Thursday, March 27, 2014


Having lived in both Nunavut and Alberta, I'm used to running into stories about celebs spouting off against issues involving seal hunting and the oil sands.  Issues they aren't necessarily that educated about.  I'm not saying that such celebrities are necessarily stupid, but rather ignorant, in the sense that what they espouse is quite often mis-informed.  Which is why when I read about a group of Iqaluit residents starting a seal-fie campaign online, I was keen to show my support.

"Seal-fie" of course, is a play on "selfie" and involves a self-portrait wearing seal products.  This after talk-show host Ellen DeGeneres posted a photo of her at the Oscars with a number of celebs and made a donation in the order of $1.5 million to the Human Society of the United States based on the number of time he selfie was "re-tweeted."

The Inuit seal hunt is something I delved into many times on this blog so I won't re-hash everything here other than to say that I hope DeGeneres (and others of her ilk) are aware of stories like this. Having spent 6 years in Nunavut, I can easily vouch for the difficulty of maintaining a good diet in the face of food insecurity.....and I was single and drawing a government salary as well.

My sealskin kamiks......

Seal skin gloves (one of a few pairs I own, actually)....

Cat seal-fie?

Friday, January 31, 2014

Arctic Bay Promo

While it's been something like a million years since I've posted anything on this blog (having moved to Alberta over 4 years ago now), I couldn't pass up the opportunity to share a remarkable video posted by Clare Kines, economic development officer for Arctic Bay.  It was created by InMotion, based out of Ottawa.  Be sure to follow the link here for a taste of Canada that few people get to experience.....a magical place that I called home for 4 years.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

More Stonewalling from Northland School Division

Re-published from my Fort McMurray blog because ineptitude should always be exposed.

It was a pretty stormy day here, which turned out to be rather appropriate I suppose.  After a long work day I received a response back from Northland School Division regarding the email I had sent them in recent days.  A reply from the Associate Superintendent, Don Tessier, no less.

Dear Mr. Steele

re: Housing Concerns

Further to your emails of June 30, 2012, July 11, 2012, and July 19, 2012, and following up on Dr. Barrett's e-mail to you of July, 14, 2012, the Division has reviewed its handline [sic] of the matters addressed in your e-mail.  Upon our review, it is our opinion that all matter were handled appropriately by the Division and its staff.

Please be advised that the Division will provide no further reply to your correspondence on these matters.

I found the last sentence of the letter particularly rich.  Only, they DID reply further, because you see, I called him, on his cell phone.  His response was rather dismissive...a review had been done and the board had acted appropriately.  When pressed to answer why the board didn't ensure the house I was assigned was decent PRIOR to moving in....?  It got a little fuzzy at that point.  Mr. Tessier told me he'd discuss it with me tomorrow.  Except, no.  As I pointed out, I don't have time to deal with mindless bureaucrats and play telephone tag with them.  It took over two years just to get this far in getting some answers.

I'll admit, things got a little heated.  But really.  Two years to get answers on why Northland School Division assigned me a house with so many issues.  Yes, they were fixed.  The sewage issue took a mere 6 weeks to be dealt with as I recall.  But still.  A review was done?  By who, exactly?  Northland School Division?  That's rich.  Of course an internal review by a public entity would prove itself blameless.  The man was rather vague.    I was pretty much told he didn't have to "put up with any crap from me"....his exact words.  Evidently, it never dawned on the man that, after what they have put me through, I'd be a bit steamed.  Who wouldn't be?  Rather than show some accountability the bureaucrat took the coward's way out and hung up on me.  Subsequent calls went unanswered.

Note to Mr. Tessier, I know the majority of people in the education profession are honest, hard-working people.  BUT you know how when there's a strike or job action of some sort and some say "those people don't deserve the money they make.  They are paid enough and besides, they don't really deserve it, anyway."?  Well, Mr. Tessier, its exactly scenarios like this that lead people to say that!

