Wednesday, June 27, 2007

I Think I'm Going to Like This Europe Thing!

It only took two years of planning but I finally managed to pull it off. I made it into Brussels early this afternoon (local time). I met my uncle at the airport here and plan to take the next couple days to explore some of the city's sights here before I head off further east. To say that I'm ecstatic to be here would be an understatement. In fact, I'm sure its this exact same level of euphoria that is holding off the inevitable jet-lag which I'm sure I will start to feel tomorrow.

Everything is much smaller here than what I am accustomed to - from the streets, to the cars to the houses. From the way Belgian motorists drive, I'm guessing red lights are just suggestions. I went out for an evening stroll around the block and my uncle pointing out the special um....."pooping areas" they have set up for dogs here. (I'll try to get a picture up....of one of the signs, when I get a chance. He also made the observation that it seems that Europe, nature is seen as something that must be controlled or contained - thought I'm sure that could be said about many societies. But definitely a foreign concept to the Inuit.

Well, I know it is mid-afternoon back home but I must soon retire for the night. I think that jet lag is finally starting to kick in.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Back South

Luck was with me. The plane got in to Nanisivik and I managed to get all the way to Ottawa on Saturday. This week will be busy with all my banking and shopping chores before I fly off to Brussels in 8 days. After my Europe trip I will be be in Ontario for only 3 days before flying back to Nunavut so I plan to start shopping today so I will have everything in order for when I depart North again.

I imagine my blog will be pretty quiet over the next weeks. I hope to do at least a couple posts while overseas if I manage to get hold of a computer. On the other hand, the whole point of this trip is for a vacation but at any rate, I'm sure I'll have plenty of pictures up eventually after I return. (And I finally got that 2gb memory card I wanted yesterday. How I survived with my camera's original 16mb card for an entire year is beyond me.)

Adieu everyone. I'm off to a land of medieval castles, palaces and cathedrals.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Weather, Don't Tease Me!

Well, flight day has finally arrived, one of the few days of the year when I find myself gazing constantly upward at the sky. The forecast call for rain and flurries but its looking not too bad at the moment - partly cloudy and +5C. Here's to hoping it stays that way. Mother Nature can be pretty fickle at times. I recall last year getting out to Nanisivik and finding it socked in with thick cloud only to arrive back in Arctic Bay to clear blue skies. Such is the unpredictable nature of northern travel. I'm itching to call the airport at the moment to check on the flight status but part of me is too chicken. Hopefully if all goes to plan I will be in Ottawa tonight.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Hitting Close to Home

It's always distressing when you're surfing on-line for news and you come across articles like this - especially when you happen to be a teacher in the north. I can't believe the guy received a sentence of only 14 months! What an utter joke! I suppose some comfort can be taken in the knowledge that this man will never get a teaching position again. Somehow, I don't think this will matter very much to his victims.

I can remember when these type of issues were brought up in teachers college. It is something that, as a young male teacher, I paid VERY close attention to. Not that I was paranoid about it or anything like that. But given what I knew about the history of education in the north I felt it would be wise not to miss lectures involving those types of discussions.

Just to give you an idea of how close to home this hits for me, I was teaching in nearby Fort Smith during part of the time frame of events laid out in this article. Furthermore, a former teacher/principal here in Arctic Bay, the infamous Maurice Cloughley, has done jail time for much the same thing. To my knowledge, his case is still dragging through the court system as new events come to light. I even have colleagues on staff here who were taught by this man. Its one thing to read about it in a newspaper but when you actually know people who were involved, it really makes you stop and think. In the past I have even avoided certain communities and certain teaching responsibilities precisely because of this sort of thing.

Maurice Cloughley wrote a book about his time spent in the north during the '60s and '70s - a book I happen to have and to have read many times over. So I knew before my arrival here that he had spent time in Arctic Bay. I once asked a colleague about what it was like to have an individual like this teaching you in a northern classroom. What she told me truly shocked me. So much so that I am debating with myself about how to go about blogging this. She said he was a good teacher but would do things like have students remove all their clothing in the classroom. She also mentioned how a lot of undeveloped film was found in his possession. Film of what, one can only imagine.

This was all she felt comfortable to tell me and so I did not pry any further. I really got an education that day, let me tell you. I'm not really sure how to end this post other than to say that it is assholes (please pardon the word, but what other word can I really use here?) like Cloughley and Lizotte that have damaged lives and communities with a flagrant disregard for the trust that was placed in them. It is the younger generation of northerners as well as novice teachers such as myself that now have to deal with the fall-out. So thanks a lot....jerk.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

All's Quiet on the Northern Front...other than the stereo

It's pretty tranquil here now that school is out for the summer. The bulk of the southern teachers left this morning. Just like last year I find myself glued to weather forecasts, hoping for good flying weather for my flight on Saturday. The weather has been in a constant state of flux the past couple days. We've had cloud, partly cloud, sun, part-sun, fog, flurries and rain - and that was just yesterday. Saturday calls for cloudy skies but if by cloudy they mean the cloud we had Tuesday when my neighbors flew out then I should be good to go.

