie fest playing on the celebrity side versus political engagement.

PM Justin Trudeau arrives at High School. Speaks for 2 min
before tea and bannock meet-and-greet selfie fest.
I felt deeply disappointed. Chatting over tea and bannock is an excellent way to have open and honest conversations with a small group of people, even better than a formal setting in my opinion. But it is not a good forum for engagement on issues in a crowd of several hundred people. It is again a PR stunt.

I stood back and chatted with those around me and watched the swarms of selfies. I observed. The woman next to me said, "Oh, isn't he just cute as a button." I watched the excitement of many taking selfies and the pride of parents who handed over their babies to be bounced around by the PM. I even got a handshake and a "plaisir de vous voir". I was admittedly thrilled but chose to take photos of people taking selfies instead of asking for one myself. I wanted to ask instead for opinions, for plans, for some level of accountability. I wanted to know about plans for implementing the United Nations Declaration on Indigenous People, about electoral reform, about the delicate balance of economic development and environmental protection in an area of the world so directly affected by climate change. Instead, I watched hand-shakes and selfies.

I saw or heard a few people ask questions. I could not hear the responses through the crowd. Today, I was surprised to hear one recorded conversation about electoral reform covered by the CBC. There may have been more people who pushed through and gave space to questions or issues but it was not a shared, public space. The issues were not heard or validated by the community. The responses were not shared for everyone to hear and debate.

In the fall the federal government hosted a public consultation on electoral reform here in Iqaluit that was widely criticized. The event was poorly planned to provide space for engagement. It was not widely advertised and there were no Inuktitut interpreters. I feel like this event fell into a similar category. Many in the crowd were appeased with selfies but there was little space for critical discussion and dialogue.

Sunday, 20 November 2016

Apex house-sit/stay-cation

Aaron and I spent the last week on what felt like a mini-stay-cation. We were invited to house sit for friends who have a lovely home (and a dog!) out of town in the community of Apex. Although we continued going to work, I felt as though I was on vacation and spent much time relaxing and gazing in awe at the view over the beach and Frobisher Bay.
Mid-afternoon sunset 
This morning, I was shovelling the driveway. The temperature rose from -25 to -1 within a few days this week and we got heaps of snow! As I shovelled in this balmy weather, I listening to the ravens swooping overhead, popping, crackling, cawing to each other. This is my last morning of my stay-cation/house-sit and I wanted to write to express my gratitude for being surrounded by such beauty.

Raven at sunset
Apex is a small community outside of Iqaluit. Apex was the site of the former Hudson Bay company who opened a trading post here in the 1950s, several miles away from the US air base that eventually became known as Frobisher Bay and now Iqaluit. Apex is around the point and over the hill from Iqaluit. Driving out of the city of Iqaluit, there are only several minutes of openness with no houses or buildings before arriving in Apex. While the current dump marks one end of the road, Apex marks the other end of the road, literally at another but no longer used dump. Apex is now home a great little elementary school (Nanook School), the territory's largest women's shelter, a community hall, a couple of small businesses and about 60 families. A quick Wikipedia search provides more information about the history of the community.

On the beach at low tide, looking over at Apex.

Our friends purchased a model pre-fabricated home that sounds like a bit of a pilot project to provide alternatives due to the short construction time for housing (between the time the ice melts and the first shipment of materials can arrive in July and the cold weather in October). The bungalow feels so spacious and elegant compared to our small apartment. As some blog readers have commented on the utilidor, I want to mention that Apex is not connected to the utilidor. All the houses get regular visits from the water and sewage trucks (not to be confused) to refill and pump-out. I have been mindful to keep those entry points on the house well cleared of snow. Each house has a pair of red lights that light up when the refill and pumping out takes place. You can see them glowing in the evening throughout Apex.

Red light on at the neighbour's after recent sewage and water truck visits. Old Hudson Bay buildings to the right.
The house overlooks the beach and the large picture windows provide an absolutely incredible view of Apex, the bay, the tides, the ice ad the mountains in the distance. Through the window, I can watch the sunrise over the hill, move in a low arch then set over the bay (at 2:30 today). I am very aware of tilt of the earth and the change of daylight in this season.

Morning high-tide. Turquoise waters over the ice.

Can you spot the dog? He is trying to spot the ball.
I have also enjoyed spending time with their dog Jasper. His favourite hobbies are laying on pillows on the couch, stretching out to take all the room in bed, bringing you toys and slippers and racing after a ball on the beach. The first evening I walked him, I was thrilled by the moonlight on the ice pack and the bouncing red light on Jasper's collar, lighting up the snow. We have made a funny pair playing fetch. I throw the ball with my limited skills that are greatly reduced with clunky mitts and watch carefully where it lands. Jasper races around in all directions, seemingly oblivious to the actually point where the ball landed in the snow. He digs in snowbanks and runs in circles until he finds it or I dig it out for him. The first time Aaron went out with Jasper, Aaron kept throwing the ball then fetching it as Jasper ran in excited circles, digging in all the wrong places. I am sure the spring will bring great lost ball discoveries for the ball-obsessed dog.

