lifestyle in inuvik

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A wintry welcome from Inuvik this Monday. As we descend the two story hotel for a morning out, the summer sky overhead is billowy with snowbanks of cloud. The blustery wind reminds me of changing seasons. I’m told +8 is not a typical July day…yet the Visitor Center reception reports snow visited Inuvik only a month ago. A month ago!

A trip to North Mart, the downtown grocery, reveals a remarkable increase in food spending for our six week summer visit—by three times as much.

At six dollars a carton for yoghurt, we’ll alter our daily consumption. One does not have to eat yoghurt.

Cheese is on the endangered list at $13 a petite block. Even a box of microwaveable popcorn is $11. Celery stalks $4.50.

Twelve dollars for a four liter of milk. I’m tempted to fast. We’re certainly not wasting anything.

We could be adventurous: I saw an advertisement for reindeer meat at the liquor store—but I’d have to buy a full side! And store it in the bar fridge?

Since there is no stove or oven in our hotel kitchenette, we will still purchase a fast food dinner at $75. Yikes, yikes, yikes!

Permafrost-ridden earth means the ground is permanently frozen, until summer, when it melts and buildings sink a bit.

Which also means that gardens are scarce, except at northern Canada’s largest greenhouse—a community garden at the old hockey rink. You won’t see lilacs blooming in anyone’s front yards here. Just scrubby grasses, and I don’t mean lawns.

Permafrost also means an overground pipeline-looking utilidor, where plumbing and sewer are moved from home to home or business to business. Nothing underground! An inukshuk across the street, houses and businesses on stilts. Have you ever seen such things? There is a four feet open space under all buildings – where children could play! “Mom, I’m going outside. I’ll be under the house!”

This is Canada, still Canada, but a whole different experience in living.

 

these aren’t the suburbs: rougher in these parts, Inuvik

Smooth latte at a new café at the extreme northern end of town—a coffee shop equipped with cappuccino machine, baked treats: blueberry loaves to wraps. Native artwork adorns the plain wall—vibrant quilts and wooden canoe. And a wall of delectables to purchase: Inuit cloudberry tea, coffee presses, and boxes of hot chocolate. Ordinary grey marbled tables with ordinary grey chairs. But this is a close second to my missed Starbucks. They make a mean latte!

The town looks brighter with the sun high in the sky—though the sun is always up, it’s not always high in the sky. The overnight sunshine and the not-so-tired children make this a difficult place to get a good rest, even with tinfoil on the windows. As a typical North West Territories town, scrubby topography, and block-like homes, I wouldn’t describe it as the beauty of the north.

Garbage is all over the roads, sidewalks, and playgrounds. Not like Africa, with chickens pecking in the sewer lines on the walkways. Still, coffee tops, Kleenexes, pop bottles, broken liquor bottles–everything and anything strewn about.

When we arrived at the park one afternoon, a group of day camp children were picking up as many pop cans as they could find in a minute: 19! And the garbage: in 20 minutes, the girls collected two grocery bags (also found at the playground) filled with bottles. They were excited to add money to their ice cream collection, but we would later learn that the bottle depot burned to the ground the week before.

One more day of eighty dollar grocery purchases: I’m thinking of fasting. Maybe two weeks of fasting will convince the kids that a full belly is better than continuously contented taste buds. Somehow that doesn’t seem right. Rather than spending $180 a week, I’ll spend $80 every two days! Yikes– $320 a week! We spend more here than at Disneyland and there are no Disney Princesses to entertain us.

A brisk wind whipping my just-showered face, mist spraying as I walk down Main Street an hour before lunch. The summer day is not apparent. The cloud cover is overwhelming the air that I breathe. My matted wet hair seems frozen to my head, my ears nipped at their outer edges and deep throbbing inside.

As I saunter past North Mart, two young guys meet up to greet, “Good Morning”. Or is that a cuff upside the head and a fist in the gut? Yes, the latter. Okay, I’ve been witness to a brawl at two in the morning outside my bedroom window, and now, after everyone’s had a couple hours sleep post-partying, they’re up and at’em for some more.

Jim was called out to an elbow dislocation location in emerg last night—we were going to read a chapter from a new travel and food book. Rather, he was called out to the real thing—our travel experience mixed with someone else’s vino. Okay, so it might have been a mickey of whiskey, possibly a six pack of beer, a few shots too many?  Jim made an ill-timed comment about bringing back prohibition.