With my neighbors now on their way back to Newfie, I have the opportunity to play with my stereo. I've been curious to see just how loud this baby will go and I now have no neighbors to disturb. I'm hesitant to crank it up all the way because I'm fearful of blowing out a speaker. But its still pretty exhilarating to have Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring booming out loud enough to make the floors vibrate.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Hiring and Housing

After getting the news last night about being the only returning qalunaat in the fall, I had another curve-ball tossed my way this afternoon. I got a call from the superintendent and it looks like I'll be getting a housemate in August. I half-expected this to happen eventually. There simply just isn't enough teacher housing here for one person have a unit of their own. Under GN legislation, the whole housing issue falls outside the list of things that can be negotiated by the teachers union. (This was also the case in the Northwest Territories when I taught there back in 2000.)

Ironically, the superintendent's call came as I was clearing out the tiny second bedroom and reorganizing all my junk. (In the process I did come across 8 cans of sliced carrots from my 2004 sealift I forgot I had.....yummy.) It's like I knew in advance somehow that the hammer was about to fall. Hopefully it won't be too cramped in here in August. My unit is only about 600 square feet. But at least I get the larger of the two bedrooms.

Lack of housing, not just for teachers, is a major problem here as in every other community. Unfortunately, it doesn't look like this will improve anytime in the near future. This will make it increasingly difficult for the GN to attract and hold onto good teachers. But, I've firmly decided I will be staying so I will see how things work out. I mean, really. I AM heading off to Europe in a couple weeks so life could be much worse.

Hopefully, though, I will be able to get in touch with my prospective roomie before he arrives in August so we don't end up with 2 of everything. I know my blog was given out to perspective new hires as a way of introducing them to Arctic Bay. Hopefully he comes across this post. If not, I just hope the guy can pack really light!

Monday, June 11, 2007


It seems the weather has been changing almost by the minute the past few days. One minute its cloudy, then clear then foggy, then clear again. A staff member told me several years ago that there was even a thunderstorm here - a very rare and unusual event. I don't think we'll get any thunderstorms any time soon though. Quick changes of weather really aren't that unusual for this time of the year. I think I just become more weather-aware during the times when I will soon be hopping on a plane. A number of teachers are heading out this week for the summer, beginning tomorrow so all are hoping for good weather.

Our staff enjoyed one last potluck at the school tonight. It was time to reflect on the year - and also to say some fair-wells. As I had alluded to earlier, we are expecting a big turnover here in the fall. Some are moving to different Nunavut communities to be closer to family. Others are moving back south to start a family or to pursue further education. We've enjoyed pretty stable staffing since I've been here so I guess that through the law of averages we were due to have a big one eventually.

In August I will find myself in the unique position of being the only returning qallunaat on staff. It hasn't quite sunk in yet. I only found out about this this evening. I'm not sure what to make of just seems weird somehow. Its all good though. Next year will be different and unique and you learn to go with the flow.

Here are just a few pictures of the bay from my walk home tonight. It looks like the ice is breaking up but there is actually just a lot of water covering all the ice from the rain we had the past few days. Skidoos can still be seen zipping across the bay. They look more like jet skis than snowmobiles from a distance though.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

The Music Gods Must Be Smiling On Me

As I've mentioned before, one of the things I hope to get out of my summer trip to the Czech Republic is to catch some good classical music. I came across a web page in one of my travel books which mentioned a big music festival in Cesky Krumlov (Krumau in German), one of the towns on my list of places to see. As luck would have it there are a couple concerts on the go during the time I plan to be there. Both feature large orchestral works I know well and would love to see in person.

The first features Carl Orff's Camina Burana (I won't hum it for you but its a piece that may be familiar to some as it has been used in luxury car commercials). Orff was a one hit wonder but Carmina Burana is still performed regularly today. I even participated in a performance of it as part of a choir back during my university days. To this day, I can still recite some of the lyrics. "Oh fortune, how like the moon, forever changing......" [English translation]

The second concert, the very next evening, features Mendelsohn's concerto for piano and violin, a Bach violin concerto I'm particularly fond of and (drum roll please!)Beethoven's 7th Symphony performed by the Czech National Radio Orchestra. I've always been a fan of Beethoven's odd-numbered symphonies and it always seemed to me that #7 is unfortunately cast in the shadow of the more well-known symphonies #3,5, and 9. His A major Symphony, op.92, however, is a personal favorite of mine. Better yet, tickets are still available and it looks like I have a much better chance of seeing this concert than the first one. So, if I DO find myself in Cesky Krumlov on this particular July evening (living in the north has taught me that travel plans can sometimes be vague entities), I fully intend to get a listen in somehow.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Climbing on George

Today was one of the warmest days we've had in some time. A tad windy, but bright and clear - a perfect day to climb a mountain. A group of grade 7 and 8 students along with their teachers headed out this morning to climb King George. I was asked to go along since I was the only staff member in the group that had made the trip last year. I joked that this would be the blind leading the blind but the students of course knew the way like the back of their hands so it was a great day out.

