Winnipeg visitors, Winter camping, and Wind storms

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Estée is always insistent on being present when we start a fire in the wood stove.

I will have to admit that the colder winter months of January and February were difficult for me. Now I understand why people around here fly out to warmer climates in order to escape the dark and cold        months of winter. It didn’t help that we were also constantly sick during those months. We seemed to catch all the bugs that were going around town. Maybe we just aren’t immune yet to the arctic germs and viruses.

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Rachel took this adorable picture of Léonie while touring around town.

It couldn’t have come at a better time when my sister, Rachel, told me she was coming for a visit at the end of February. Since my mother would never have made the long journey here on her own, she took this opportunity to travel to Inuvik with my sister. I was hoping to show my mother and sister a good time. Our neighbour is my mother’s age and has lived here practically her whole life. Therefore, this made her the best tour guide you could ever ask for, especially since she’s such a great storyteller. She made sure that they had cultural experiences during their time in the North. Food wise, they were treated to freshly caught local fish and moose meat. My mom’s favourite part was definitely seeing the grandkids. However, culturally, she most enjoyed it when Ruth took us down to the Gwich’in Tribal Council to view a traditional garment. Ruth was one of the 40 seamstresses that worked on a three year project called the “Gwich’in Traditional Caribou Skin Project”. IMG_2047These women IMG_2052worked to replicate a traditional Gwich’in  caribou skin summer outfit from the 19th century. In order to rediscover the lost art of making these outfits, she needed to travel to the Smithsonian as well as the Museum of Civilization to study the original techniques and materials behind a preserved original garment. She is a great story teller and it was captivating to hear her recount the whole story about all the intricate details that were involved in sewing this outfit together.

My mother wanted to spend some one on one time with her grandkids, so André, Rachel and myself went on a two day winter camping trip, along with an EA from the school, named Alex. The plan was to snowmobile to our site, located in the scenic Gwich’in park. Once there, our plan was to sleep in a traditional McPherson tent, cook over a wood stove, and spend our days ice fishing. We left with a plan in place, but I’d say that the real adventure began when our plans started to fall apart. Early the first morning, André set out with a buddy to blaze a trail, and find a good location to set up camp. Things always take more time out here, and so, Rachel, Alex and I patiently waited for most of the day for the boys to come back. We kept busy that day by beading and embroidering to help pass the time. Finally, André showed up in the late afternoon, so we left in a flurry of excitement, and rushed in order to get to camp before sunset.

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This picture was taken after I smoked the side of a tree with our snowmobile. Everything’s a-ok! Rachel took over from there, but that wasn’t any better. She drives a snowmobile just as jerky and speedy as she drives a car!

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Our overnight sleeping quarters. It smelt lovely!

I had the opportunity to ride a snowmobile for the first time. I really enjoyed speeding down the smooth and flat ice road at 80km, with a loaded boggan full of supplies swaying back and forth behind me. We eventually turned off the ice road and followed a path that made its way through creeks, lakes, and wooded hills. However, just as we got to the summit of a large hill overlooking the whole delta, the belt on André’s snowmobile blew. We now had the problem of having 2 boggans, 4 people, and only 1 working snowmobile. The sun was setting, and we had to come up with a game plan. We decided that André would drive Alex to our destination so that she could begin to set up camp. Meanwhile, Rachel and I would stay with the broken down snowmobile, and wait for André to come back for us. We were grateful for the warm -5C weather and the beautiful scenery before us on top of the hill. About an hour later we heard the sound of André’s snowmobile coming back for us. We squished 3 adults on a 2-person snowmobile, and headed to our camp. On the way, we stopped to fell and buck a few trees for firewood. What a quaint sight it was when we arrived at camp. The McPherson tent was hung up on a makeshift white spruce frame, right off the bank of Campbell lake. Alex was busy collecting spruce boughs to insulate and cushion the floor of our tent. Let me tell you, the aroma of spruce boughs smelt wonderful! Seeing as it was February, we were losing daylight fast. Therefore, we worked together to set up the wood stove and start a fire to warm up our tent. For supper, we feasted on a well deserved meal of chilli and eskimo donuts.

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Nighttime shot of the McPherson tent. I believe I was winning the card game at this point…just a few minutes before we got smoked out!

That evening, while we played card games, we began to wonder about the wood stove. We had set it inside the tent on a bed of spruce boughs. It had started to smell smokey, and we realized that the stove was sinking deeper and deeper into the melting snow. It was also heating up the spruce boughs. Being the green and inexperienced bunch that we were, we put on our work gloves, and attempted to quickly disconnect the pipe from the stove in order to reconfigure the setup. However, we were smoked out of the tent within seconds. Staying low to the ground to avoid a lung full of smoke, we quickly assembled some logs and placed them underneath the stove in order to elevate it. Once that problem was taken care of, we reattached the pipe, and were back to business. After a long, eventful day, we finally settled for the night. We didn’t have the best sleep as we kept waking up every time André had to throw wood in the stove. We also neglected to place enough spruce boughs on the floor. All night, the lack of separation between our sleeping bags and the snow beneath made it cold. Add to this, the branches that kept jabbing into our backs and sides every time we tossed and turned in order to find a comfy position. Despite all this, we still managed to sleep in until 9am, something that I rarely get to do because of the kids.

