Friday, March 31, 2006

Arctic Bay students hit Toronto

At the moment we have a group of students from our school down seeing the big lights of Toronto. They are participating in an exchange with a Toronto high school. Many of the students that went had never been to a big city like Toronto before and the Toronto students (who will be heading up here later in April) have never spent much time out of the inner city.

A colleague told me this morning that the kids had been to Much Music and had appeared on TV, sporting a Nunavut flag (signed by Mats Sundin and Eric Lindros!) Unfortunately, I missed seeing the show but a couple teachers here have taped it so I look forward to seeing it.

In addition to their TV appearance, they will see a Toronto Raptors game, go to a Maple Leafs practice at the Air Canada Centre and experience the natural wonder of Niagara Falls. I know this will be quite the experience for them and I very much look forward to hearing all about their great adventure when they return next week.

Thinking of this exchange has reminded me just how large and diverse the country is. And though I momentarily thought of the marvellous +15 degree temperature the kids would be basking in and all the shopping and conveniences there, I wouldn't trade Arctic Bay for Toronto for a second.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Soccer Goals

One of the big challenges in a small community like Arctic Bay is the lack of infrastructure. For example, our school gymnasium is not only used by Inuujaq School but also by the general public for many other community functions such as dances, meetings, court sessions etc. This makes it a challenge for school sports teams to get practice time. Both our boys and girls teams can only get a couple of 2-hours practice sessions per team per week. Many in the community hope for a larger school gym or a second facility which would allow us to field more competitive teams.

Inspite of this, I am hopeful that we will be able to send a 14-and-under and 16-and-under boys team and a 14-and-under and 16-and-under girls team to the next regional tournament. The kids don't let inadequate practice facilities dampen their spirit or love for the game.

Coaching in-door soccer has definitely been a rewarding experience for me. We field teams that play in Iqaluit in a gym 4 times the size of the one here in Arctic Bay and against larger centres with well-developed community leagues. When I took the boys 16 and under team to Iqaluit for the regional tournament last November it was truly a David and Goliath-type scenario. While we lost all our games, the boys played their guts out and inspired me with sheer determination and a "never say die" attititude. In many ways it is a victory just to be there.

In the meantime, we practice hard and build for the future. In the end it is the team work, comaraderie and great memories that make the tournament worth while.......more valuable than a win or a loss. And I learn much more from them than they do from me.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

A Fallen Hero

The cadets in Arctic Bay paid their respects tonight with a moment of silence in memory of Pte. Robert Costall who lost his life while serving in Afganistan. Pte. Costall was only 22. As a former cadet and reservist I know of the close bonds of respect and friendship that form between brothers- and sisters-in-arms. His sacrifice to Canadians while wearing his country's uniform is something that should always be honoured and remembered. Rest well brother.

Monday, March 27, 2006

A Tingle in Your Ear.....ain't always a good thing

I took advantage of the bright sunny weather over the weekend to do some exploring around the local area. I had a student along with me as we headed out. ( I owed him big time as he had helped me change some rather fouled up spark plugs) He was a great guide and together we went out to the mouth of Adam Sound where I was shown some places where local hunters regularly go in search of seals. From there I could gaze across at the majestic cliffs across Admiralty Sound. I've been told it takes roughly 3 hours to get to these cliffs. It's a journey I'd dearly love to take. However, I lacked both the gas and the guts to travel out that far without a support party.

I spent the rest of the afternoon speeding around Victor Bay which is just a few kilometers north of town. The drifting snow and bumps along the ice brought out the kid in me and I went speeding, skipping and jumping along the bay for quite a distance.

I let my enthusiasm get the better of me....perhaps it was due to spending such a large part of my time in-doors through the dark season. I should have known to head for home and get warmed up. At any rate, once my ears began to sting a little I didn't think too much of it....afterall I've had frosbite before on my beak, never on my ears.