Friday, July 20, 2012

Northland School Division: Re-defining Ineptitude

I admit I'm still trying to wrap my head around the bureaucratic goofiness of it all, so bear with me. Much of the subject of the post is actually explained in the letter below that I wrote a couple weeks ago, but to further flesh out the story... When I bought my house here two years ago it was with the relief that I wouldn't have nearly the amount of housing issues I had was then experiencing while employed by a certain northern Alberta school board.....that would be Northland School Division 61. Well, I certainly did have an "unparalleled wilderness experience" as they mention on their home page, just not quite the way I would have imagined. Anyhow, I digress. Anyhow, the house had certain issues (just read on). Serious ones. Ones that should have been addressed but weren't. In the fall of 2009, I emailed then superintendent Dr. de Paola explaining my concerns. No response. My principal was informed and while we had some sympathy (which came across as rather patronizing I felt), nothing seemed to get done. Certainly, the school board's maintenance department were aware of the issues as I had every possible phone number I could find for them attached to the fridge. Needless to say I was not impressed. In April 2010, I had had enough, I packed up and moved an hour north to Fort McMurray. While I tried to follow up on the housing issue, I got busy. It was my first time living in a city in a dozen years so there were many adjustments. I made mistakes. Life got in the way. Still, the issue did nag at me. How is it possible for people to get away with this kind of incompetence? I mean, I understand they are basically bureaucrats and as such don't live in the same world or occupy the same head space as most normal people. But the fact they still get paid (with public money) to bumble along, burned me. The superintendent that was with Northland has since moved on but I decided late last month to take one more kick at the can. I emailed the new superintendent, that would be Dr. Donna Barrett (phone number 780-624-2060 x6102), and laid out my concerns. Funny how both the former and current superintendent are both "Doctors". Apparently two people with Ph.D's are not enough to respond timely to a simple email. (And people like this teach your kids.) Anyhow, here is the email I sent dated June 30, 2012. Dear Ms. Barrett, I am writing regarding my concern with the board-supplied housing in your school board as I have some concerns I would like to see explained or at least acknowledged. I realize that these events took place prior to you taking over as Superintendent, however, while I have tried to bring them to the attention of Northland, I have received no response or acknowledgement. In August 2009 I moved with my fiancee and 3 children to Janvier and moved into board-supplied housing (205 Northland Dr. Janvier, AB) During my short time in Janvier we experienced no end of issues with the house. The most important of which was the broken sewage system which resulted in raw sewage leaking from the pipes into our basement. Perhaps Northland thinks it is acceptable for a family of 5 to live in these conditions but I certainly don't. This was of great concern because not only did the children have their play area down there but our water pump was also a problem with the result that for a period of 6 weeks we had no water at our house. I had to resort to filling jerry cans at the school for water and we had to pick up a water cooler in Fort McMurray. This was of great concern as our youngest was only 7 months old at the time and obviously still in diapers. We had to resort to using either a neighbor's washer and dryer for laundry rather than our own and had to bathe our 7 month month old in a sink at the school which I find completely ridiculous. While the problem was eventually fixed, I think waiting over a month is a bit extreme. I brought my concerns to my principal at the time, John Proctor, but getting any sort of action or guidance out of this incompetent was impossible. I phoned maintenance countless times and could either never reach them or was told the problem was being looked into. I also emailed then Superintendent Dr. de Paola directly about this issue and never received a response or even acknowledgement of the email. Indeed, during my first week in Janvier, a colleague told me the housing unit had sat vacant for a couple years and she thought it had been condemned. She told me further that at some point the basement had flooded and indeed a watermark was clearly visible on the furnace. My fiancee strongly suspected mold in the basement as a result. The children, whose health had always been excellent seemed to suffer a lot of headaches and nose bleeds after playing in the basement. When my fiancee's mother visited that winter from Ontario we had her set up in the basement on our sectional couch and after a couple of nights she complained regularly of headaches and problems breathing. In February 2010, while at a conference in Edmonton, I received a frantic email and phone call from my fiancee telling me the furnace wasn't working and she was unable to get hold of maintenance or my principal. Fortunately, a friend of my mine was able to use a contact in Fort McMurray to help set up temporary accommodations for them there at his own personal expense. In addition, the dryer also died on us and needed to be replaced and the freezer also went resulting in the spoiling of a good deal of food. All this begs the following questions...Is housing regularly inspected by Northland School Division? Why would the school board provide a house for a family so poorly maintained that I would hesitate to keep a dog in it? When I brought my concerns with the house forward , why were they so slowly addressed? Is Northland so desperate to fill teaching positions that they will put them in any structure so long as it has four walls and a roof? I am writing to you as a last resort, as I am tired of this issue. It has been discussed a great deal in my family and they are concerned about the conditions we experienced there. Why does Ms. Willier [the current assistant superintendent, phone 780-624-2060 x6158] not acknowledge there is a problem here as she was with the board during my time there? Is she incompetent or does she simply not care? While she may want to throw me under the bus, I must firmly draw the line where my family's health and welfare are involved. Your maintenance logs for the property, if indeed they even exist, will clearly show there were many issues with this property. Please, acknowledge there is an issue here an answer some basic questions for me, I beg of you. I'm at the end of my patience with this issue. Frankly, if I don't get some actions on this matter, I have no qualms with posting photos I've taken on my blog. I'm not asking to rebuild a house from the ground up but rather some acknowledgement that a problem exists, that action wasn't taken and that something will actually be done about it so that another individual, couple or young family does not have to suffer through the nightmare we certainly did while working for your school board. Regards, Darcy Steele A couple days went by and I got no response. Then a week. Well, it's summer I figured. I'm sure she was busy with interviews trying fill the positions vacated by fleeing teachers. (Northlands has one of the highest staff turn over rates in the province.) Not to be put off, I emailed the woman again with a gentle reminder, dated July 11. I was pretty steamed but somehow kept it civil. Dear Ms. Barrett, Again, I respectfully submit my last email correspondence to you in hopes that it may have been missed due to a heavy workload. I eagerly await your response. Regards, Darcy Steele And finally success!! A mere three days later, on Saturday, July 14, I got a response back. Wow! And on a Saturday too!....bureaucrats work weekends?! Perhaps there's hope after all.....but no. After a mere 2 and a half years of delays, I received the following one-sentence response....from an IPhone... I have noted your concerns and reviewed them with our housing department. Wow! Thanks. Now, its my experience that such bureaucrats are shy creatures. They loathe the limelight and would much prefer the familiar environs of their offices than the bump and grind of reality. However, I have found if you speak persistently in slow, simple language, it is possible to coax them out. With this in mind, I emailed back a very easy to understand response.... And? Now, I'm hoping to get more than a one-sentence response. Because I'm sure it would be uber-embarrassing for Northlands to have the photos I am in possession of wind up on a lawyers desk or in the media.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010


