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 we eat in inuvik

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When we take a tour of the Inuvik Community Greenhouse, we discover that in the land of the midnight sun, where permafrost endures throughout the year, things grow, really grow, very quickly…in raised beds of course. Because the northern hemisphere is tipped towards the sun in these summer months, this northerly part of the northern hemisphere is bathed in sunshine. When the old hockey arena is converted into a community greenhouse, it makes for a lot of square footage to grow typical farm garden fare.

After our tour, I bought a fundraising community recipe book, and was eager to discover the northerners recipes for muskox and bison. To my surprise, I discover an international recipe book. How could that be? Inuit and Inuvaliut First Nations primarily populated this area not that many years ago. Along with Canada’s major urban centers of Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal, Inuvik has become a multinational territory now.

I can find a recipe for Portuguese Chick Pea and Spinach Soup, Won Ton Soup, Vietnamese Salad Rolls, Tabouli, Jahb-Chae (a Korean stir-fry), Poutine, Dum Aloo, Cabbage Rolls, Tuscan Ravioli and even Green Onion Cakes. North West Territories is an international mix. Tis a long way to travel, but for those searching for anonymity, you can find it here.

In my new recipe book, I find a recipe for Fireweed Jelly, Yukon’s territorial flower. And two recipes for bannock, of course. I can also find Teriyaki Muskox, Moose Meatballs, Muskox Hamburgers, and Moose Roast.

When I was at the Northern (the grocery store), I asked where to find fish? Surely I’d find something in the freezer aisle. I’d tasted a delicious Arctic Char back in Dawson City. Do they sell beluga? Or is that just for the Tuktoyaktuk residents? A roll of the eyes from the cashier, and a sharp comment, “Over there”…she pointed toward the Mackenzie Delta. “You want fish, you fish”. Okay, so we won’t be eating fish this summer.

That’s okay, because I can find home packaged plastic baggies of muskox hamburger. Gotta try muskox when you can. Have you tried a muskox ball? An awful lot like regular meatballs, minus the fat. Sorta tastes like moose, but gamier, but definitely as lean. Thankfully the cashier didn’t suggest I hunt for my muskox since the only muskox we’d see was standing upright, stuffed, at the visitor center.

Recipe for Muskox Hamburgers…

Mix 1 lb. ground muskox meat

1 tsp minced garlic

pinch of salt and pepper

one large egg

one cup oatmeal

2 TBS Montreal Steak Spice

Well, that sounds familiar!

Thank you Murray Arsenault. The burgers were delish!

What did the kids think of the burgers? They didn’t even know.

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.

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.