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Rachel ice fishing with her little jiggling stick.

The next morning, André and I left camp on to meet up with his buddy who was coming to drop off a belt to repair the broken down snowmobile. Luckily, the broken snowmobile had just enough juice to make it to the ice road so that we wouldn’t have to tow it down the hill. André’s co-worker had just finished checking his trap lines before meeting up with us. Once the belt was replaced, he brought us to the back of his trailer to show us his frozen furry friends. I almost had to laugh when he grabbed a frozen fox by its hind leg and lifted it up to show us. Frozen foxes are not a sight you get to see too often. He had also caught a minx, which was also frozen in mid-stride. He helps an elder with his trap line and they sell the furs in town. We parted ways and rode both snowmobiles back to camp, arriving just in time for Rachel and Alex’s bacon and egg breakfast.

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My first fish caught in the Arctic! Can you tell I love handling fish? I could barely bring myself to hold it.

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Winter camping group shot!

As we ate, it was so peaceful to sit in the quietness and stillness of the frozen north. Soon enough, however, we started to hear the faint sound of snowmobiles coming up over the distant hills. Two of André’s co-workers were coming to join us to do some ice fishing on the lake. We welcomed them warmly with hot coffee, and headed out on to the lake to drill some holes. With the snowmobiles positioned to shelter us from the wind, we put together our “jiggling” sticks. These simple fishing rods are made of a stick, a long piece of string, and a spoon. We dropped our lines in the hole and just like it’s name…we started “jiggling”. I’ve gone ice fishing with André’s family in northern Saskatchewan before, and all I’ve ever caught was frostbite. You can say that I wasn’t too optimistic this time either. Just as I began to lay down on the snow packed ice, and announce that I was doubtful I’d catch anything, I felt a tug on my line. I quickly jumped to my feet and yelled, “I’ve got a bite! What do I do? What do I do?” At the same time, one of the other teachers caught a fish as well. There was much excitement as everyone dropped their lines, and came to see our catch. We both pulled out small “jacks”, aka Nothern Pike. The locals aren’t too fond of jacks because they have too many bones. But I didn’t care, it was a fish! Unfortunately, that was the only catch of the day. When we began to see that the wind was picking up, and there was likely a storm brewing, we took down our camp, and made the long snowmobile trek back to Inuvik. This was my first time “on the land” and I was so grateful for it. On our journey back, I was amazed by the beauty of the land highlighted by the sun set behind the horizon. I keep having to pinch myself every now and then when I consider that I live in a place that is largely untamed and untouched by man. There was something satisfying about living outdoors and having to work in order to survive for two days out in the winter cold. It was truly an adventure, especially because, as my sister put it, it felt slightly reckless and unsafe at times.

That evening, shortly after our return, the worst windstorm I have ever seen hit Inuvik. I was very grateful for not having been stuck out there. It was a good idea to take down the camp as soon as we did. There are usually a couple of wicked windstorms that hit during the year in Inuvik. That night, back in the safety of our home, we were all awakened by howling winds. The hurricane force winds were so severe that they were making our house shake. In the past, these windstorms have lifted homes off their stilts. I was really hoping that ours would hold up, and it did. In the morning, all the planes were grounded as the storm moved south. I was secretly hoping that my mom and sister’s flights would be canceled so they’d be able to stay a little longer. As we walked around town and talked to people in the community, we began to hear about the damage the wind storm left behind. Some utilitdores had been damaged, but the worst happened to the brand new daycare facility. The roof could not withstand the pounding of the wind, and the whole roof collapsed. Later, my mom told me that though it was scary to witness, she was glad to experience what it was like living in the North during her short stay here. We have definitely been spoiled this year to receive visit from family during the winter months. It has been refreshing to see them and fun to experience new arctic adventures with them. Despite the long winter days, there is inexpressible richness in the experiences we get to have out here. Winter has never been so enjoyable.

Christmas Holidays in Inuvik

I will have to back track some months in this blog, as I realize that I have not written in a while. Even though we’re quickly heading into Spring, I’ll write about our Christmas in the North. It actually doesn’t feel like the Christmas holidays were that long ago since we’re still living under a thick blanket of snow.

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Celebrating Estée’s 1rst birthday!

Over the Christmas season, there are many festivities that take place in Inuvik. One of the festivities that we attended was a community feast, which took place at Ingamo Hall, the town’s friendship centre. In a nutshell, the hall holds a feast and invites the whole community to take part. They provided roasted “Losh”, commonly called burbot in the prairies as well as salads, bannok, eskimo donuts, and every kind of dessert. It really was a feast! The food was spread out over several tables in the middle of the hall and people sat on chairs along the perimeter of the room. Once grace was said, the elders were the first served. There is a great amount of respect for elders in the local Inuvialiut and Gwich’in cultures, which is wonderful to see. I was especially touched by the community’s generosity and hospitality. I have never seen the poor, the homeless, the handicap, the elderly and the young, local leaders, and people from a variety of cultural backgrounds share a meal together on this scale before. Like a true family dinner, any leftovers were sent home with guests. After supper, there were games for the children, a performance from the Inuvik Drummers and Dancers, and some good old time music and jigging.

