Friday, February 29, 2008

February 29 - Calendar Anomaly

Today of course is that quirky date on the calendar, and all because the Earth takes 365 1/4 days to make its journey around the sun, rather than a more convenient 365 days. So enjoy this day wherever you are. Make the most of it. You won't have this opportunity again for another 4 years.

Okay, okay....I know this whole calendar deal is just a human construct. There are many types of calendars and I tried looking into some of them so I could write a bit about them today. But I ran into all these (to me) complicated mathematical explanations and algorhythms that frankly started to make my brain bleed after not too long. In the end then, I decided it would be better to stick with what I know best - the historical aspects of February 29.

Born on February 29

Italian opera composer Gioacchino Rossini (of Barber of Seville fame), in 1792
actor Antonio Sabato Jr. (1972)
NHL hockey players Simon Gagne (1980) and Cam Ward (1984)

Died on February 29

Ludwig I of Bavaria (1868) - which I can appreciate means little to most people BUT his 1810 marriage to Therese of Saxe-Hilburghausen marked the first Oktoberfest.....who knew?)

Random Fact #1 - My grandfather remarried on a Leap Day

Random Fact #2 - February 29,2008 - My principal phoned and asked if I'd be interested in having my little write up on the history of Arctic Bay I posted a couple days ago included in the year book. (I said yes.)

Random Fact #3- A Leap Day is most likely to fall on a Monday or a Wednesday (guess we bucked the trend this year)

Thursday, February 28, 2008


Like many in the hockey world I was shocked and saddened to hear of the recent death of Windsor Spitfires captain, Mickey Renaud. I enjoyed 7 great years in Windsor, and even though I find myself very far from there now, I try to keep up with the news from down there as best I can. I know Mickey's death must be very difficult for the Windsor area and the entire Spitfire organization. Windsor is a pretty hockey-mad place. I have fond memories of attending several Spitfire games even though Mickey of course was too young for the OHL at that time.

Mickey was a true hometown boy, growing up in neighboring Tecumseh. I've been through Tecumseh many times and I was always taken by its small-town Ontario spirit. I see that for Windsor's home game against Belleville, all players will wear #18 to commemorate Mickey. As I understand it, all teams in the league will wear his number on their jerseys for the remainder of the season - a very fitting tribute. I don't really have anything more to add other than to state that this ex-Windsorite offers his sincere condolensces to the Renaud family.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

On Being Your Own Guest Blogger

A few days ago I had signed up for a "blog share" scheduled to kick off today. I didn't mention it earlier since I thought I would leave it as a surprise for my readers.......all 6 of you. The basic idea is that you do a guest post on another blog out there in the blogosphere and another blogger posts on your blog. So, if you arrived looking for a guest blog post, I offer my apologies. I had a post ready to go last night but the email I was expecting that would tell me the blog I would be posting it on never got to me until earlier this afternoon. By then it was too late, as I had to eat a hastey lunch before heading back to some meetings.

Later in the afternoon I figured I would go ahead and send off my post even though by then the blog I was to post on already had a guest blogger. I like the idea of blog-sharing so I figured the blog owner in question wouldn't mind since it does bring you extra readership. (I have noticed an big upswing in the number of visitors I usually receive in the course of a day, which is really flattering.) Of course, when I tried to send off my post, my internet connection decided to get cute on me so I wasn't able to get it sent off. Ironically, my post was on some of the challenges of living in the North.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Local History

With my fixation for all things historical it was only a matter of time before I did up a post on the development of Arctic Bay. So grab some popcorn, if you like, and join me on a little historical tour. The community as we know it today only began to take on its modern form in the 1960's following the influx of more and more government. (Arctic Bay's Inuktitut name, Ikpiarjuk means "pocket", describing the shape of this almost land-locked bay to a "T".) The first inhabitants of course were the Inuit who lived off the bounty of seals and whales to be found in the area of Lancaster Sound-Admiralty Inlet. The earliest evidence of human habitation in the immediate area of town that I am aware of is out at Uluksan Point which separates Arctic Bay (the water) from Adams Sound. Uluksan Point contains the remnants of traditional Inuit houses known as qarmait (qarmaq - singular).

The first European to visit Adams Sound was Scottish whaling Captain William Adams in his ship the ARCTIC in 1872. He paid a return visit the following summer. The next time the area is mentioned was in 1911. Captain Bernier (sailing a ship also called the ARCTIC) visited the area to help establish Canadian sovereignty. (Norway maintained a claim on some of the islands in Canada's arctic regions until 1880 if I'm not mistaken). Bernier and his crew became the first Europeans to overwinter in the area. (As an aside I have heard that either Bernier or a crewmember left a plaque commemorating this event at the head of the bay in the vicinity of Holy Cross Point. I hope to be able to locate this plaque later on this summer if in fact it exists.) Because Arctic Bay made a good harbour, it wasn't long until the Hudson's Bay Company arrived on the scene and set up shop here, constructing its first trading post in 1926. The post was closed down after about a year but was re-established in 1936 where it maintains a presence to this day in the guise of the local Northern Store.

