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.

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.

top twenty reasons you know you’re an Albertan…

When someone asks me where I’m from, I don’t know where to start. I can tell you where I was born. But there was more of a region that my family lived, but didn’t permanently settle. Mostly, that was northern Alberta.

As an adult I’ve lived in Ontario and British Columbia, travelled from Prince Edward Island to North West Territories. But my childhood memories source from smelling delicately floral Alberta roses, searching for four leaf clover in the school fields and counting oil rigs dotted on the golden prairie with endless blue skies.

Having recently travelled through my originating province, I am reminded of what I’m missing.

Here’s how you know you’re in Alberta territory:

1. Your bottled water froze in your truck.

2. It’s freezing in October. You’re planning Halloween costumes over snowsuits.

3. Anywhere outside is a great place for a photo because the sun is always shining.

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4. It’s freezing in November. No picnics for my birthday.

5. You’ve either heard of someone, or know someone, or performed your own Cesarean section…of a cow.

6. It’s freezing in January.

7. You know many species of cows, and you eat cows, often. Steaks in summer, shepherd’s pie in winter.

8. It’s freezing in February.

9. You’re related to someone in the oil field.

10. It’s freezing in March. Easter egg hunts in winter jackets.

11. You don’t have a sales tax. Everyone comes to your province to shop.

12. It’s showing signs of spring in April. Then it snows.

13. When you say you’re going to the lake, everyone knows your GPS coordinates.

14. You understand the terms ‘black ice’ and Chinook.

15. May is the month for an overstuffed mudroom: a pair of boots, shoes, winter jacket, and spring jacket for each person.

16. Silky blue skies–either accompanied with ‘balmy’ summer weather, +25 degrees celsius or -40 Arctic fronts. Either way, happy blue skies.

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17. In June, your wheat crops or garden squash are met with hail.

18. Highways so straight only knees are required to manage the steering wheel.

19. You think your intermittent July and August 30 degrees are too hot.

But my all-time favourite reason you know you’re an Albertan…

20. strong>Your recess teacher tells you it’s not cold enough to go inside at -30 degrees…

it’s only too cold when you’re nostrils freeze together…