Thursday, March 29, 2007

A View From the Inside

It occurred to me today that I haven't really posted many pictures from the inside of our school. Mostly I guess this is because I work here everyday so I never gave it much thought. Also, the school tends to be full of, well, people.

I've made it my own little rule not to post pictures of students on my blog. Staff members perhaps or maybe my own mug on occasion, but in many ways Nunavut is a small place where everyone knows everyone else so student pictures are strictly verboten.

At any rate, I did manage a few quick shots from around the school before I had to set up for parent-teacher interviews. Just a few quickies.

Here is our display area for student work in the school foyer....a lot of work celebrating Inuktitut. It is encouraging to see it displayed prominently in our school.

The main part of our school consists of one long hall way....possibly the longest corridor north of the Arctic Circle. This is just outside the junior high classrooms. If you trek to the end and then hook a right you enter the primary end of the school.

Here is our high school wing - 4 classrooms. If you turn right from here, walk a few feet and hook to the right again, you find yourself back in the main hall in the picture above. Our high school Social Studies and Northern Studies classroom is just past the drinking fountain tucked behind the display case.

I hope to get up a few more pictures of the school in the near future. Picture taking is much easier now that the weather is milder (-20 to -25C) and now that we have considerably more daylight. The sun is up for about 13.5 hours and growing this time of year.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007


We had higher than normal winds here today, giving us quasi-blizzard moments this afternoon. It all seemed metaphoric......for something.

Ah yes!

It looks like big changes are in store for our school in the next school year. We will have the biggest turnover in 4-5 years. Large turnovers tend to be the norm for northern schools and we've been pretty stable for awhile so I guess we were due. I've seen this issue from both sides, having left schools as part of a big turnover and having joined school staffs as part of an influx of newbies.

At any rate, I look forward to the new challenges. At this point, it appears I will be the only returning high school teacher so I am quite happy I have a firm grasp of how the high school system functions up here as we will also have at least one new administrator, and possibly two.

We had a productive staff meeting this afternoon along with our community's mental health worker who is interested in setting up some programs/structures to assist new hires in adapting living and teaching here. In the Baffin region, most new hires tend to be young teachers from the east coast with the odd hire (like myself) from Ontario. I've offered to help out with some of the new initiatives and even offered up my blog site as a source of (hopefully helpful) information for new hires. So a heads up to other Nunavut bloggers that you may get some extra traffic starting in April when hiring starts in earnest.

I found I've been getting a lot of questions lately from students as to whether or not I would be here in the fall. Usually I tend not to give much thought to this issue until later in the school year. I'm wary of telling students my intentions in case they change. However, since most of the students seemed to suspect a high turnover, I found them asking me about my intentions more so than last year. I can't really blame them of course. They are just as antsy, or even more so, than teachers about high turnover. I decided to let the cat out of the bag and be honest with them since they need reassurance of stability and familiar faces.

I plan to return in the fall. I've considered a few other positions that will be opening up in the school here for the fall but I will be teaching here in some capacity come August. The reality is that I've found a place I feel comfortable living and working in. Of course, not every day goes as planned and there are days I gnash my teeth but they are few and far between. I'm sure I could be teaching in Toronto, Tofino or Trenton and face the same challenges there as well.

I'm giving some thought to applying for an administrative position. I would love the new opportunity and challenge. I like to think I have some good ideas and can effect change. At this point though I'm still considering it. I'd rather not have to sacrifice my soccer coaching in order to fill this new role as I really do enjoy working with the kids outside of school hours. I find this really adds a whole new dimension to my job and to living here in the community. I will be quite happy teaching here for the time to come regardless of the shape and size of the hat I may be wearing.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Nosebleed Follow Up

As a quick follow up to my post a couple days back, I noticed when I checked over the weekend that the articles in question have been removed from the Quesnel School District's website. Chalk one up for the good guys. Mistakes, human nature. Mindless diatribes, pointless.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Dog in a Box

Your daily dose of cuteness.....

I came across this little guy outside the Co-op store after my soccer coaching and he followed me all the way home. I have to admit I was a bit tempted to let him in but I'm pretty sure he belongs to someone. I've seen a few young pups around town. At any rate, I once "adopted" a small dog like this in one community only to soon realize that they are outdoor dogs for a good reason!

Cute though.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Afternoon Stroll Around Town

Our school is closed a second time, this time for the rest of the week because of a flu bug that doesn't seem to want to go away. Sickness has felled students and quite a number of staff members as well. Fortunately, it has passed me over.