When I got home I beheld my left ear which had swollen to elephantine proportions due to the cold. Luckily, it looks better to day. I spent the day telling students my ear had swollen up because of all those times my mother would take me by the ear when I misbehaved as a child. Of course, they saw through my tall tale right away. But I was left with a good chuckle and a healthy respect for the effects of wind on human flesh.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Take-Out in a Small Town

Sometimes I can forget how different my life in the high arctic is from back in Ontario simply because I'm slowly becoming accustomed to my new reality here. But sometimes life here is just like down South. For example, last night I had my first take-out north of the Arctic Circle.

Not from a restaurant but just as good. A group of students from the school are leaving Arctic Bay for an exchange trip to Toronto next week. In order to raise money, one student decided to make up batches of homefries and chicken to sell. For an extra couple of bucks, it was even delivered right to my door.......via snowmobile naturally. This suited me perfectly as I am a reluctant cook. At any rate, I thought the student's idea was novel and I wanted to help out.

So chicken and fries it was....just as good as any restaurant.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Hey Paul and Heather.....I Eat Seal!

Paul McCartney and Heather Mills' recent appearance on the news crouched by a baby seal pup has stirred a great deal of discussion and concern recently. I for one found their comments on CNN quite ridicuous and mis-informed. Heather Mills was quoted as saying, "People don't eat seals, and they use it for fashion." Her comments would be laughable were it not for the devastating impact that a ban on seal hunting would have on the local and territorial economy.

Well, Heather, guess what? I eat seal, my next door neighbours eat seal and a large portion of Nunavut eats seals. Such comments only show ignorance. Inuit have harvested seals looong before you showed up. I can guarantee you that I don't wear seal skins mitts for fashion. I wear them because they are incomparably better than any pair of commercially produced mitts I have ever owned.

Seriously, why don't people like this ever come to a place like Arctic Bay with cameras in tow? The answer is quite simple. People such as the McCartney's are ignorant media hounds who are only interested in drawing attention to themselves. Please get a life McCartney and Mills and let people here lead there own!

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Kids and Moustaches

This afternoon I had a break from my regular teaching routine so that we could hand out report cards and have our parent-teacher interviews. I feel fortunate that I have a good rapport with most of my regular attenders so meeting parents is a good opportunity to let them know how their student is doing.

While I was getting some water at the fountain a small group of primary kids had come up to me, giggling and pointing out my moustache which I have begun to cultivate. They all wanted to touch it and asked me why I had it. One of them gestured that I should grab it and rip it off. The looks on their little faces was priceless and brought a smile to my face. The little ones can be very inquisitive at times. "Nauktaima umiqtit?"** Where's your moustache? I asked one little girl, to a chorus of giggles.

At one point last year I had both a moustache and a goatee. My way of feeling cool and rebellious. However, I got rid of it as the frost build up in cold weather got to be annoying after awhile. Also, cluts that I am, I kept getting my goatee caught in the zipper of my big parka!

**While I am slowly learning Inuktitut, I can hardly claim fluency. Inuktitut was an oral language with no written alphabet until quite recently. Spelling in Inuktitut was often done according to how the words sounded and is not standardized. Therefore, my sincere apologizes to my Inuit friends if I screwed this one up. :)

Let it snow! Let it snow!

Today I awoke to wind and snow. It looked like the makings of a blizzard but the wind wasn't quite strong enough. Nevertheless, it was difficult to distinguish where the land ended and the sky began. It was like living inside a glass of milk. The snow was of the light, fluffy variety which made for excellent skidooing, even if was only between work and home.....covers up all that annoying gravel on the road.

Spring is actually the season when we can expect more snow here (and flight cancellations) as the weather tends to be more unsettled. Snow can occur any time of the year at this latitude. Last June in Qikiqtarjuaq, we got several dumps of snow and a few dustings of snow in August were not uncommon.

Tomorrow are parent-teacher interviews at the school and I have some mid-terms to deal with next week. So it feels a bit like crunch time. It will become more challenging to keep students focused on academics as the amount of daylight increases and the temperature gets warmer...at least I'm told it will eventually.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

A Confession

With luck I will be able to post some pictures (hopefully by this weekend with the help of my more technologically advanced housemate). In the meantime, I am basking under a pleasant -20C. At the moment I am house-sitting and looking after a dog. So I get a pretty good idea of what the temperature is like in the morning by how long the dog stays out before scratching at the door.