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Cutting down our first ever Christmas tree.

Even though it was difficult spending Christmas away from family, there was something sweet and peaceful about spending our holidays as a little family in the North. For one, it was quiet, very quiet. While it was restful, unfortunately, we did come down with a mild stomach flu. I caught it Christmas Eve, and André caught it Christmas Day. To top things off, we also had to deal with a teething baby. Great timing, right? Despite all this, we were still able to celebrate.

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Opening our presents on Christmas morning.

On Christmas eve, our tree stand finally decided to show up in the mail. We could finally bundle up the kids to go find our Christmas tree. It was a windy and cold snowmobile ride as we rode down trail after trail in order to find a tree that satisfied André’s standards. Finally, I tapped him on the shoulder to slow down, as we rode down trail number who knows what. I pointed to the first tree that looked easy enough to cut down and told him that was the one. My toes were freezing and Estée was getting frost bite on her cheeks. Most spruces in the Mackenzie delta look like the Charlie Brown Christmas tree. We loaded up our frail, skinny, and lopsided looking tree in the boggan and headed back home to warm up over a hot cup of cocoa.

That evening, André went with Léonie to the Christmas service at church while I stayed back to somewhat rest and tend to an irritable, teething Estée. After eating almost a whole bag of frozen blueberries to numb the pain, she was finally calm enough to sleep for the night. Thankfully, by that time I was feeling better. Shortly afterwards, André and Léonie came back with our next door neighbour, Ruth. We had tea together while André and Léonie decorated the tree with a few strings of lights and all six decorations that we own. It was definitely a pathetic looking tree, but it did the trick. However, our neighbour Ruth wouldn’t have it. She jumped in, and suggest to André which branches to trim. She’s a jovial, chatty, take charge kind of woman, and we love her for it. Ruth has definitely become my “mother of the North” – always looking out for us. Finally, after some fine tuning, she was satisfied with the look of our first ever Christmas tree.

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Our neighbour, Ruth, who came to share Christmas dinner with us.

On Christmas Day, André wasn’t feeling too hot, but he still managed to put on a brave face, and enjoy our morning gift opening. It was a joy to unwrap some presents from home. They were wrapped with so much love, and contained warm, loving messages. Our hearts were definitely full that morning. I spent the rest of the day cooking up a storm in the kitchen for our Christmas Day supper. Even though André knew he would pay for it later, he refused to miss out on my glazed ham, tourtière, stuffing, and my mémère’s lethal “Calorie Bomb” dessert. Just like Thanksgiving, it would have been a bore to eat all the food without being able to share it. Since Ruth had no supper plans, we invited her over. We had a wonderful evening with her and her grand-daughters, who came to play with Léonie. I keep being reminded of God’s faithfulness to us out here. There is a Bible verse that reads: “God sets the lonely in families” (Psalm 68:6). Though we didn’t have our blood family to celebrate with us, we were provided with another form of community, our neighbours. In a small town, it’s been interesting to have neighbours become family. You can depend on each other, you can help each other out, and you welcome each other in one another’s homes.

When January rolled around, we awaited the much anticipated return of the sun. Every year, when the sun finally decides to peek over the horizon, there is a great celebration in the North. When I saw the sun for the first time, it was indeed a glorious celebration. I almost cried. I just basked in its warm rays for the few short minutes that it rose. It almost feels like seeing a dear friend again after some time apart. Absence makes the heart grow fonder! Never will I take the sun for granted again.

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Inuvik Drummers and Dancers performing at the Sunrise Festival.

With the return of the sun, the whole town of Inuvik celebrates the Sunrise Festival. We were thrilled to hear that André’s parents, Marc and Jacqueline, were going to pay us a visit during this time. I was definitely ready to see some familiar faces and receive some love from family. As it turns out, Justin Trudeau decided to make an appearance in Inuvik during the festival as well. On the much anticipated day, Marc and Jacqueline, Justin Trudeau (along with his entourage), and the rest of the passengers landed safe and sound in the land of the midnight sun. To kick off the festivities, we all headed to the high school to eat a traditional meal, which was followed by an old time dance, of course. There was a big buzz around JT, as everyone wanted to talk to him, shake his hand, and get their picture taken with him. Once that excitement died down, the Inuvik Drummers and Dancers performed. After performing a few dances, they invited everyone to learn a traditional dance. Though most of us failed miserably because we could not keep pace, nor imitate the actions, it was great to participate in a treasured cultural practice. We also had the chance to watch some jigging, which brought back so many memories of our French Canadian childhood. The event was a great way to introduce my in-laws to the culture and to the dear friends we’ve made in this community.

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Stopping for a group picture while dog sledding. It was a very cold day and though it was only mid-afternoon, darkness came upon us fast!

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Our “official” dog mushing certificate.

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Léonie, snug as a bug in the dog sled. She loved the ride!