On the positive side, the weather here has gotten milder so I couldn't pass up the opportunity to get out for a good walk without having to wear any snow pants for once. I had wanted to post a few pictures of some of the buildings we have in town to give people an idea of what things look like. This idea got stuck on the back burner for a bit but here you have it.

Here we have our Co-op store, one of two stores in town. If you look between the two sea cans sitting in front, you can see it sits on metal pilings.

The new hotel built last fall.

Our 2-member RCMP detachment. This is a fairly new structure. The detachment used to be located over in Nanisivik before the mine there closed in 2002.

Our Northern store. The syllabics read "Niuvirvik" - a place where you go buy things.

This odd-shaped building is our health centre. It's always reminded me of an upside down boat.

The local Anglican Church with the Health Centre in the background.

Inuujaq School where I teach. The school runs from Kindergarten right up to grade 12 and has around 240 students.

Before a house is built, it looks like this. These boxes arrived on the sea lift last August and contain everything needed for a new 5-plex which will be built on the road behind my unit.

Like many other Canadian towns, we have an arena too!

Boats waiting for the ice to thaw - in another 3 months or so.

Our local Arctic College building.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Oh My God, I'm Going to Have a Nosebleed Here

I ran across an interesting editorial in News North this afternoon and decided to follow up on it. A teacher from BC is up working for a year in Baker Lake and has authored a number of articles for the Quesnel School District's newsletter. Apparently, according to the newspaper, these articles have generated some controversy. So, being the snoop that I am, I decided to pay a visit to the Quesnel Board's website and see what was written.

(I'm unsure how to set up a direct link to there from my blog. I just did a Google search for the school board and took it from there).

Yikes. I can't believe they printed that trash. To be fair, some of it started out okay. The teacher made some general observations about the community (size, services, food prices, housing etc.) but by the time I got to the second article I was almost pulling out my fine brown locks of hair. Setting aside the fact that she kept using the word Inuks (asking an Inuk would have lead her to use the correct word "Inuit"), she makes some pretty inflammatory, and in the end, unhelpful, remarks. There are 6 articles in total so I've decided to pull a few quotes that really shouldn't go unchallenged in any sort of publication, let alone one coming from a school board.

"I hope it (speaking of NTEP, the Nunavut Teacher Education Program) helps broaden the perspective of the many sincere but woefully undereducated NTEP teachers."

Ouch. Where do I even begin with this one? We have a number of NTEP students at our school and I find them to be well-informed, enthusiastic and hard-working people. I couldn't imagine our staff without them. We even have a recent grad of the NTEP program on staff who is just as capable and professional as anyone else on staff. She got her B.Ed., took courses at Concordia, comes into the school on weekends and gives freely of her time to coach girls soccer.

"....the Nunavut government rejected the well-developed education delivery system in the Northwest Territories and have decided to use the Alberta curriculum>"

HUH? Having also taught in the NWT, I can say that that territory also used, and continues to use, the Alberta curriculum. After division, the system was grandfathered over to the new Nunavut territory. I'm not really sure what rejection she is referring to here.

"....non-attenders...are an accepted part of the demographics of a school. Teachers and administrators count on them not coming to keep class sizes low."

Good grief, woman. As a teacher, I find this very offensive. That a teacher would even countenance this merely to keep class sizes at a convenient level is quite insulting. I am constantly encouraging my students to attend, and if they get a little frosty at me for harping on them, I know that at least they appreciate my concern for them. At our school, we have many ways of improving attendance that we have implemented this year. We certainly don't accept this as part of the demographics at our school.

"Once they figure out life in this century and this government thing and the changes wrought by global warming and requirements for a modern lifestyle, Nunavummiut will be a successful people."

I really can't believe I read this. Where do I even start? Statements like this simply reinforce a paternalistic attitude and bad stereotypes. Negotiations for the creation of Nunavut began in 1976, after a century of white colonialism. They had a foreign type of government thrust on them, not of their choosing. Southerners have had a huge head start on adjusting to the pace of change. Here, that same rate of change has been condensed into less than 50 years. They've done remarkably well. Ingenuity and adaptability are hallmarks of the Inuit character. I once had a colleague that gave a broken microwave to a local man to fix and the man returned it to her 20 minutes later, having used nothing more than a screw driver and a butter knife. Inuit also do not need to be educated as to the causes and effects wrought by global warming. They are already very much aware of it and indeed there are many Inuit lobby groups and organizations that are pushing for change.

"All adults in Nunavut receive a Northern Living allowance of $20 000 to offset...high prices."

