Rock and Roll.

You know …. folks come up to me on the street all the time and say, “Hey Nick, you remember that song ‘Hotel California’ by the Eagles, well, what is the deep hidden meaning of that song?”
“Oh, that’s really easy.” sez I. ‘It’s the 1970s set to words and music.”
First time I ever heard the song, it was one Glorious Spring Day in 1975, way the hell and gone, up in the bush at the old abandoned Discovery Gold Mine on Giauque Lake, north of Yellowknife. Richard Denison had it blasting out from an 8 track in his semi-truck. Six feet, eight inches tall, a giant of a man, he was standing on the bed of his truck playing air ‘snow shovel’ to the guitar licks of Joe Walsh and Don Felder. The scene and song made an impression on me that I’ll never forget.
PS. Somehow that snow shovel ended up in my possession, it lives in my garden shed, it has #57 (Richard’s unit #) burned into the handle. Too heavy for an old guy to use anymore, that shovel should be in the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame.

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Sanikiluak, Belcher Islands, NU.

Sanikiluak Aug.1965.
When I arrived in the Belcher Islands as the new HBCo store manager, on the first day, the manager I was replacing took me aside and said, “Oh and by the way, your are the new Medical Lay Dispenser for this community.” He then took me over to a green painted, unheated, un-insulated plywood building which housed ‘the clinic’. Showing me a collection of instruction leaflets, bandages, ointments, dressing, syringes, needles and vials of Penicillin … He told me if someone got sick to give them a shot of penicillin and send them on their way. Producing an orange from his pocket he picked up a syringe with a needle and said ‘this is how you do it’ and stuck the needle in the orange and pushed the plunger. “Practice on this, it feels like flesh” he said, handing me the orange. I dutifully did as instructed. These were not disposable syringes and needles as they are now, but reusable ones that required cleaning and sterilization after use. This fact was not made known to me.
I was told, “If you get into trouble with a patient or it’s very serious, get on the radio and call Great Whale River and they will send a plane and nurse or doctor over.” So there I was, in a strange community of about 100 souls, with strange isolated people, a hundred miles and a couple of hours by air from any help, completely by myself as the lone ‘Whiteman’. I was blind-sided by the fact of my designated duty, had absolutely no, zero medical training or knowledge, not even a first aid course but, I was expected to be the wise one in all things abnormally physical. In theory, I had twice daily HF Radio contact with Great Whale at twelve-hour intervals. There were no satellites, and HF radio communications were unreliable depending on space and earthbound weather.
Sure enough, as usually happens in those small, isolated Arctic communities, a week or two after a visiting plane lands and leaves, bringing an assortment of strange ‘bugs’ to town, everyone comes down with the latest ‘southern’ cold, ‘flu or other contagious disease. This time was no exception. I spent several days going all over the village and to outlying camps jabbing folks in the arm with what I hoped and read in the ‘guidelines’, was the appropriate dose of antibiotics.
Young, naive, stupid but fairly sure of myself, I naturally assumed I had everything under control. Fortunately for all concerned my ‘doctoring’ abilities were not further tested. No one got accidentally shot or stabbed, no babies were born, no limbs broken. It never even occurred to me or was pointed out that I could accidentally kill someone by giving an allergic person Penicillin. In those days Penicillin was the cure-all for everything. For all I knew the Penicillin vials could have been expired by years, but I gave it to just about everyone. It was a miracle that no one died.
The Arctic has changed since then, The HBCo is gone from the Arctic and the Post manager as he was in a lot of places, is no longer the representative of all things Government. Nowadays most northern communities have an Administrator, Police, at least one Public Health Nurse, a health centre and basic volunteer fire-fighting capabilities.
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Letty Harbour.