This ain’t the burbs. Can be a rough place to live.

a field trip to the Arctic Ocean, Tuktoyaktuk

Just as the Mackenzie River delta, the largest in Canada, and second largest in North America diverges in more than one direction, I could write in two directions. Should I tell about my husband’s location or the colour of the water? … Continue reading

what to do in the Land of the Midnight Sun, Inuvik

Seven year old Madelyn remarked, “We don’t do much here, mom. We get up, watch cartoons, do studies, play in the common area, sometimes go to the pool or library, do more studies, eat, read and go to bed. Same thing every day”.

Except for the afternoons at the beach”, I added–though few, because as my usually super optimistic child recounts: “It’s gloomy here.” The ‘beach’ is right behind the hospital. There is a lovely walking path all the way around, but not beach as in sand, rather beach as in gravel.

I can’t resist as I go on: “And do you remember the four seat Cessna trip, one hour chartered flight to the Arctic Ocean, and the guided tour around Tuktoyaktuk?”

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And like that wasn’t enough, “Oh yeah, and caramel steamers at the local café? A super expensive fast food dinner at the The Roost Restaurant? Making bread almost every morning together?” She still wasn’t convinced.

You and your sister get to independently prepare breakfasts on the stove: scrambled eggs and french toast anyone?” It runs counter to my naturally controlling self, but I figure if I get out of the kitchen and leave my kids to their own devices, my kids will learn to cook. Yes, the kitchen will be a disaster, but if I stay in the kitchen, they will only learn to watch.

But that’s just food mom. We can do that at home.”

Yup, we can. But we don’t normally eat this much stuff out of cans. You get to learn to open cans more…” An argument that would only convince for another month or so.

Woo hoo!” sarcasm intended.

How about attending the ice cream social at the Baptist church? Playing with that missionary family that’s heading to Alaska? Or all the playground visits mixing with the, as you call them, ‘non-blond’ kids?” Meeting new kids on a playground is a great way for both kids and mom to meet new friends.

Yeah that was fun.”

How about trips to the gift store, the book store and every other store in town?” Every. single. store. You want to know what people are like in a new end of the world? Head to the grocery store and people watch. Don’t stand in the middle of the produce aisle and stare, mind you. But you’ll get a quick sense of people as they fill their carts with frozen pizzas and Fritos and Cream Soda. 

“Even grocery shopping is an adventure. Do you remember how exciting it was the first time we went to the Northern? “Wow, mom, look how much diapers are!!” Zachary is on the countdown to diaper training. Who can afford diapers at $75 a box?

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We attended a festival day, Parks Day, at Alexander Mackenzie Elementary School and watched aboriginal drummers and dancers. We made visits to the biggest greenhouse in North West Territories, and the Roman Catholic Igloo Church. A lady came from northern Canada and taught us to make muskox wool out of muskox fur at the Northern Arts Festival.” Where is northern Canada if Inuvik is south?

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I think we’ve found a few things to do!

first day in Inuvik

The road turned from gravel to pavement and a huge sign welcomed us into this most northerly town. We curved up the road to the left and there was the colour-blocked hospital sitting atop the hill. A quick stop at the hospital to pick up keys to our summer abode, we instead discover a room was booked for us at the Mackenzie Lodge – after nine days in hotel rooms, we have arrived, and will stay in a hotel room. Our promised two bedroom apartment has become a two bed room.

Unpack the van, reorganize the room – that’s Hannah, Madelyn, and Rachel’s bed (each takes a turn at the end)–luckily they’re all under 9 and small enough for that, and that’s Zach’s corner (the foldable travel crib with two blankies) and this is our bed—my husband closest to the bathroom so he can wake, dress and go to the hospital without waking the rest of us. This would be our new dining room table—the classic hotel ‘desk’ with a small upholstered sitting bench and chair. The kitchen is a bar sink, microwave and bar fridge—thankfully I didn’t leave home without my “kitchen”—a backpack style picnic bag filled with matches, a towel and cloth, scraper, peeler, and anything I absolutely need in my kitchen back home. Was I ever smart to bring that now!

Perhaps there could have been some planning, some forethought for our arrival and accomodations since we did request final arrangements for our summer locum five months ago. Renovations were still being completed on the hospital dormitory style building.