Well, yes and no. Northern Allowances are payable to those in government positions, not every adult in the territory. These Northern Allowances depend on the community in which you work. The government's Northern Allowance for Baker Lake is, I believe $20 058/annum so she is more or less correct, but not very clear in her statement here."

"Teachers are the only profesional group who pay high prices for accomodation. $100 and up." (sic)

HUH? I'm not really sure what the writer is getting at here....the typing was a bit garbled. I don't know any teachers here, in the last community I worked in, nor anywhere else in the territory that pay $100 a month for rent.

"In other communities, especially smaller ones, you see overt drunkeness on the streets and way more evidence of problems."

Yeah, I think I may need a drink after reading this trash. Seriously though, I'm impressed the writer, in the span of a few months, has managed to make it to many other communities to witness what she implies she knows of through first-hand experience.

"The new jobs predicted for the road building contract...will bring a lot of grief with it. People will blow money on drugs and booze."

Gee, nothing like a little stereotyping now. Coming from someone from BC, with all the media buzz and public attention around Vancouver's drug problem, I find this excerpt a strange one.

"Sexual abuse is common. The ethic in an Inuit community is to grieve, as a community, when a sex offender is sent to jail."

Thank you for your misinformed stereotyping. Yes, I believe missionaries of certain Christian denominations first brought this problem here. Speaking as I have to elders and other long timers, sexual abuse was never part of traditional culture. We most certainly do not all grieve for the offender.

"I'm paying off debts and I am soooo happy that I got to come here."

Yep there's nothing like portraying Nunavummuit as bent on taking all the money they can while they can get it and then making a statement like that. So please, please go back where you came from. And with all due respect, read a little northern history while you're at it.

I could go on but I think I've made my point. Articles like this, however well-intentioned do nothing to educate and serve only to foster stereotypes. What I find most frustrating is that these articles were taken from a school board website and present opinions, hearsay and nonsense as fact.

Please don't insult my profession, my Inuit friends and the territory I have grown to love and appreciate.

Monday, March 19, 2007

One Year

Hurray! Way Way Up turns one year old today. Yes, today marks the one year anniversary of my blog. I never really thought it would grow the way it has. A year ago I was house-sitting and looking for something to do. A few people back home had mentioned on occasion that I should write a book about my experiences in the North. Perhaps this is something I may explore further during my retirement years. At the time though, a blog looked like a reasonable alternative. And so it began.

I put a stat counter on my blog just to see where any traffic was coming from. I had played around with a stat counter a few months back but now I've found one I like. It's quite humbling to know that people visit and, judging from the comments I get, find it worthwhile to read. I've had visitors from not just Canada, but also the U.S., Norway, China, Germany, the UK and the Netherlands.

With my blog, I've been able to keep in touch with friends and family back home and I've learned a lot about this land and about myself as well. I've had people contact me through private e-mail, considering moving here and asking for information. I've even been fortunate enough to have an article published in a magazine after the editor came across my blog on-line. Pretty neat stuff indeed.

I have intentions of sticking around in the arctic for the foreseeable future, so I look forward to adding to my little blog and watching it grow. Perhaps in the next year, I will be able to get my first pictures of a polar bear to post (something I have yet to do) and there are also a few places of historical interest I would like to see so that I can write about them.

I've had 154 posts, about one every 2 to 3 days and received many helpful comments and other information through this little project of mine. I've found that blogging has helped me in both my professional and personal growth. So looking back, that's not too bad seeing as I only decided to start this journey because I was a little bored one evening.


Sunday, March 18, 2007


According to the 2006 census numbers Arctic Bay has gotten a little bigger. The community now has 690 people, up from 646 in 2001. As a territory, Nunavut now has 29 474 people. With the possible exception of Iqaluit, most of the territory's growth has been through natural increase.

A couple interesting notes about our population are that it is one of only two political jurisdictions in Canada where the majority does not speak English as a first language. Quebec, or course, would be the other. Nunavut also has a very young population. I believe the median age is around 19 (compare that to the national average of about 39 and that would make me an old man).

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Thick Ice

This picture isn't the best as it is at the end of my camera's zoom range but it does give you an idea of just how thick the ice is out on the bay. It will remain like this for some time to come. Last year, break-up occurred around late June-early July, although I'm sure that in earlier times it came much later than this.

Alas Poor Adalbert, We Hardly Knew Ya

One of the biggest challenges with classical music recordings I've found is that the field is dominated by a small handful of composers. I realize this has a lot to do with name recognition and marketing. Mozart is undoubtedly familiar to most. He is probably one of, if not the most recorded, of the classical composers though I can't say I've been impressed with every recording I've heard. Of course, this probably has more to do with the orchestral group performing than anything else. But here I am getting off topic already.