Some time over the winter of ’66/67 in Paulatuk, I got it into my head that I needed to phone my cute young blonde girlfriend that I had left behind in Yellowknife, 550 miles to the south. The closest phone to my house in Paulatuk was at the Cape Parry Dew Line (PIN Main) site 65 miles/100K up the Parry Peninsular. I heard that some (6) of the local Inuvialuit guys were going to head up there to visit some relatives and I asked the guys if I could go with them. 
In Cambridge Bay, I had previously met and become friendly with one of the guys in charge at Cape Parry and knew I’d have a place to stay for a night or two and that he would let use the Dew Line telephone to call ‘Whatsername’ in Yellowknife. No Problems.
Early one morning, off we went. Myself, 6 Inuvialuit and two dog teams. A quick and easy 4 day round trip. Halfway through the day we stopped running long enough to brew up some tea on the Coleman stove, eat some pilot biscuits and enjoy some delicious frozen raw fish. “Frozen raw fish?!?” “Aren’t you going to cook it?” “Oh no … it’s much better eaten raw. It’ll warm you up.” Know what? They were right, it was really fekkin good and did (eventually) warm my stomach. Almost my first experience with Sushi. Not quite the first, because I remember, on the river one night, I was treated to some ‘previously caught’ Arctic Char that had been rock-cached way back in July. Apparently that too was a delicacy, the kicker being, dipping the rancid frozen fish in a little equally rancid seal oil. Surprisingly it was not as unappetizing as one might think, it was palatable and tasted somewhat like a strong Blue Cheese. You see, my palette was ever expanding.
Anyway, when our tea break was over we started off once more in the general direction of Cape Parry. Later on, two thirds of the way up the peninsular, as it started to get dark it was decided that rather than make a camp, we would spend the night in one of the old building at the long since abandoned HBC trading post of Letty Harbour. In 66/67 there were three buildings still standing. Unpacking my gear off the sled I started to carry it up to the best looking of the three buildings which happened to be the old manager’s residence, it had a door and windows. “No, no, don’t go in there, it is a bad place and haunted by at least one devil, we’ll camp in the warehouse”, stopped me in my tracks.
Knowing and relishing the fact that a good story was coming later and not being one to question people with far more local experience and knowledge that myself, I dutifully hauled my sleeping bag and cariboo bedding skins into the indicated, un-insulated, door-less, windowless, bare board warehouse. I was right to anticipate a good story.
But first, wait a minute, there are seven of us here and there only seem to be six sleeping bags. “Oh yeah” says Adam, “I forgot mine.” “You Silly Bunt!” thinks I, “You’re a fekkin Inuit, you’re not supposed to ‘forget’ your sleeping bag!” Well the remaining six of us all had the same make of sleeping bags (Wood’s, Arctic Three Stars, Goose Down bags, rated to -40), so we decided to snap them all together into one giant bag, all crawl in and sleep together. Good idea except I was on one end and was subjected to a many degree sub-zero draft, blowing down the back of my neck all night long. One of my more uncomfortable nights sleeping ‘outdoors’.
The haunting/devil story as old to me involved the Inuvialiut store manager, his wife and two kids … a little boy and a little girl. I no longer remember the names on any of them but this little family lived by themselves at Letty Harbour and were the last ‘keepers’ of that store before it was abandoned in the 1950s. One day while the dad was in the store and their mum was doing the washing outside with the gasoline engine powered washing machine, the two kids were playing, each by them selves, in and around the house. The little boy of about 6 got hold of his dad’s .22 and was heading out the door to shoot seagulls when he tripped and the gun went off shooting his little sister in the back. She did not die instantly but screamed and ran towards her Mum. She got as far as the house door before she collapsed and died. A very tragic and sad affair. Not long after the shooting, the place got a bad reputation as a nasty evil place, the locals stopped coming, the store manager, his wife and little boy left and the Post was abandoned by the HBC, shortly there-after. At some point an evil spirit (Tupilak) (seen by some) moved into the Manager’s old house and generally the place was avoided like the plague. My friends accompanying me on that trip would not go within a hundred paces of the house. The hair on my arms and sideburns still stand up when I think about it. Evil was pervasive.
The next day we arrived in Cape Parry and everyone went off to do their own thing. I to make my phone call and have a shower, the first in months, my friends to do their visiting. I remember absolutely nothing about my return trip to Paulatuk, so it must have been uneventful … not even a Polar Bear sighting to liven up the day.
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Taloyoak/Talarjuak/Spence Bay.