By now I'm sure it's painfully obvious that keeping up with this blog has become increasingly difficult do to time constraints and increasing family obligations. During the time of this blog, and indeed the entire time (6 years) I resided in Nunavut, I was blessed with many experiences, trials and tribulations. I was fortunate to see and experience a part of Canada that few people are able to. By Nunavut standards I am now a southerner of sorts, here in Fort McMurray, Alberta enjoying our first house with a loving fiancee and a growing (and busy) family.

I've said a lot and have had a lot said in return on this blog in the form of the many comments I've received over the years. I was pleasantly surprised to see that some posts, written as much as two years ago, still generate commentary. Who knew? I've also had the odd interview and published article along the way.

In six years, I lived in a couple different communities and saw a good deal of Baffin Island, or at least as much as is possible to see from a plane, a snowmobile or a pair of size 10 Sorels. I witnessed some fantastic views, ate some unique foods, went on the odd rant, jumped in the ocean and struck gold.

To finish off I'd like to thank and wish best wishes to everyone I encountered along my Nunavut journey. It was a fantastic 6 years of my life encompassing over half my professional career. I recall my first day, back in July 2003 as my jet was landing in Iqaluit. The aircraft had to declare a missed approach as circle around again for a second landing attempt. A someone who had flown quite a bit in many types of aircraft and flying conditions, I was a little taken aback. I remember asking myself just what I thought I was getting into. Six plus years years later, I can answer that question: I was about to embark on a most wonderful adventure full of unique and wonderful experience I have never regretted, and something I always look back upon with a good deal of pride.


Thursday, August 19, 2010

Bans, Wasps and Apologies

Anyone whose followed this blog for any length of time will know that I whole-heartedly welcome this news regarding a proposed EU seal ban. Of course they will say that it isn't directed specifically at Inuit but at the end of the day a ban would definitely affect them. I'm sure this news has brought some gritting of teeth and hand ringing to some people, but then I see stories of some Europeans deliberately running with bulls and well...if your silly enough to do that I suppose a ban somehow makes some sort of sense.....