Laura says we should get a dog. I agree. But alas, we just moved and our new apartment in pet-free. I will just have to keep coming back for more Jasper walks and visits.
Keeping track of Jasper on evening walk (6 pm).

Sunday, 23 October 2016

In Town.

Iqaluit cannot be accused of pretence. The place gets the job done: it serves as the territorial seat of government (the patch of road immediately in front of the Territorial Legislature features one of the only bits sidewalk in Iqaluit):
Nunavut's Territorial Legislature, with sidewalk.

There are schools (elementary and junior high schools, a high school, and even a French language school):
Nakasuk Elementary School (perhaps designed to resemble blubber?).

There is a fire department, a new (and expanding) hospital, and an imposing RCMP building:
Iqaluit's RCMP Detachment.

There are two to three grocery stores (depending on how you count), an incredibly busy post office and a shawarma place (I'm told it serves the most northerly baclava on the planet):
Northern shawarma.

There is a soon to be opened aquatic centre, brought to us in part for the Federation of Canadian Municipalities:

Iqaluit's new Aquatic Centre, under construction, at dawn.

One of Iqaluit's two bike racks (that I've found) is perched in front of the Government of Canada Building (the other is found in front of the Iqaluit Centennial Library, both see occasional traffic):
The bike rack is just to the right of the bench

Iqaluit's current, bright yellow, airport terminal is being replaced by a $300 million terminal (this time in red, and a public private partnership). The new terminal will feature baggage carousels, and an international gate:
Current YFB Terminal (Patrick Nagle/CBC).

Future YFB Terminal (

It's a busy town. There are notions of "traffic" throughout the day. It's estimated that there are now 8,000 Iqalummiut bumping along Iqaluit's roughly 25 km of (mostly unpaved) road. And it's a growing town, it's taken just about 20 years for the population to double.

It can be easy to forget, with the "traffic", construction and constant change happening in town, that we are in an absolutely spectacular part of the country. It's important for me to leave town, when I can, to help maintain perspective.

Amazing things are found just a short walk from town.

Sunday, 16 October 2016


I have had the great pleasure of working with Dawn, a retired teacher who has taught in communities throughout the territory since the 1970s. One of the many delights was her sharing of stories about teaching and living in remote communities. Her stories about animals particularly caught my attention. A boa constrictor on tour with a travelling science entertainer fell out of his container at the airport in the furthest North community of Grise Fiord. Her collection of garter snakes in her classroom delivered by an unaware government official who had followed directions for keeping the taped shut margarine container under his coat to prevent it from freezing on the trip North. The story about two chickens in the southern Baffin community of Kimmirut really caught my attention and my imagination. (In grade seven I proudly wrote a 25 page story based on my chicken Peep.) Now, I will attempt to retell the story of the adventures of two chickens in Southern Baffin Island. I have filled in minimal details, restraining myself until perhaps I write it as a children’s story.

Late one fall, Dawn got a call from a teacher in Iqaluit who had recently hatched out a batch of chicks in her classroom. Would she like a couple? Dawn agreed with no hesitation, although the chicks were 120 km to the north with no roads between the communities. The young chickens were bundled up in a sleeping bag and put on a plane. At that time, planes in Kimmirut only landed on a sandbar at low-tide. The ground was frozen but the water was still open so Dawn headed out by skidoo then canoe to receive the bundle of snug chickens from the plane. 

The chickens made their home in the corner of her classroom. They soon grew combs and tail-feathers. Two big sleek roosters pranced around. One of the roosters flew at the janitor one evening. To appease him, the next day, he was gifted the rooster and turned it into stew. The other rooster, named Kukalu, was given to an Inuit family on the school council. Their daughter Pisi was a student in Dawn’s class. The family often played friendly jokes on Dawn and her husband so the rooster gift was a joke in turn. 

Pisi’s father went to the dump and fashioned a cage from old refrigerator shelves. Kukalu lived like a parrot, a beautiful exotic noisy bird. They feed him bannock and seal meat on a stick. I imagine Kukalu lived a good life with lots of food and surrounded by family until he grew old or became stew.

Pisi now lives in Iqaluit. I hope to meet her someday and ask about her story of the rooster.