The next day, we tried our hand at dog mushing. There is a local business that offers dog sledding tours of the Mackenzie Delta. We each had our own dog sled and team. They gave us a few quick and simple mushing lessons and gave us a few moments to get acquainted with our team of huskies. It was difficult to tell the dogs apart as they were all white. The owners said they breed them and train them to mush, and so these huskies were all related, except for one. His name was Duke, and I was lucky enough to have him as my lead dog. Although Duke was the strongest, a dog team will only run as fast as the slowest member. Unfortunately, Duke couldn’t spur on a smaller dog on my team who strolled along, taking every opportunity to slow down, sniff around, and even respond to nature’s call. Because he was not strong enough to halt the whole team, it was hilarious to watch him trying to pee while the rest of the team dragged him along. Suffice to say, I didn’t have a prize winning dog team. We had a great run, and it was a blast steering the team in a snow covered spruce forest and on frozen lakes and rivers. The best part was when two dog teams ran side by side on different tracks. As soon as one team saw another pull up beside them, the race was on! The speed picked up dramatically and easily doubled as teams competed against one another. My mother-in-law was not so fortunate in her experience as she volunteered to take the slowest dog team. We just didn’t know how slow they actually were. I remember looking back across the lake and seeing her team slowly jog their way towards us. I could hear her encouraging her team along, yelling: “Ya! Ya!”

André's first arctic catch while fishing with his dad. A Coney that we devoured for supper.

André’s first arctic catch while fishing with his dad. A Coney that we devoured for supper.

Suffice to say that she just about lost her voice. In the end, it was great a experience. There was nothing quite like mushing in the stillness of the delta – the only sound being the pitter patty of dog feet on the fresh powdered snow. Oh yes, and how could one forget the faint voice in the distance that was my mother-in-law yelling, “Ya! Ya!”

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Checking out the igloos on Boot Lake.

Staying warm by the roaring bonfire while admiring the fireworks.

The last night of the festival was filled with great memories. André and his dad finally arrived home in the evening, after a long day of ice fishing. Thankfully, it was a successful day, as they both caught a coney, which fed us for two weeks. Being married into the Cyr family, I’ve quickly learnt that when the family goes ice fishing, you’d better be ready to brave the cold, because they can fish all day! Therefore, I wasn’t the least bit surprised by their late arrival. Being impatient to take part in the festivities, my mother-in-law and I left early with the kids. We hopped in a taxi and went to join the rest of the town on Boot Lake. When we got out on the frozen ice, we were met with the smell of eskimo donuts and hot chocolate being prepared in one of the McPherson tents. We had the option to stay warm by the campfire or go explore the igloos that had been built for the occasion. Once André and his dad arrived on the snowmobile, we all made our way across the highway to the Roads End Golf Course. There was a huge bonfire blazing as people gathered to watch the fireworks. I had a hard time deciding which was more entertaining to watch, the fireworks or the massive bonfire that was being supervised by the fire department. Every year, they pile a bunch of pallets and torch it to create one of the most epic bonfires I have ever seen in my lifetime. It was awesome!  The whole town could stay warm by the bonfire, while admiring the fireworks up above. I have to say that I was very impressed by the fireworks as well, they were just about as elaborate as the ones on Canada Day in Winnipeg.

I laugh now when I think about our ride back home. Instead of paying for another taxi ride, we decided to all hop on the snowmobile and have André’s parents ride in the the boggan. As we zipped down the Mackenzie channel, I kept hearing the boggan going “thud, thud” with every bump. I took a look behind me and could see André’s parents hanging on, trying to brace themselves for the next bump that was surely going to hit them hard. They were troopers though. We knew they could handle it, as they are not new to snowmobiling on rough terrain. They left with a short visit filled with Arctic memories, a check off their bucket list, and bumps and bruises from a wild snowmobile ride. We were sad to see them go so soon, but grateful to have been able to reconnect with family. It was just the visit I needed to bring us our belated Christmas holiday cheer. To top it all off, the sun was back, and that was hopefully going to keep our hearts warm to face the coldest months yet to come.

Living Without the Sun

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Afternoon walk on the trail at Boot Lake. This is the brightest it got outside in December.

We heard so much about December with its “24 hours of darkness”. I have to say that the months leading up this time were filled with anticipation, curiosity, and a slight bit of apprehension.

Spending a snowy afternoon playing in the yard while André splits wood.

Spending a snowy afternoon playing in the yard while André splits wood.

Surprisingly, it really wasn’t as bad, nor as dark, as we had envisioned. The idea that the north falls under a spell of perpetual darkness during the winter months is a myth. Sure, it gets dark, and you don’t see the sun’s rays or feel its warmth during the day, but you still get dawn and dusk. During the darkest days, we wouldn’t see daylight until noon, and by 3pm it was dark again. During this brief window, it felt and looked like a regular cloudy day. I mentioned to my neighbour that it was lighter out than I had imagined. She smiled and whispered, “Let’s keep that as the secret of the north. We want to keep southerners thinking we’re brave to live in endless darkness.” Oops, I guess the secret is out and the myth, busted!

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Eating Eskimo Donuts for the first time. A household staple. Yummy!