In many ways my day is just like anywhere else....I get up, I go to work, I shop at our two local stores, I collect my bills, I grit my teeth as I slowly fall further and further behind in my hockey pool. Sometimes, I forget where I am and only regain a sense of the vastness of this place when I go out on the land and see how small the community looks from a distance in this vast landscape There are days you have experiences that remind me that this place is definitely unique....experiences that I know I could have in no other place. I have seen whales, polar bears, and dog teams. I have eaten caribou, seal, polar bear, muktuk (whale blubber), arctic char and arctic clams. I have also crashed, bashed and rolled my skidoo down more hills than I care to count.

I know that when I first came here I carried a bit of a paternalistic attitude with me.....here was Darcy, come to change Nunavut. What I have come to realize, however, was that it wasn't so much me who changed Nunavut but Nunavut which has changed me.....and for the better.

Monday, March 20, 2006

A Look Ahead and A Look Back

Ah, today Spring has sprung! It used to mean melting snow, re-emerging grass on the lawn and all the leaves I missed raking up in the fall. This morning it meant the temperature was warm enough so that I could get my skidoo started with little hassle. I sure makes the 3 minute morning commute more manageable, though I haven't quite mastered the art of driving while my holding my morning coffee. Luckily, there isn't too much to hit while driving across open patches of tundra - save for the odd large rock.

Spring has always been my favourite season up here. The days are longer, the sun shines brighter and it feels good just to be outside after a long dark season. It amazes me that we have gone from practically no daylight in the beginning of February to 12 hours of light in a mere 6 weeks.

One experience that I have been particularly fortunate to have lately has been having a couple local elders into my classroom over the past couple of weeks. They are an invaluable link to the past, imparting traditional skills and wisdom upon young minds - whether through story-telling, games or working with caribou or polar bear hides. I asked both ladies through one of my students if they were familiar with a couple of former teachers and an Anglican minister from the 1930s, 1950s and 1960s whom I knew through some of my reading had spent some time here. I received smiling nods in return. It was interesting for me to have this small link with a past that I can only read about in a book.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

A New Beginning

Greetings from Arctic Bay, Nunavut in northern Canada! This marks my biggest forray into technology to date!

A small preamble -- I must start off by stating that I am a bit of a Luddite when it comes to technology. However, the chance of being able to document my time in Nunavut was simply too good to pass up. (At least now, I have a very good reason for buying that digital camera I've always dreamed of!)


Arctic Bay is definitely one of the most beautiful places I've had the pleasure of living and working in. It is a small predominantly Inuit community of about 700 in Canada's High Arctic. What brought me here was my job (I teach high school social studies at Inuujaq School here). What keeps me here is the people and Inuit culture....and at times the weather which can play havoc with flight schedules at times. But more on that later.

At any rate, living in Nunavut is unlike living in any other place! We've just recently gone through a warm snap and a cold snap....the temperature soared up to around +2C recently, shattering temperature records. This past Tuesday we hit the proverbial -40C. Snowmobiles become quite finicky with starting in conditions like that!

This is my third year in Nunavut. I taught for 2 years in another community before transferring to Arctic Bay in the summer of 2005. I can say it was one of the best decisions I have made in recent years. Aside from my work, I coach boys soccer and help out with the local Army Cadet Corps which helps keep me busy and gets me involved in the community. I've become an avid smowmobiler and can confidently claim I am likely in possession of the most northerly collection of the entire recorded opus of JS Bach in the world...some days you just feel like tooting your own horn!

Anyhow, I grew up in small-town Ontario and taught throughout the north. I was in northern Saskatchewan before taking the plunge and coming up here. I had always wanted to go "way way up" for the experience...I figured one year would be good. Three years later, however, I feel more and more at home here and less compelled to leave......life is funny like that.