When the hospital cafeteria is a sought after, less-expensive dinner option than any restaurant in town, you know you’re in a northern arctic town. The profundity of pizza pops—even at the cafeteria—cannot be a good sign for this town’s version of healthy eating. But who can avoid it when healthy choices are so darn expensive. Almost a hundred dollars for hamburgers and French fries for two adults and four kids under nine.

We’re making the best out of this though—exercise room down the hall is well-used for an hour and a half during Zach’s nap and the leather sofas in the hotel lobby have become our public sitting room and study zone. Ideal? Mwahaha. Make the best of this? Flexibility r us.

we have arrived, Inuvik!

Nostalgia in the north—or at least that’s how I’m choosing to view our trip up the Dempster.

Thankfully Jim didn’t find a carwash these last two days–what a waste of ten bucks that would have been. Our dark blue minivan is camouflaged in a healthy shade of dirt—couldn’t even see through an inch on the back window.

The mosquitoes swarmed us like sunshine on the equator as we stepped towards the Fort MacPherson‘s visitor center. Yikes, I don’t regret using the retirement fund for shares in Deep Woods.

In our brief stay, we felt like Gwichen First Nations on a journey through the northern wilderness stopping at a neighbouring tribe’s home—minks’ furs hanging to dry inside the cabin, a caribou hide tepee set up in the room’s corner, and the fragrance of mosquito coils hanging in the corner (okay, so that might be a new invention).

Onward to Mackenzie Crossing, the mosquitoes disappeared as we, the oil tanker truck, truck and camper and another truck and boat boarded the ferry. A brief jaunt outside found cool wind whipping at us—minus the mosquitoes. The vast and mighty Mackenzie, brown like a Starbucks latte—no Starbucks this far north though.

Being this far north, I was surprised at the continuous stretch of white and black spruce…apparently nourished by the mighty Mackenzie River, the second largest river delta in North America.

I expected flat tundra stretching miles and miles to the Beaufort Sea. In fact, we’d pass through five eco-regions and three sets of mountains—the Ogilvies, the Blackstone Uplands and the Richardsons. Each set were marked by history in the ice age.  How had the ice age formed each? The jagged Ogilvies were forced upward with a shift and the Blackstone Uplands were around long before and after. Only the Richardsons were “new”.

The road just kept going and going and going. After nine days, we’d run out of activities and books to read, watched every video and wondered what we’d do next. Then we rounded a corner of the road, to discover an orange diamond-shaped sign indicating gravel to paved road – the ten kilometre marker preceding Inuvik.

Woo hoo, back on paved road!

Promises of privacy and space outside of suitcases, hotel rooms and this six by ten moving rectangle!

There was the Inuvik sign on the right side of the road! We had arrived!

up the Dempster Highway

Up, up, and up away we go…from the turnoff twenty minutes east of Dawson City, we headed into the boreal forest of the Ogilvie mountain range, tundra heights of the Blackstone Uplands, into loads of fireweed—there’s a reason the Yukon has it as its territorial flower. One lone arctic hare, a bear cub, and a few mallards were the only wildlife we could see. Later we heard about two moose being spotted at the Two Moose Lake—a coincidence? I think not. This is the Arctic as I had imagined it. Tundra, precisely as anticipated. The mountains though? Unexpected. Three series of mountain ranges? Definitely surprising.

We see an abundance of arrowhead rocks on the roads, even filling the Tombstone Territorial Park parking lot. It’s pretty obvious why aboriginals chose arrowheads as weapons. They are ubiquitous. And sharp. It’s also understandable why the aboriginals didn’t create rubber tires.

Despite the numerous warnings we had to bring a spare tire, we left ours under the carport tucked beside the four regular summer tires. The cross terrain spare tire seemed like a good idea in the tire shop, but not so clever when we tried to pack it. Where to put it with a packed storage case on top, five pieces of luggage in back, a travel bed, violins, food and water, activity bags in front. So we didn’t. We left our two hundred dollar friend at home—home alone. Halfway up the Dempster, we weren’t free of the infamous blown-tire syndrome on this stretch of our arctic journey.