Photos, stories and interviews from one of my ‘Happy Places’ in the Arctic.
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A Trip to Shepards Bay, Dewline Cam 3.

Alex was kind of a funny dude actually. In Spence Bay the Company had a snowmobile and a square stern 18 foot freighter canoe with a 20 horse kicker on it.  After Paniloo and I went to Cam 3, as far as I knew that snowmobile never went anywhere again. As for the canoe, we never used it. One day I asked Alex if I could use the canoe to go out fishing or seal hunting or just a ride, he said no and didn’t explain why not. I don’t know what his problem was, we didn’t work seven days a week, we did get Sundays off and during summer there was twenty four hours of sunlight. After work it would have been nice to go for a canoe ride once in a while. 

One day in late April 1963, Alex the store manager in Spence Bay (Taloyoak) came to me saying that he wanted Paniloo and myself to go down to Cam 3 and pickup his (Alex’s) personal belongings that were being air freighted across the Dew Line from Broughton Island on the East coast of Baffin Land. Not much of a trip, only 50 miles of snow covered, trackless ice and tundra between Spence and Shepards Bay where Cam 3 was situated.
No dog team this time. Because it was basically a two day trip, there and back a day each, we would use the Company’s recently acquired piece of modern technology… to wit, a snowmobile. I’m unsure of the make of this mechanical wonder but I think it was a Polaris Autoboggan. I do remember it was red, all steel, with a steel bar – rubber gapped track, and propelled by a rear mounted 3 or 4 hp Kohler engine, top speed less than 10mph. I was impressed by this modern marvel.
Early next morning we hooked up a sled, loaded a minimal amount of survival gear, extra gas and lunch and off we went. This time I did get to ride the whole way sitting down, spring was rapidly approaching, the weather was comparatively warm necessitating no reason to run. Paniloo being Inuit knew the way so he got to drive. The journey to Cam 3 must have been uneventful because I remember nothing about it.
We arrived at the Site later in the afternoon and after reporting to the Station Chief and learning Alex’s stuff had not yet arrived but would on the next flight we were assigned accommodation and except for the secure/secret areas of the installation, given the run of the place.
At this point in my HBCo. career, I had been in the Arctic for less than a year and posted to Spence Bay for less than six months, however… Spence Bay is in the most central place of the Central Arctic coast, the most Northerly HBCo store on the Canadian Mainland and at the end of a very long and difficult supply line. We were lucky if we saw an airplane from Cambridge Bay once a week and a ship arrived once a year in September to resupply the store and settlement. Fresh, not previously frozen or canned food was next to non existent. There were only 12 non Inuit folks in Spence, ( two Priests plus one wife, two nurses, two HBC boys, two RCMP, one Administrator and one teacher and assistant) surrounded by approximately 250 Inuit, half of them of the Netsilik tribe and the other half imported Cape Dorsetmiut and, Ernie Lyall from Labrador. Where am I going with this you may ask? Slightly bushed by this time, I was somewhat overwhelmed by Cam 3. It had a fair number of new people to meet in residence, had hot and cold running water, three squares a day, current newspapers and all ‘mod cons’ as they say. The folks seemed a bit strange to me and I dare say vice versa but their hospitality was impeccable. We were made to feel at home and settled down to wait for the plane bringing Alex’s stuff to arrive.
Of course next day arrived all bleak and stormy, the weather remained like that for the next three days. No planes landing at Cam 3 so we had to sit around to wait. No much to do for recreation at a Dewline site in those days. There were 16mm copies of popular movies to watch but we’d seen them, card games to play, a paperback book library, a small (but popular) bar and the radio to listen to. AFRTS from Thule Greenland. There was no TV of any sort, neither satellite  links or tape existed yet. So I sat around, ate, slept and chatted to whatever guys were off shift. One gentleman taught me how to play crib. There was always a bowl of fresh fruit sitting on the mess room table… I hadn’t seen any fresh fruit in about 6 months. I remember how impressed I was by a simple navel orange, I ate several, the first was the best though, I ate the whole damn thing, pith and all… well except for the orange bit of the very outside skin. I’ll always remember that orange and how darn good it was.