Seeing wasps in the High Arctic caught my attention though its something I've been aware of for the past 2 or 3 years, having seen them myself as well as some interesting pictures of them on a couple other northern blobs I frequent.

I also note with interest the federal government's apology for the forced relocation of Inuit families back in the 1950's. For me this wasn't just something I read about in history books. I got some sense of it all from my time spent in Arctic Bay, one of the communities affected by this bureaucratic decision. For anyone interested in more information, I highly recommend the book Tammarniit (Mistakes).

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Close Encounters

While I had a few close encounters with polar bears when I lived in Nunavut, I have to admit none of the were quite like this. It bears pointing out(sorry for the pun)that generally bears will take great pains to avoid human contact and that most encounters occur when we as humans encroach on their territory. The only serious attack I heard about during the time I lived up there occurred in 2003 when an Inuk guide was attacked in his tent at night while leading a hunting expedition. The man did survive, but needed a couple hundred stitches and staples to close to wounds to his scalp.

I recall coming across a black bear in Fort Smith 10 years ago, but fortunately for me, the bear showed much more interest in the berries it was eating than in me and I was able to beat a hasty retreat with nothing more than an elevated heart rate and a good northern tale.

While polar bears make for iconic northern photos, you always have to use your head. It's good to hear this encounter turned out safely for both human and bear.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

New Blog

Its been quite a while since I've added a new blog to the sidebar. Courtesy of Bonnieupnorth (another Alberta/Nunavut blog by the way), I give you The Amazing Tails of Jasper and Jack, Alaskan bloggers, who if I've got it correctly are friends of Bonnie's daughter.

While I have to admit I'm not as familiar with Alaskan blogs as the ones from Canada's 3 northern territories, I do have to admit a certain captivation with the state. It is high up on my list of places to see and I've bounced the idea of taking an Alaskan cruise of my fiancee. And to my delight, she is just as enthusiastic about it as I am. At any rate, be sure to check out this new Alaskan addition to the sidebar if you have the opportunity.

Thursday, July 29, 2010


I've been having a pretty busy summer and haven't been following much in the way of news as much as I usually would. News about the recent discovery of the HMS Investigator has caught my attention, history buff and northern enthusiast that I am. There's more happening in our Arctic than most people would realize from reading the mainstream media. It's refreshing to see a story that isn't about social or government issues or Parliamentary rows over arctic sovereignty issues.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010


This is actually a post I had been playing around with in my head for some time now but never seemed to find the time to put down on paper, or the screen as it were. Having followed the Nunavut blogging scene from its infancy 5 years ago up to now, I've seen a lot of changes as people have come and gone or even moved to different communities within the territory. Perhaps the most entertaining blog I've followed was Jen of Nunavut. If you're not familiar with it, I highly recommend stopping by for the photography and wit. Jen has since moved on to Ontario but still writes warmly about Nunavut on her new blog. Anyhow, I was reminded about getting on about doing this post after seeing the first two photos of this post here as well as reading up on Jaime's blog as she prepares for her move south. And, since I'm doing up more links than a German sausage I highly recommend this very thorough and well-written post if you're curious about making the move up to Nunavut.

Thinking back now to July 21, 2003, when I first moved to Nunavut I find it funny that at the time I spent a great deal of time pondering all the changes and adjustments I would have to make. (I had made my career to this point in several small northern communities across Canada, but Nunavut was something else entirely.) What I never really thought about was all the changes and adjustments I would have to make once I left Nunavut. Perhaps this is understandable after all since when I landed in Iqaluit on that fateful July day I had no idea I would spend the next 6 years of my life on Baffin Island. At the time, I was thinking within the confines of a 2-year time frame.

Perhaps changes are pretty obvious of course like climate and lack of 24-daylight (and darkness) so I don't need to elaborate. Other things might come across as a bit strange and may only be fully understood by someone who has spent a portion of their life north of that magical line known as the Arctic Circle. So here, in no particular order are some of the things I've had to adjust to over the past year.

1)Anonymity - Sometimes I like this and sometimes I don't. I don't really pay much attention to this anymore but initially I found it a bit strange that I could spend the better part of a day downtown or in some of the other civic places where people tend to gather and (aside from my family) not recognize or be acknowledged by a single person.