Only seven kilometers away from our evening destination on the Dempster—the only motel available on a twelve hour drive, the Eagle Plains Motel—my husband reported that the road was like a washboard. It was advertised as particularly rough-going, and a quick look in the rearview mirror revealed a flattened tire. Yikes! Here we are, nearly 3000 km from our lonely friend—oh how we wish we’d have brought you. Four passers-by offered assistance with the teeny spare wheel that accompanied the purchase of our minivan. Standing by the side of the road with our four wee ones, mama decided we’d do a nature walk. Not too far, as there is next to no one in these parts. Getting lost, not an option.

Now we’ve thought of having him sent here – can we do that? Will Canada Post send a spare tire courier to nowhere? How much would that cost anyway?

And here I sit, at the Eagle Plains Motel—four children snug as a bug in a tiny two double bed room. Now for the second half of the Dempster journey—at daybreak. May the Arctic Circle and the Smartie-coloured houses on stilts yield a less eventful education of the north.

 

Dawson City, Yukon

I could not find the camera’s battery charger—six weeks without a camera, and this was just before Apple was in the hands of common man. We’d drive up the infamous, lonely Dempster Highway…a twelve hour trek to the Arctic Circle and beyond, without photographic potential.

Still, the tiny gold rush town, Dawson City is emblazoned in my memory. It was nothing like anything I’ve seen. Back in the day, it was Klondike central for the Canadian Yukon Territory.  Grand museums, the entire town decked out in Hollywood-worthy accoutrements. Like a real stage setting for an old cowboy movie, but still in function. No ghost town here. Diamond Gerties Saloon with evening shows and gambling…we didn’t partake with four kids in the room, but we had fun pretending.

During the day, we went to the Peabody Photo Parlour, got all gussied up in 1890s attire—my handsome doctor turned Mountie by my side, three ‘dahling’ daughters and sailour-outfitted one year old son. It was an afternoon of dress-up for the entire family. Mommy, you look so beautiful. The girls were pleased as punch to play dress-up with their mom and dad for the first time!

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We enjoyed bannock sampling at the T’ron Dek Cultural Center, watching the ladies cooking over an open fire thick swatches of the floury patties in heavy oil. We understood a little more why the outsiders overwhelmed the natives here, changing their way of life. We appreciated the authentic artwork and the ladies outfitted in leather beaded moccasins and dresses.

A trip on the Klondike River Sternwheeler, the transportation piece for the Gold Rush…truth be told, a tiring trip amusing a cranky toddler, who when faced with fatigue, zoomed manically from one side of the boat to the other, squeaking or grunting till his larynx went hoarse.

We weren’t the only passengers who wish we hadn’t come…but the vistas we would have missed if we hadn’t! The muddy brown waters churning and sputtering through those paddlewheels perhaps muddy from all that gold foraging. Currents in the river churning against each other—flowing from one direction—the Klondike River and the other direction, the Yukon River. Savouring arctic char for the first time—a palatable white fish caught not too far upstream. Had we not gone, I would have missed the delight on my children’s little faces as they walked aboard the sternwheeler for the first time. A toddler’s nap-desperate tears were worth it.

After a visit to Robert Service’s Dawson City cabin, the author of Sam McGee, we prepared for bed. Removing my contacts, I searched for my new pair of spectacles—a whopping expense as my prescription had increased and became more complicated. I quietly searched the room as my family slept– through five pieces of luggage, grooming bags, activity-filled backpacks, under beds, behind furniture, through the bathroom, back to the garbages—yikes!

Then to the van outside…under seats, behind seats, under carseats, on and on and on…till nearly midnight when I gently enlisted my then sleeping husband’s assistance. No glasses—anywhere.

When I finally relaxed to sleep, my one and half year old son woke up—the non-air conditioned room—also known as a cabin-sized warming drawer—he had dehydrated and overheated—so I satiated and unclothed him, then we weakly attempted to sleep once again.

I awoke with a cabin-quaking thud. I jumped out of bed, as did another daughter…everyone else wriggled in their beds. My husband barely rolled over until I whacked him roughly on the knee. He cautiously walked around the cabin—no obvious evidence of damage. In the morning we discovered a cracked window and a long thick branch beside an outside wall. I felt certain that a vehicle had rammed the wall. The fear kept me awake for at least another hour—naturally arousing the toddler. Still, eight a.m. rolled around and he was awake on cue. A general rule for children: no matter the time they go to sleep, they wake as your alarm every morning. A big achy groan from me.

A twenty minute jaunt east from Dawson City, and road straight north for twelve hours. With a few preparations, we were off before lunch to the infamous Dempster Highway.