This is all to say that we have made it through the much dreaded month of December and have survived! There were a few memorable moments, like when one late morning I was walking outside with the girls and I had the opportunity to point out the brightest stars to Léonie and stare at the midnight moon. I rarely get to have these moments with her, because usually she’s already in bed by the time the stars are out. Also, I have come to understand the locals around here a bit more. If it can be helped, nothing really happens until noon, and people are most active in the evening. You can say that we’ve started to adapt to this way of life.  I’ve always been one to enjoy waking up at the crack of dawn to start my day, but these dark mornings make it really tough to get out of bed, let alone get outdoors. Lately, the girls and I have been waking up mid morning, starting off our day at noon when it starts getting brighter outside. This was our routine, especially during the holidays. It was tough for André to go back to work. But keep in mind that if it’s hard for the teacher, it’s even harder for the students, which makes it even worse for the teacher!

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Birthday party fireworks. They sure know how to throw a party up north!

With these shorter days of light, André has not been able to go out as often to get wood. It has been nice to have him around more lately, especially since he was out collecting wood almost every day in November. During one of those busy and tiring wood hauling days, André had loaded up his “boggan” with a heavier load than usual. When he was coming back through town, he attempted to cross Mackenzie Street, on a Saturday when there’s lots of traffic. He ended up getting stuck in the middle of an intersection because he was going uphill and the hard-packed snow gave him no traction. Both lanes were completely blocked. It took four grown men to push him out of the way. Let’s just say that André was quite embarassed. Now he jokes like this: What causes a traffic jam in Inuvik? An inexperienced southern white guy trying to haul wood! To make it the rest of the way home, André had to unload some logs from the boggan. When André went back for the logs he had left behind, a boy, out of nowheres, jumped unto his snowmobile while he was loading up. He noticed that the boy was rather excited. Not really sure what to make of the situation, André asked the boy: “You want to go get wood?” The young boy eagerly nodded his head. He was already suited up in his snowmobile jacket and ready to go. After securing his mother’s permission, André had a little helper for that afternoon. We are still getting used to how easily the locals welcome, trust, and give so generously to “southerners”.

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Ingamo Hall, the town’s friendship centre.

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The elder and Léonie wearing her new pair of gawaks. She’s really shy, hence her terrified face in the picture.

I’ve always seen the long winter months as an opportunity to stay cozy at home, and spend my evenings crafting, sewing, or knitting. Seeing that winter in the Arctic is so long, I’ve had extra time to try my hand at cultural sewing. This place was made for me! I keep telling André that experiencing the culture for me is learning from the locals how to make authentic and traditional crafts. In the Beaufort Delta, cultural sewing is still thriving and First Nation people place a great deal of importance on passing it down to the next generation. I’m truly grateful for their willingness to teach not just their own, but also “others”. a while now, I have been attending a program called, Healthy Baby. It takes place at Ingamo Hall, the town’s friendship centre. Once a week, they have an Inuvialuit elder who comes to teach the moms different forms of cultural sewing. They allow you to choose what you would like to sew, they provide you the material, and the elder guides you step by step through your sewing project. The moms help each other out by watching each other’s kids, especially if one is busy or learning from the elder.

One of the moms carrying Estée in her Amauti while I was busy sewing.

One of the moms carrying Estée in her Amauti while I was busy sewing.

I love learning from him as he’s always sharing stories about the origins of what you are making. I’m always amazed at his skillset. For instance, if I say I want to sew a pair of mukluks for Estée, he takes one look at her feet, and cuts out all the material needed without even following a pattern. Learning how to embroider, bead, and sew has captivated me to the point that I haven’t even touched my knitting for months! Let’s just say that I’ve been so busy that the long and cold winter nights haven’t even fazed me yet. However, there is still much winter left in these parts. My outlook might be different come April when the snow still hasn’t melted.

Finished my first pair of hand embroidered Gawaks. These are traditionally worn on special occasions, like Christmas and Easter.

Finished my first pair of hand embroidered Gawaks. These are traditionally worn on special occasions.

Winter Wonderland in October

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Estée is a cheery baby, for the most part. She’s our little John Franklin explorer, always embarking on a new exploratory journey. The most memorable one was discovering the ash bucket and stuffing handfuls of ashes into her mouth.

Relocating somewhere remote is definitely not something that I’m accustomed to doing, let alone living in the Arctic. In Winnipeg, we were surrounded by family and friends. While at times I long for and miss those cherished relationships, I remind myself to focus on the bright side of things. For instance, how our “seclusion” has brought us closer together as a family. We have begun to rely on each other more heavily, because all we have is each other. The slower pace of life has also allowed us to spend more time with our children. André has been impacted by the positive change in Léonie’s display of affection towards him.

IMG_0886André is coming out of a time of having spent many hours away from home with his studies and other commitments. Kids are not complicated, what you give is what you get. He’s beginning to reap the rewards of being able to invest more into our children. As for me, I’ve never before enjoyed “hanging out” with my girls so much as I do now. I’m realizing that I’m not only a nurturer to my daughters, but also a friend. I’m rediscovering my passion and purpose as a stay at home mom.

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If you know André, it won’t surprise you that he wanted a picture of himself dressed in his hockey gear. Unfortunately for him, his “first day of hockey” picture was photo bombed by Léonie.