We got a lift in the school bus out to the dump where we set off for the top. I found it a lot muddier than last year and I was thanking myself for packing an extra pair of socks by the end of the day. At least I didn't need to put on the snow pants I had packed along with me. It will be awhile before I have a chance to get back up there so I thought my pictures turned out quite well if I do say so myself.

I had to slide down some hard-packed snow on my backside to reach this inuksuk sitting out on a ledge. Luckily I stopped sliding before I reached the edge.

Looking north toward Victor Bay.

This far up you can see for miles.

I had hoped to get a picture of this large cairn at the summit last year but there was too much sloppy snow to walk through. Conditions were more favourable this time. I brought along my GPS and took an altitude reading at the cairn - 1830 feet. By comparison, the CN Tower is 1815 feet high. Wow, we were way up there!

Arctic Bay in the distance. Note the dark line ringing the bay - the ice is very slowly starting to soften up. In the extreme bottom right on this shot is the town dump and sewage lagoon where we started off.

Looking south toward Adams Sound.

I've always been captivated by the rock formations in the area.

This is a view from about half way up looking west. Arctic Bay is on the left and Victor Bay is on the right-hand side of this shot (north).

Another one of the large hills we passed on the way to the top.

All in all a fantastic day - and my knees never complained the whole time.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

The End is Near

I still haven't fully absorbed the notion that there are very few school days left - 3 to be exact. I've been busy this week with all the year-end minutiae and helping with all the fun activities our school planned out for the week. We kicked off yesterday with a clean up around the school (Okay, I know this doesn't sound very fun but we did have a competition to see which class could fill the most garbage bags with pizza as a grand prize. The kids outdid themselves - 172 bags of garbage. Its amazing how much garbage collects in the snow over the course of many months.) In the afternoon, we held a raven-calling contest (some students were really amazing!)and then a scavenger hunt which had students out all around the community looking for all manner of objects from the rec director's signature to a spider to a photo of a raven.

Today, kindergarten to grade 6 had a bicycle rally outside while the 7s and 8s challenged each other in the obstacle course I had set up in the gym - blindfolded. There were many fits of laughter and the kids had a blast. I just wish I hadn't left my camera up in my classroom.

I spent the afternoon with a group of high school students who were finishing up shooting a video production that will hopefully appear on Youtube in the near future. From what I understand, both CBC North and ATPN are interested in the final result. It's my hope that they can continue on with projects like these in the fall. I have a few ideas floating around in my head I'd like to get down on paper and the students really enjoy it. The acting, directing, camera work and editing are all good skills that could provide a career path in the future.

Tonight I am resting up since I will be going along with the grade 7s and 8s to climb King George. The weather looks good for tomorrow and I will most certainly have my camera in tow. When we climbed the mountain last June we had some pretty thick cloud roll in so I wasn't able to get any decent pictures of the town. That, plus the fact that the following day it felt as if my poor knees wanted to detach themselves from my legs and run off. This year will be different.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Mittel Europa Here I Come!

After over a year of planning, hoping, re-planning, re-scheduling and re-planning I am off to Europe this summer. I will be spending most of July in the Czech Republic. Incredibly, with all the flying I've done over the past 6-7 years, I've never flown to Europe. Soon enough, however, the adventure will begin.

I had hoped to fly to Switzerland where I have an aunt but ironically, she will be here in Canada while I am over across the pond. Fortunately, I have an uncle in Brussels, attached to NATO operations there, so I will make Belgium my first stop before heading off from there.

Initially when I started planning my trip I had a grand odyssey in mind, taking me through Switzerland, Austria, Hungary, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Germany. Sober second thought told me this might be a bit much. My summer simply isn't long enough to pack in all that I wanted to see. And besides, I'm sure Europe will still be there next summer for more exploring. I finally settled on the Czech Republic, small enough to see plenty of over 5 weeks. The country is filled choc-a-bloc with castles, theatres, town squares and old churches and I'm looking forward to the fantastic medieval and baroque architecture. With luck, I will fit in the odd concert or three. Native-born Dvorak and Smetana aren't very well-known but Mozart and Beethoven made their way through parts of the country. Its been a dream of mine for years now to see a classical music concert live in Europe.

I've spent much of today pouring over maps, internet sites, and travel books - my imagination salivating at the possibilities. Prague, Budweis, Cesky Krumlov, Plzen and Brno are all on my short-list, plus whatever other magical places I can manage to cram in.

Mozart loved Prague and I'm certain that I will too!