Eventually the weather cleared and the plane landed with Alex’s stuff. Next morning we packed up our sleeping bags, loaded the sled, gassed up the snowmobile, said our goodbyes and buggered off back in the general direction of Spence Bay. It was a beautiful day, beautiful as only early Spring can be in the Arctic. Clear blue sky, warm temps … -10°F instead of after minus forty, a dazzling sun reflecting of a vast unmarked whiteness. At those latitudes, the sun reflecting off the snow will render unprotected eyes snow-blind in fifteen minutes. Snow blindness, similar to a severe welding flash is agony to the patient and requires a day or two of bandaged eyes against any light to recover from. We both had our dark sunglasses so no worries.
All went well for about the first 35 miles of the return trip, we were just cruising along enjoying the day and fresh air that didn’t hurt your face to breath when all of a sudden, in the middle of Netsilik Lake that stupid snowmobile broke. I don’t remember what was wrong with the stupid thing, perhaps a chain broke but whatever it was, we couldn’t fix it. Nothing left to do but hoof it into town the last fifteen or so miles. Fifteen miles doesn’t sound like much until, totally unprepared for such a walk, one has to make it. The snow drifts were still relatively hard but the snow between them was soft. I’ve said elsewhere how difficult walking in those snow condition can be………. up-down… up-down…up-down, it’s torture on the knees and hips. Paniloo being lighter, in way better shape than I and somewhat used to it was making far better time than me. I couldn’t keep up with him, he soon put some distance between us and after a fairly brief time he became a black moving dot on an otherwise blank sheet of whiteness. I remember looking around and seeing some low hills way over there to the south and some more way over there to the north, me standing in the middle of nowhere and thinking, ‘Well this sucks!’
I wasn’t particularly worried, I knew that when Paniloo arrived back in Spence he would send someone out with a dog team to pick me up. There wasn’t much around that would hurt you. Polar Bears were about the only thing that would do you damage but in those days Polar Bear hunting was unregulated and their skins very valuable to the Inuit, so Bears were a bit thin on the ground anywhere within a hundred miles of any settlement.
The thing that really surprised me was how quickly I became very thirsty. As we were now on foot we had no water, nothing to drink it out of and nothing with which to melt snow. I was parched and eating snow didn’t help much but it sure played hell with the lips. So there I was trudging along in my own little world, Paniloo getting smaller and smaller in the distance. Suddenly I noticed he had stopped and was bending over something, next thing I see is a small cloud of smoke at his feet. "What the heck?" I thought, what magic was this, from where did he produce fire making material? I admit I was baffled by the smoke and excited by the thought that he was perhaps melting some snow to drink.
Quickening my pace, after about ten minutes I arrived at where he was sitting waiting for me. To my huge disappointment there was nothing on the snow around him but a small pile of burnt ash. "Did you make tea?" I asked him. "No." he said laughing, "I just burnt my empty cigarette pack. Made you hurry up though, didn’t it?" I had to agree.
Off we went again, him ahead, me following, until eventually he disappeared around a point or behind a hump. I didn’t see him again that day. Eventually I saw a dog team coming from town to pick me, a very tired, thirsty and hungry Icemannwt, up.
Finally arriving back in Spence, hours behind Paniloo I drank several large cups of tea, ate a can of Dintymore Beef Stew, and exhausted by my walk went off to bed and slept for twelve hours. Alex, not surprisingly was totally unmoved by my adventure. To him it was all part of some sort of learning curve for me, I guess. "Welcome to the Hudson’s Bay Co and the Arctic." Next day a couple of local Inuit and a team were hired to go out with Paniloo, repair the snowmobile and drive that sorry piece of junk back to town.
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Three Amigos.

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Re: Tibbit – Contwoyto Ice Road 2009.