Since the winter in the North is so long, there are a lot of opportunities to get involved in just about anything, which tend to be either free (subsidized) or very reasonably priced. Currently, I’m getting  back into shape by attending a boot camp and rec indoor soccer. As for André, he is pumped to finally be able to begin his life long dream of playing amateur ice hockey with a bunch of guys who also can’t skate. Saturday mornings, Léonie is taking swimming lessons, which we paid for by collecting empty beverage containers strewn along the side of the road. We discovered that recycling isn’t big around here. While I felt embarrassed walking around with a stroller full of empty pop cans, my frugal husband’s garbage collecting paid off in the end.

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Baking cookies for the students in preparation for our visit to Papa’s shop class.

André is loving teaching. The class sizes are small and the students are respectful and eager to learn. What he truly loves is being a positive role model. This has been his heart since he started ministering to youth in Winnipeg’s inner city. I’m really proud of André. He’s thriving in his new job. He really cares about his students and wants to see them succeed. He enjoys seeing the smile of accomplishment on their faces. Recently, a math student was inspired to follow through with attending school regularly and putting more effort into her studies. Her efforts paid off when she got the second highest mark in the class.

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The first snowfall hit! Bringing the wood indoors to dry.

At the beginning of October, the first blizzard hit. The snow is definitely here to stay. The storm did not let up for two days. I have to say that I’m happy the snow is here, even if it came in early October. The damp, cold, mucky, and miserable fall was getting to me. People who live here were telling me that Inuvik is a magical place in winter. When I heard this, I couldn’t wait for this snowy paradise. The day I started complaining about the dreary fall weather, was the day a storm came and dumped 25-30cm of snow on us.

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Going for a zip on our new snowmobile with the whole family!

Seems I’m not the only one who’s happy to see the snow. As soon as there was a slight dusting on the ground, people were out riding on their snowmobiles. Now that we’ve had a heavier snowfall, you hear them zipping past our place all day long…and even at night. We live by a snowmobile freeway! In town, you are allowed to ride a snowmobile anywhere, except for certain sections on Mackenzie Street (which is the main road).  People love these motorized GT’s, and so they should! They are very practical…and that is why we’ve decided to join the club. Last week, we purchased a used snowmobile from André’s co-worker. Why a snowmobile instead of a car, you might ask? The main reason is so that we can go out to collect firewood. We also bought a “Big Boggan” (a big sled that hooks onto the back of your snowmobile), which we’ll use to load up the logs and perhaps a Christmas tree in December ;). It’ll also double as a mode of transportation for our whole family. Different right? That’s what I thought at first, until you begin to see it done around town. It’s a family friendly snowmobile, which means that there’s room for the whole clan! Léonie in the front with Papa, while I sit on the back seat with Estée strapped onto me in a baby carrier. There is a basket on the back of the snowmobile, which is perfect for grocery shopping or to hold Estée if she gets too heavy (just kidding). Also, in the winter, it’ll allow us to go for little excursions out on the river or on the outskirts of town to see the beauty of this place.

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Traditional parkas made with love from Grand-maman.

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Admiring the beauty of the sunrise during our morning walk to a friend’s house.

Our Chariot stroller still does the trick as our main source of transportation, but it does take more energy when there are snow drifts. I felt pretty  ridiculous the other day coming back from the post office. I was trying to maneuver the stroller through knee high drifts and blowing snow, all the while, balancing a massive parcel on top of the stroller. Add to this, Léonie, who was whining and complaining that her feet were cold in her rubber boots. I was expecting the first snowfall to come in October, just not that early. We ordered our winter boots, and shipments tend to take a while to arrive. So, we got caught a little off guard. For a while, Léonie and I were trudging through snow in our rubber boots, while attempting to insulate them with wool socks. It somewhat did the trick. I tried hard not to complain about this inconvenience. Which reminds me, we haven’t come across people who complain about the cold and snow yet because they all seem to enjoy the season. Some of their activities include trapping, hunting, fishing, snowmobiling, gathering wood, camping, etc. It keeps my attitude in check, and it’s actually changing my perspective on the frigid weather. Winter is celebrated up here.

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It IS a snowy paradise!

We had the opportunity to host in our home a couple of times lately. We played a game of Settlers of Catan with some wonderful board game nerds like us. Can you believe it? “Settlers” has made it to the Arctic. It’s these moments that make me realize, that in some ways, this place is not so different or distant from Winnipeg. 

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The girls making new friends.

Leaving our church family in Winnipeg has been difficult. In moving to Inuvik, we hoped to find a church that had a revelation of community. After looking around, we landed in a small Baptist church. Given our background, it’s not where we thought we’d end up. HoweverIMG_1305, they are the most welcoming and hospitable people we have met here thus far. They love God and want to obey Him with their lives. In some ways, we feel like we’ve been adopted into a family, as they have already invited us to birthday parties, baby showers, potluck suppers, and even Settlers of Catan evenings.