Who the heck is Adalbert? Adalbert Gyrowetz was a Czech composer and had the misfortune of being a Mozart contemporary. I had ordered a CD of 3 of his symphonies and took an instant liking to them. They were all premiere recordings, making them a particularly rare find. Interestingly for me Adalbert was born in Ceske Budejovice in today's Czech Republic, which just happens to be on my list of places to visit while there this summer. (So far so good on the trip plans).

Adalbert is not well known but his life did touch on the lives of other, more well-known composers. Not only was held in high esteem by Mozart, but he spent time with Haydn in London, helping him to become better known in London musical circles, and served as a pall-bearer at Beethoven's funeral. He spent much of his long life in Vienna as a composer, conductor and teacher, writing around 30 operas and 40 symphonies, an impressive output by any stretch of the imagination.

He once remarked that "only a genius lives beyond the grave," however even JS Bach had fallen out of favour until performances of his works were revived in the 19th century by Felix Mendelssohn. So who knows? In the meantime, I peel back the shadow of Mozart and enjoy these recordings of fine classical symphonies.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Battling the Bug

Closed. Canned. Shutdown. Our school was without students for most of today and will be for tomorrow as well. We have a rather nasty flu virus making the rounds at the moment which has felled many students and a few staff members too. I have it a bit luckier than most by the sounds of things, just a minor cough and a distinct lack of energy this morning. I found myself sounding like a cheesy Barry White impersonator with my deep voice.

There seemed little sense in having so few students so the DEA made the decision at lunch to send the kids home. Hopefully, with an upcoming weekend and Monday being a staff day to work on report cards, the time off will give students and staff a chance to beat the bug.

So after finishing up a few things at the school this afternoon I find myself at home now, enjoying the views out my window and delighting in our bright sunny skies. In roughly 6 weeks we have gone from zero hours of daylight up to around 11 hours.

On a totally unrelated note, one of my students who won a gold, silver and bronze medal at the Canada Games agreed to bring them in once classes resume so I can get a look at them and take a couple pictures.

Monday, March 12, 2007

A Few Random Pictures

Here are just a few shots from my walk home from work today. The sun sets a little after 7pm this time of year. As the sun dips behind the hills it provides for some really nice colour contrasts.

This a shot of my street just outside my front door - very few vehicles of the 4-wheeled variety.

Here's my little arctic home. Very snug. This is what -36C/-37C looks like. My bottom-most step disappeared some months ago and hasn't been seen since.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

I Think The Groundhog Lied.......

when the silly thing predicted an early spring! Actually, I am posting this merely for the "freak out" value for friends and family back home. I was hoping it would hit the proverbial -40C eventually. I don't find this too bad. I've learned that you can complain and cry about cold weather all you want but Mother Nature doesn't really care to listen to whiners. So I just accept it and embrace it.

Ironically, I only noticed the thermometer when I got up to answer a knock at the door. A local man had a pair of sealskin mitts for sale!

This makes me think back in amazement to 100 years ago when there were no permanent structures or community here. I find it remarkable that people not only survived, but thrived here.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Nice Rug!

I've said it many times, but I'll say it again. Sometimes after living here awhile you get used to certain things and don't really find them all that unusual. It's only when I stop and think for a moment that I realize the unique nature of being here. Take for example today. I just happened to bump into a local hunter who had harvested this bear. I believe it was for the school's cultural program as he and one of our classroom assistants hauled this bad boy into the school shortly after I snapped these shots.

I think I must be one of the few qallunnaat left in Nunavut that doesn't have a picture of a live bear somewhere in his collection. Sigh. Well these will suffice for now. I couldn't help but think that this specimen would make a fantastic rug. For Inuit though, this simply represents a way to make a livelihood and carry on an age-old tradition.

The sled for those who may not know is called a qamutik, made completely out of wood and rope.....not a single nail to be found.

In the background you can see another qamutik. It was built in the grade 8 cultural class and our soccer team is raffling it off for a fundraiser at the end of the month.

"My, what big teeth you have!" - Goldilocks.

Thursday, March 08, 2007


My Inuktitut lessons are going well this week and I must say I'm quite pleased. I have a great instructor. I have expanded my vocabulary quite a bit and added considerably to my little red book of Inuktitut phrases and words.