From one of our Yellowknife Correspondents:

Hi Nick – Saturday was cold at -35 in the morning but a sunny day.  We decided that it was too cold to be out sledding and that a drive up the ice road was due.  We packed up a lunch, put Geny in the backseat and headed down the road about 11:00 am.  The Ingram Trail to Tibbett Lake is quite beaten down and will be bad this spring.  However, it was our first time out this year and always interesting.  We hit the ice road at Tibbett and immediately saw a truck heading our way!  This was one of about 50 trucks we saw on our drive.  We went for 120 kms on the ice road and made it about 25 kilometers past the end of Gordon Lake before we turned back.

 Not far into the trip, there is a check stop run by the GNWT and all non commercial traffic is required to check in and out.  A safety thing as well as stats I assume.  The ice road is in really good shape right now and we saw no open water or slush anywhere (course it was 30 below! After a week of -40 at night).  I did not realize that there are two wide lanes on some lakes – one for empty trucks and one for loads.  The lanes are a long ways apart.  The speed limit on the empty side is a fast 60 km/h – on the loaded side it ranged from 10 to 25 km/h. 

 The trucks kept coming south – some empty, some carrying loads of items from the mines.  We passed 12 trucks going north – mostly fuel trucks but some were loaded with heavy bags of chemicals.  The caretaker at the check stop told us that the road is expected to be open until the 19th and given the weather, I can see that it will last that long and longer.

 Not a single caribou around.  In fact, they are apparently over by Snare Lake this year.  Too bad as its always a great photo op when the boos are in the area.  We did see one beautiful healthy black faced fox, who sat on a snowbank and watched us before moving onto the road.  He heard Geny going crazy in the truck and took off into the brush.  Also saw a few ptarmigan, but not many given all the tracks on top of the snow.  And of course the curious ravens were there, flying over our truck on the lookout for treats. 

 I took a picture of the famous “Charlie’s Hill” – featured on the last episode of IRT.  It looks pretty tame from a distance but with a big load a truck could get into trouble.  Took a lot of pictures of trucks and got lots of friendly waves from the drivers in return.  I am pretty sure I saw the Polar Bear, TJ and Alex – at least that’s my story!

 We really enjoyed driving on Gordon Lake (all 24 kilometers) – the ice was a lovely blue color and quite bare.  And lots of cracks – but only on the “loaded” lane.   

 We got home at 5:00 pm – did about 300 kilometers in total and thoroughly enjoyed the ride.  I am attaching some pictures with this message and will send more separately so I don’t blow your email!

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Things I learned in Bush Camps and other Interesting Places.

Staying in a bush camp, I learned you can pour maple syrup on anything you’re eating to enhance the flavour. (Dome Petro)

The oven is the best place to cook bacon. (Dome Petro)

Indoors or out, truck drivers never remove their hats to eat. (Echo Bay, Port Radium)

A fight can break out during any meal, specially when you least expect it. (Echo Bay, Port Radium) 

A bottle of Tobasco Sauce becomes totally invisible, but no less tasty when emptied into a big jug of Cherry KoolAid. (Rankin Inlet)

Shot shell primers slipped quietly behind a pot on a hot stove-top, make a lovely bang and startle the crap out of the cook. (Cambridge Bay)

Wolverine is virtually inedible (Paulatuk), as are Coots, Ravens and Seagulls. (Horn River)

Raw Muktuk, (Whale Skin) isn’t as tasty as it sounds. (Saniqiluak)
In low light and without glasses, a cariboo hair waving around in the breeze on your cariboo pot roast is indistuingishable from a worm. (Repulse Bay)

Bertha Ruben’s fry bread (bannock), with butter and strawberry jam is probably the tastiest thing I’ve ever eaten. (Hornaday River)

George Washington Porter’s bean soup and home made bread, (while we still had flour and beans) were excellent. (Gjoa Haven)

Eider Ducks lay eight eggs and that’s all there is today and tomorrow for breakfast, lunch and supper. (Gjoa Haven)

It takes two dozen Lemmings to make a stew. (Gjoa Haven) 

Spam, scored on top, with cloves inserted, smothered in honey, baked in the oven, served with instant mashed and canned peas makes a nice Sunday dinner. (Spence Bay)