During Thanksgiving weekend, I had a meltdown because I missed family and friends down south. Finally, I told myself that it wouldn’t do to go about my weekend moping around. We needed to make the best of it. Therefore, André and I decided to prepare our first Thanksgiving meal together.image We agreed that it would be a shame to go through all the trouble of cooking a 30lbs turkey (I found a huge turkey for the same price as down south!) with no one to share it with. We kept our eyes and ears open to whom we could invite. In the end, we hosted a nurse who was here on a short term contract, a church friend, and a college teacher from Winnipeg. We had all the fixings;  turkey (brined and roasted by chef André), stuffing, mashed potatoes, pumpkin pie, and Vitenamese coffee (compliments of barista André). We had to laugh, that evening our nurse friend told André that she thought he was quite “domesticated”. That’s the first time I’ve ever heard André referred to as domestic, but I would have to agree with our nurse friend, he’s a different man out here! 

Stay tuned for more winter season adventures in the Arctic!

Learning the arctic way of life

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Our 3 bedroom bungalow house on Inuit Road.

We’re slowly finding routine in this new place and are learning the way of life up here. André has started teaching shops and high school math at the E3 Secondary School. We’ve finally settled into our new home and I have to say, I absolutely love living in a house. After having lived in an apartment and then staying with family for a month (which was wonderful), I couldn’t be more thrilled to finally be settled into our home. Need I mention that it comes equipped with a dishwasher, a spacious kitchen, a washer/dryer, a deck, and an amazing view of the Mackenzie River backdropped by the snow peeked Richardson mountains. My uncle Rick would tease us by saying: “It’s just tundra and little black flies that rip your skin off when they bite.” I will be sending him a postcard of luscious green lawn! Sadly, though, I have to admit that he’s right about the flies.

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Unpacking our belongings while the kids keep busy with their long lost toys.

It’s also so nice to be reunited with our belongings again. It brings some familiarity to this “new land”. One of the movers was actually shocked that only a few things got wrecked during the whole move. He said the Dempster highway is like traveling on cow pies. So far, our dresser is the only item that really took a beating on that road. It arrived with it’s frame split in half! This same mover was full of stories about the North. When he carried in our storage bins, which contained all of our wheat, he started telling us about his girlfriend’s family who keep their “muktuk” (whale blubber) in similar containers. He continued on to say that they feast on this stuff, but that he can’t bring himself to eat it. Apparently, it smells just as bad as it tastes, but it’s crazy good for you because it’s loaded with vitamin C. It will keep you alive when you’re out “on the land” hunting, kind of like the prairie equivalent of pemmican.

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Discovering the town of Inuvik on our bikes.

What we’re realizing lately is that life in Inuvik is very “back laid”. That has become André and I’s motto. Our landlord was trying to describe the pace of life here, but got his words mixed up. He really meant “laid back”. We had a good chuckle, sounds like a mistake I would make. And laid back it is! Our life has slowed right down because no one is in a hurry out here. It’s refreshing when you come from a “big city”, but it definitely has it’s disadvantage, especially when your toilet is clogged and you’ve been waiting on a plumber for a week. That’s not so refreshing! Believe me, we’re learning to take things in stride.

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Early morning fire on a cold fall day.

 

Along with a slower pace of life, you really have to fend for yourself out here if you don’t want to pay through the nose for everything. For instance, the natural gas reserves have dried up. They now use “synthetic gas”, which is a fancy word for propane, to heat homes. The price of gas has shot up 83%. It’s so high that people are reverting back to heating their homes with wood stoves. Lucky for us, we have one. I love having a wood stove, even though it’s more work. There’s nothing better than the cozy warmth of a fire, and having a husband who likes to start fires. We’re both enjoying this new heating method! Our only challenge now is collecting firewood.

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We found this log in our yard and attempted to burn it. This is what you do when you’re cold, out of wood, and without an axe.

In Inuvik, you can’t just go cut it down trees in the back woods because the land is privately owned by the Gwich’in and Inuvialuit people. They have to give you permission. At the moment, we’re trying to figure out how to get wood with no axe, no chainsaw, no boat, no atv or snowmobile, etc. The only set of wheels we have is our “Chariot” stroller. And buying wood is not an option because a quart costs around $500. We’re quickly realizing that it’s all about making connections out here. Our incredibly kind Inuvialuit landlord has offered to take André on his boat “out on the land” (as they call it), to bring back some firewood. I have to admit, I’m a little jealous that he gets to go out in this untamed wilderness! Hopefully, that load of wood will cover us until we can figure out a game plan.

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Found this picture online of the Fruit Man’s truck, open for business, even in winter.

Another thing is the price of food out here… which didn’t come to us as a surprise, seeing that we’re this far up North. For instance, I went to the local North Mart the other day and saw that four chicken breasts cost $40! What?! I think the closest thing we’ll be having to chicken this year will be eggs! This means that I’m making a lot of our food from scratch, which is keeping me busy. Good thing I love to be in the kitchen! Also, the produce here is at times very overripe or rotten. This calls for….(drum roll) the “FRUIT MAN”, as they call him. He’s a truck driver who hauls a load of fresh produce and other items from the orchards in BC, all the way to Inuvik, every three weeks. Once in town, his semi trailer becomes a grocery store where you can go and stock up on the best of the best when it comes to fresh produce. Let’s just say, he is so popular around here, that he’s been in business for 30 years and every time he rolls into town, there are line-ups of people waiting to buy his deliciously fresh veggies and fruit.