Inuktitut has a lot of inflections/verb endings which I found quite intimidating at first. You can take a simple verb and keep adding on little suffixes so that the words can grow quite long. In English there are only a few suffixes like "s", "ed" and "ing" to worry about following a word. In Inuktitut however, there are, according to the workbook we were using, around 738 such verb endings in the North Baffin dialect. Wow. 738!

Here's how it works. I'll use a grand total of 3 verb endings.

tukisi (understand) + nngi (negative) + lauq (past tense) + tunga (I)

Run it all together (and I hope I have this right) and you get the freight train word of tukisinngilauqtunga (I didn't understand).

NOTE - I've been corrected through a very helpful anonymous commenter. The correct word should read "Tukisiqqaungittara". Qujannamiik!

On another note, I've been following the Canada Games over in Whitehorse and our local athletes are doing quite well. We have a few medals in Inuit and Dene Games. They've picked up at least 6 by my count. As mentioned in a previous post, these medals don't count in the official standings since they are only (!)demonstration sports. But if these medals did count it would up our medal total, meaning that a number of Nunavut's medals have come from our athletes in Arctic Bay. What can I say? We have awesome kids here!!

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Fast Change

It truly amazes me even after 4 years how quickly the amount of daylight lengthens. In the span of a month, we've gone from this........

to this.......

It was acutally a bit brighter than this in the second picture. My classroom was a bit on the dark side and there was a lot of glare from the sun, but you get the idea. Both shots were taken at just after noon on Feb.5 and March 7 respectively.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Cheer Up Toronto!

Since I can pick up a couple Toronto-area t.v. stations here I can keep tabs on the goings-on in my home province of Ontario. After being pummelled with some nasty weather, it seems Toronto officials took the drastic, but necessary precaution of closing down part of the Gardiner Expressway to avoid having any motorists struck by large chunks of ice falling from the CN Tower. I can only imagine the traffic chaos resulting from the 24-hour closing of a major city artery. But I bet when commuters woke up this morning, they didn't see this.........

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Back to School for Me

I'm back to start another school week tomorrow, only this time I will be without students. School staff in Nunavut hold a Professional Improvement Week around this time of year and this week happens to be the week for our school.

So I've opted to take a week's worth of Inuktitut lessons to build on last year's lessons. I've hired the same local man I worked with for this last year and I'm really looking forward to it. Most times I use Inuktitut are either for when I am coaching soccer or out and about in the community. I find I learn Inukitut best in real life, everyday situations rather than simply copying down phrases and learning by rote though I do keep a small book to write a few things down. I was told that the staff member whose position I now have learned Inukitut by going out on the land with elders and local hunters which I think is a fantastic way of doing it.

Also, fellow bloggers Nunvut Newbies (see it over on my sidebar) are compiling an on-line Inuktitut dictionary. I checked it out earlier this evening and even though the Kivalliq dialect differs from here, I found I could still understand most of the words. Most of the differences were in spelling or slight pronunciation variations. But considering how traditional Inuit society was so spread out over this vast territory here and that syllabics were only introduced as a writing system a little of 100 years ago, I find the similarities quite fascinating.

Due to historical reasons, there is no standardized spellings of some words and I still need to work on the spelling part of learning Inuktitut myself. If the Department of Education offered Inuktitut language instruction to southern hires, I know I'd be first in line. Anyhow, back to class tomorrow so I'll see how much I can remember and how much (hopefully not too much!) I've forgotten since my last lessons.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Stange Things Are Afoot

Envionment Canada has issued a weather warning for Arctic Bay for tonight. Usually these are not very common for this community. I can't actually recall seeing a weather warning posted for Arctic Bay in the time I've been here. But there it is. Extreme windchills tonight will (if the weather gods are accurate) produce windchills of -56C. Fortunately I don't need to be out and about today. My soccer practice is on hold due to a table sale at the school gym. At any rate, if I do venture outside, I know I won't be accosted by any crazed, naked, anti-seal protesters.

In another odd news tidbit, an aunt of mine in Switzerland e-mailed a news story about the misadventures of a Swiss army unit out on a military exercise Thursday night. I'll be sure to mention this story in my grade 10 socials class since we are currently discussing sovereignty issues. Apparently, the 170-man unit got lost in the dark and wandered into neighbouring Liechtenstein. Fortunately for neutral Liechtenstein, the equally neutral Swiss soon realized their mistake and turned back. The Swiss were even carrying assault rifles (sans ammunition - sort of like our military here during the Liberal regime) but apparently the Liechtensteiners(?) who lack a standing army never noticed the wayward Swiss traipsing around there fair country.