Monday, 5 September 2016

Growing North of 60

Travelling to new places often means replacing home comforts with new found curiosities. Still, I have always liked to bring a bit of home with me. In the past, I have travelled with photos, cards, a crochet hook and other small things that would slip easily into my backpack. Moving to the Arctic, I was thinking of other things. Gardening and food production is part of who I am. I love to put my hands in the soil in spring and I relish the bounty of a fall harvest. I have found ways of getting my hands dirty most places I go. While looking forward to experiencing the beauty of the tundra, I was not ready to give up that connection. This time, I travelled with an adapted form of agriculture in my backpack, packing seeds to sprout and red-wriggler worms to build some soil.

On my many exploratory walks around town, I was on the lookout for garden spaces. Although, we are North of 60, the long daylight hours of summer make for great greenhouse conditions. John and Allison Lamb, who lived in Iqaluit for many years, had told me about the community greenhouse project. I eventually found a large greenhouse, seemingly empty this year. I also spotted a few sunny porches with potted plants. Finally, I came across a beautiful house by the cemetery. 

Can you spot the growing systems?
Inside the greenhouse
Standing at a distance, I eyed up the various small outbuildings and structures, reckoning that edible plants grew there. As the house stands along my favourite coastal walk to the neighbourhood of Apex, I walked by often. Each time, standing and staring, noting more details: rain collection, cold frames, greenhouse, raised beds, a dog! I admittedly developed a crush on a house and series of systems I wanted to know more about.

Tender chard
Fortunately, I met the kind owners who gave me a tour. They have made cold frames and a small greenhouse with scrap wood, poly, sealift crates and tarps. Their soil is a combination of commercial bags and bokashi composted food scraps (inoculated to ferment anaerobically). They plant many cold hardy crops and herbs: kale, arugula, spinach, bok choy, parsley, mustard greens, peas. They have indulged me in watering, tending and munching on some of the greens. I am grateful. 

As food sovereignty in the Arctic has been challenged by both old and new forms of colonization, climate change and reliance of expensive southern products, I am curious on the role of greenhouses. I welcome your reflections.

Away. Together.

So much appears to make so little sense (a fence in the tundra?, "cold" water is heated in the utilidor, so that it doesn't freeze on its above-ground journey to our sinks, showers and toilets; in a city with a housing shortage, the governments of Canada and Nunavut pay what must be tens of thousands of dollars a month to keep apartments empty, allowing professionals, like us, to have a place to live as soon as we land; I've happily, found avocados, mangos, papayas, Guatemalan peas and güisquil/chayote/bum fruit in the grocery stores).

Why a fence in the tundra?
Today, though, these contradictions are not what are on my mind. Today, I'm mostly filled with gratitude to share all of this with Julie.

Hiking with around Geraldine Lake, Iqaluit's water supply.
Julie and I have spent a fair number of years working and living in other cultures and countries. We've done this, almost exclusively, separately. We've waddled along in second, and then third, languages while conversing with campesinos or loosing ourselves in humid capital cities. We've shared meals, and nights, with families on their dirt floors. We've learned how to politely refuse (or not) the delicious looking lettuce or the mug of lukewarm coffee. We've been strangers in homes and workplaces in distant corners of our planet.

This fence protects the city from incoming snow drifts.
We've done this separately, and internationally. Now, we're not in Senegal, India, Guatemala or Peru. We're in our own country, barely a three hour flight north of Ottawa. It is humbling that at times, in Canada, I cannot serve patients in their own language; I use an Inuktitut interpreter. If I begin to feel slightly at ease I'm reminded of how much I'm in someone else's land when clerical staff share and laugh in Inuktitut. Back to school flyers appear in our PO Box, in Inuktitut and English, advertising bologna, apples, Kraft Dinner and white bread. We're in Canada. Yet, such a different slice of this big, gorgeous and often messy country.

And, I didn't come here alone. I'm came with Julie. Her curiosity, gentleness and kindness astound me. I'm thrilled to be sharing all of this with her.

We're a bit dorky, it turns out, wherever we are :)

Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Some Iqaluit Trivia


Walking towards Iqaluit from Apex
1. What does Iqaluit mean?

2. In the 1940s which country built an air force base on the land that is now the City of Iqaluit?

3. Although Iqaluit was the original Inuktitut name for the area, the community was also known as ________ until being officially renamed in 1987 (Hint: the name that appears on my parents' old atlas).

4. How many official languages are there in Nunavut?

5. Name the official languages (4 pointer!)

The Legion: Bonus question
6. In which year was the Territory of Nunavut official formed?

7. What is a utilidor?
a) Iqaluit's sub-terrainian mass-transit system
b) a door to your food storage area
c) a corridor between buildings to avoid the cold
d) an above-ground pipe for water and sewage

View from our window: kids playing on sealift crates.
Bonus: Explain the rationale  behind the order of the flags in front of the legion


1. A place of many fish

2. United States

3. Frobisher Bay

4. four

5. Inuktitut, English, French, Inuinnaqtun

6. 1999

7. d

Bonus: Good for you!

9-10 points: You factster!
8 or under: Keep learning along with me