2)Cell phones - Yes, I'll admit straight off that I can be a bit of a Luddite. Cell phones confused the hell out of me at first. I only got one because my fiancee and I had a heck of a time getting our land line set up when we moved to northern Alberta and needed a phone of some sort to help us out in the interim. I suppose I can be forgiven a little since while I lived in Nunavut, there was no cell phone service available outside of the capital of Iqaluit. AND I know for a fact that I annoyed the heck out of my fiancee with all my cell phone questions and the pushing of wrong buttons. But I started sending my own text messages a couple weeks ago and for those who know my level of technology skills, that's real progress.

3)Access to goods and services - Fort McMurray isn't Edmonton when it comes to selection and shopping options but it is a significant change from living in places with only two stores. I now live within walking distance of 2 major grocery stores, 3 gas stations, 3 liquor stores, 4 schools and an insane number of dentist offices. As a result of all this, I've had to re-learn how to bargain shop....and this leads nicely into the next item....

4)Re-learning about money - Okay maybe not totally re-learning but as I mentioned earlier I became accustomed to dealing with 2 stores, though occasionally I did order online. Having accepted high prices as normal everyday thing, I had to be careful moving to a community of 80,000. Prices here are a tad high by Alberta standards but from my perspective there were many times I thought I was getting a great deal when I really wasn't. Thankfully I have my wonderful fiancee to help me out with this.

5)Busy busy - This place is on the go 24/7. You know you've been ruralized when you secretly congratulate yourself on successfully crossing 6 lanes of Fort McMurray traffic without getting squashed one of those big Diversified buses that are seemingly everywhere transporting people to and from all the big oil sands projects. Speaking of buses....

6) Negotiating bus routes - Lisa does the driving and I last dealt with city buses while attending university. Windsor, Ontario is good in that much of downtown and commercial areas are laid out in a grid system. Here, its a bit more confusing with a lot of twisty roads and routes that wrap around each other, like an unruly ball of yarn. A couple of times I've misread route maps but I've managed to catch my mistakes before winding up too far from my intended destination.

7) You lived where?! - Isn't so much of an adjustment as an observation. I always get a kick out of people when I try to describe to them where I used to live. At times, this has led to a bit of "He-man" complex on my part. We hit a patch of -40C weather last December and I'm sure I smile smugly at a few people who commented about how cold the weather felt to them. "Oh, -40 is nothing. Trust me. This one time in Nunavut....."

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Wish I Was There

I know I'm a little late off the draw with this but as a former Windsorite I have to wish a hearty congratulations to the Windsor Spitfires on their back-to-back Memorial Cup wins (can you say DYNASTY?!) It's been a few years since I've been back to the Windsor area and this story makes me wish I was there for tomorrow's Canada Day parade (though I'm sure it will be a good show here in Fort McMurray).

The Stanley Cup and the Memorial Cup together for the first time in the same parade is pretty cool you have to admit. Plus, it wasn't won by Detroit for a nice change. (I have to admit I never really liked the team, plus, all the media coverage coming from across the Detroit River did little to endear me to them.) I also like that Chicago coach (and former Windsor Spitfire coach) Joel Quenneville is a Windsor boy and that he happens to share his surname with a certain lovely fiancee of mine.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Congrats Robbie!

On a more uplifting note, it is with a great amount of pride that I congratulate Robbie Qammanirq on his recent graduation from Trent University. I never had the opportunity to meet Robbie while I lived in Arctic Bay but being such a small place I met plenty family members and friends and certainly heard much about the young man and the challenges he had to overcome. Coming from such a small place and adjusting to life in a large urban centre is no small barrier to overcome. Speaking from my own experience, after spending a decade in several small northern Canadian communities, adjusting to a new life in a city of 80, 000+ was trying at times. I can only imagine what it would be like for someone who has spent their entire life in a small place.

And I'm sure there will be plenty of idiots out there who will seize on this event simply to bash the North, education policy, the fact their underwear is on too tight and what have you. The simple truth is that relocating 2000 miles to attain a university degree is damn hard and Robbie should be commended for his grit and determination.

For more media coverage you can find the Nunatsiaq News article here and a story from CHEX Newswatch here. A big thank you to Nunavut MLA Ron Elliott and fellow Alberta/Nunavut blogger Bonnieupnorth for bringing this story to my attention.