It is possible to eat a whole orange, peel and all. (Dew Line, Cam 3)
Jamaican Nurses are pretty good cooks. (Spence Bay)
Northern Health (medical grade) ethyl alcohol, when mixed with Coke, is indistinguishable from Vodka. (Spence Bay)
Methyl alcohol, when mixed with home brew is immediately discernable. (Cambridge Bay/Ikaluktootiak)

If given a couple of ounces of rum a day, the alcoholic cook with the DTs lying vibrating in his sleeping bag on the floor, will eventually sober up enough to get up and start cooking. (1st Ice Road)

For one guy, after a day outside at -40 deg on a small Cat building the Ice Road, four ‘Hungry Man’ TV Dinners, is almost enough supper. (2nd Ice Road)

To a non native, the only edible part of a harbour seal, is the liver. (Various)

It is possible for two guys to eat a whole caribou hind leg at one sitting. (Paulatuk)

Well aged (months) Arctic Char, dipped in slightly rancid seal oil, tastes somewhat like blue cheese. (Paulatuk) 

On a Sunday morning, while eating breakfast with 50 other guys and a couple of gals, it is perfectly acceptable to watch and cheer hard-core porn on satellite TV. (Lupin, Contwoyto Lake.)

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The Magic of Christmas.

A long time ago, far away in a distant Galaxy when I was just a little nipper, we had a real living breathing coal fireplace in the living room of our two bed flat. My dad was away a lot so it was just me and my Mum. Right after the war, so things (including coal) were in short supply. Coal was of poor quality, the good stuff was being exported to pay off war debts. Sometimes we’d throw a bit of sugar on the fire and hold a newspaper tightly against the hearth to get a good draft and thus the fire going. Sugar is a great fire starter/enhancer.

But I digress. One Christmas. I’d be 4 or 5 at the time, I wanted to write a letter to Father Christmas but didn’t have an envelope or know what address to put on it. My mother told me Christmas was a magic time, I didn’t need an envelope, so just write the letter, then when the fire in the fireplace was lit, just hold the letter close to the top of the fire near the chimney and the fire draft would grab it and suck it up the chimney, by magic taking it directly to Father Christmas’s house. Mum helped me write my wish list then demonstrated and sure enough……… it was gone. I believed it for a couple of years, because I’d usually get some of what I’d asked for. The best part was I got to share that bit of magic with my sibs as they slowly but surely arrived.

Clever old girl wasn’t she..

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Cold wet socks.

A winter time phenomena with which most Yellowknife residents, old, new or even tempory are all too familiar. I was reminded of it when I came in from outside in the snow yesterday.

In Northern towns, during winter, it’s party and visiting season. Northerners are very hospitable and friendly people. Unlike the south, many folks just drop by for coffee or drinks, no invitation is required. Parties are a regular weekend… and at this time of year, evening event.

So, formal occasion or casual drop-in party it doesn’t matter, everyone is wearing heavy outside footwear. On entering someone’s house, the first thing on does is remove ones parka or winter coat, the second thing one does, while still standing inside the front door by the coat cupboard, is remove ones outside winter boots.

There is usually a mat on the floor inside the front door, often it is piled high with winter boots. The result is, the doormat soon becomes soaking wet from all the snow that has fallen off the boots and melted into the mat. Now the fun part, finding an un-wet bit of the mat on which to step in your stockinged/socked feet. Virtually impossible, causing one to sit/walk around for at least an hour with cold, wet sock bottoms on your feet. It seemed not to matter how long or how often you sat rubbing you socked feet vigorously on the carpdoet, the socks just won’t dry. Most joy killing and uncomfortable. As the evening progresses, people come and go, every time they , a blast of -30 to -40 cold air was unleashed from the open door to roll unhindered across the floor and heighten the cold wet feet experience. I’ve had many an evening’s revelry tempered to borderline unhappiness by such events. And of course the joy was reversed as one left…. finally you’d got your feet/socks warm and dry only to have to step on the wet mat again to put your boots on to leave.

Clever hosts deployed a second mat further inside the door, for you to hop one legged onto, as you removed your boots. Smart folks took a pair of slippers of course, but not everyone remembered all the time, specially if it was a spur of the moment, drop-in kind of evening.

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