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André’s pride and joy…even though he didn’t catch it.

The other week, we were spoiled with quite the treat. I can’t rave enough about our landlord. He’s a retired wildlife officer who has such a warm and generous heart. I’m so grateful for him. He has been the one to inform us about the ways of doing things out here and has been more than helpful in showing us the ropes. When he heard that we wanted to buy fresh fish, he showed up the next day to gift us with an arctic char, freshly caught by a relative in Polatuk. Little did we know that arctic char is extremely expensive to buy. There are very few commercial fisheries out here. First Nation people hunt and fish strictly to provide food for their families. Later, a teacher at the school told André that the fish we received was worth $120! This delicacy will be savoured!

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The girls are adjusting surprisingly well. Estée is now crawling everywhere!

One evening, we were invited to our landlord’s home for a fish feast with his whole family. It was great meeting new people and sampling all kinds of arctic fish. Léonie was right in there, chomping down on any fish she could get her hands on. Our landlord laughed and said that she would fit right into their way of life, being the carnivore that she is. The best one by far was a white fish that was deep fried in Aunt Jemima pancake mix beer batter. So fatteningly yummy… who would have thought that it would have tasted so good! But then again, anything deep fried is tasty.

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Our first wet snow of the season. This picture was taken at 11pm. Notice how it’s still light out!

The weather out here is all over the place. In the little time we’ve been here, we’ve seen everything from a 24 hour rain storm, high winds, wet snow, and sunny days. I have to say, the sunlight here, on top of the world, is beautifully warm and bright. When the sky is clear, you can’t be outside without your shades on. Interestingly enough, unlike the prairies, the warmest part of the day is not mid afternoon, but rather supper time. Even though the sun is shining as though it were summer, fall has definitely come. The leaves turned yellow and the weather dropped a week after we arrived. The autumn air is crisp and fresh. This is helping us have deeper sleeps, especially when we fall asleep watching the fire crackle in the wood stove, while being warm and snuggled under mounds of blankets.

We are looking forward to getting to know more people in this community and sharing our new experiences in this wonderful town of Inuvik. Until next time!

 

 

 

Pit stop in Norman Wells. Population of 800. The entire "town" has only two roads. It is surrounded by unreal landscape though!

Pit stop in Norman Wells. Population of 800. The entire “town” has only two roads. It is surrounded by unreal landscape though!

It feels like our journey really began once we boarded a Canadian North Boeing 737 jet that flew us from Edmonton all the way to Inuvik (with stops in Yellowknife and Norman Wells). On the plane, Léonie and André sat next to a photographer who entertained them with amazing shots he captured of grizzlies feasting during the northern BC salmon run. Meanwhile, sitting in the opposite row, Estée and I were amused by two quirky fishermen on their way to Cambridge Bay. When one of them was drooled on heavily by Estée, he brushed it off: “I’m used to it; I deal with fish slime all the time.”

Enjoying the view!

Enjoying the view!

At every pit stop, there were less and less passengers on the plane. We took advantage of grabbing the window seats to check out the amazing view of the Richardson mountains and the arctic tundra. Along the way, we even met a local francophone!

Flying over the arctic tundra.

Flying over the arctic tundra.

The first thing that struck me as we stepped off the plane was the crisp, fresh, clean arctic air. As we entered the terminal, to our surprise, a welcoming committee met us. Of all things, our landlord showed up to greet us and to hand us our house keys. A board office representative also welcomed us. She offered to take us to town in her pick up and give us a personal tour.

Arriving exhausted, but safe and sound in Inuvik.

Arriving exhausted, but safe and sound, in Inuvik.

We were so grateful, because the 10 minute cab ride from the airport could have cost us $40! As André was loading our luggage, a kind Inuvialuit man helped André with our mounds of stuff. We all piled in the truck and Léonie, to her delight, sat in the front without a car seat, because that’s how they do things around here?

 

Getting our personal tour of Inuvik.

Getting our personal tour of Inuvik.

What struck me the most on the drive to town was the amount of trees, evergreens, lakes, and even mountains in the far distance; where the muskox and dall sheep roam, so I was told.

We enjoyed our first meal that evening at the Mackenzie hotel, where André got his first taste of muskox, which tastes like a gamier version of bison. We finished the evening with a walk to the new ice cream parlour in town! Woohoo! I was pleasantly surprised to see that their soft ice cream costs less than in Winnipeg. That’s a plus!

Crashing at the hotel upon arriving in Inuvik. She insisted on wearing earplugs. I didn't object...anything to keep her napping longer!

Crashing at the hotel upon arriving in Inuvik. She insisted on wearing earplugs. I didn’t object…anything to keep her napping longer!

Finally, at 11:15pm, the sun fell behind the horizon. I fell asleep while it was still light out. It will take some getting used to all this sunlight. However, I find it’s a bright welcome to “the land of the midnight sun”.

So far, the local Gwich’in and Inuvialuit people are very friendly and hospitable. They are willing to lend us a helping hand, they greet us when we’re walking around, and one gentleman even offered us a ride when he saw us walking in the rain with two little kids in tow. So far, being new in town isn’t so bad.