Reverend Jack Turner set up the area's first Anglican Chuch in Moffat Inlet, south of present-day Arctic Bay in the 1940's. The religion of a community often depended on which flavour of missionary, Anglican or Roman Catholic arrived first. Thanks to Turnor's efforts, the Anglicans established a presence which remains to this day, though there is also an Evangelical Church in town along with a very small Catholic congregation.

A weather station operated here from the 1940s until 1952. An influx of southern services in the form of health and education services led to Inuit families slowly moving into permanent housing here in the 1960's. The first school here was set up in 1959. The first teacher here was Magaret Hinds, who also taught in Resolute Bay after Inuit were relocated there in the 1950s from Northern Quebec and Pond Inlet. Behind our current school is a small white portable which is all that remains of the original school. (In a darker and more chilling chapter of local history, this is where teacher Maurice Cloughley abused a number of students.)

The last Inuit families had moved in off the land by about 1969 and in 1976, the community gained hamlet status. I must also mention quickly the establishment of Nanisivik which has also played a part in local history. Located about 30km away by road, Nanisivik (meaning "the place where things are found" in Inuktitut), was a mining community set up in 1977. Once the mine closed in 2002, the mine was decommissioned. There were hopes that some of the housing there could be salvaged and brought into town to help deal with the housing crunch here but hopes were dashed because of asbestos contamination. Nanisivik's Anglican Church was brought into town last summer over an ice road. It has now been added onto the existing Anglican Churrch here across the road from Inuujaq School. The airport servicing Arctic Bay is located out at Nanisivik and is still in use though a smaller runway about 5-6km from town is being upgraded and will open to serve Arctic Bay in 2010 if I recall correctly.

Plans are in the works for the construction of a new community hall and a health centre. As well, the federal government last year announced plans to develop the port facilities out at Nanisivik to provide support for our military in maintaining Canada's northern sovereignty. Hopefully, some of this investment assists the community rather than winding up in the coffers of southern corporations (as so often seems the case). At any rate, with the port upgrades and the likelihood of a new iron ore mine being developed out at Mary's River, I'm very intererested to see how all these coming changes will affect Arctic Bay. I feel I am living here at a very exciting time.

So there you have it in a nutshell. I could add that I arrived here from Qikiqtarjuaq in July 2005 but I just find all that other history stuff much more interesting.

Monday, February 25, 2008

It's Play-Off Fever Baby!

Admittedly, I haven't watched as much hockey this season as I usually do. Perhaps this will change as the charge toward the NHL play-off run heats up. One particular team I follow as closely as I can actually isn't in the NHL - the Campbellford Colts PeeWee team from my old stomping grounds of Campbellford, Ontario. My nephew Cole is the team's goaltender and I've been following his and his team's progress as best I can from afar thanks to Facebook updates from my sister and call home to the folks.

As I wrote a few days back, Cole's team won their quarter-final series 3-0 against Wasaga Beach. This is as far as his team has gone in the playoffs so I know everyone is very excited. Cole's team will now play Dunnville, Ontario in the semi-finals. Game 1 kicks off Saturday in Campbellford and then they head to Dunnville Sunday for Game 2. Good luck Cole. Do your best. You made it a lot further in hockey than Uncle Darcy ever did (there's a good reason you've never seen me on skates!) Couldn't be prouder of ya!

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Teacher Retention in Nunavut Schools

I'm not sure why but I've found that I've been quite pensive and reflective as of late. True, I'm a fairly introspective fellow but I find myself in rather deep thought even more than the usual. True, some things probably aren't meant for me to blog about but as for the rest, I just can't seem to sit down and work them out coherently enough. The cloud has lifted a little however. My thoughts were jarred earlier this evening when I got popping around on-line following a few links. I came across a list of MA theses and PhD dissertations dealing with a whole slew of northern issues. One in particular caught my eye and got me thinking: an 2002 MA thesis from Concordia University dealing with the high rate of teacher turnover in the North. The abstract noted that the thesis doesn't provide a "how-to" set of solutions but rather identifies some of the broader issues involved.

When I accepted my first teaching position in the Northwest Territories in 2000 I remember being given an orientation package which I found quite useful as an introduction to the community I would be living and working in. To my knowledge there is nothing formally in place here in Nunavut. I'm sure there must be some schools that send out information to prospective hires but just not from my own personal experience. Most of what I learned about the two Nunavut communities I have lived in came from the scant information I was able to glean of the internet. Certainly the active community of Nunavut bloggers is a useful tool. I was asked last June if I wanted to pass my blog along to the new hires heading up. In a fit of shameless self-promotion I agreed to it.

This has me thinking about putting something together for new hires for the 2008/2009 school year. As far as I can tell, our school won't be faced with the same monster turnover we saw the previous year. This of course brings up the whole issue of why the big staff turnovers to begin with. I've discussed this issue in fits and starts in the past so I don't want to bore you by rehashing it all year. However, I've been in the game long enough by now to make a few observations.

1. Teachers arrive with little or no appreciation for the history and culture of the community.
2. New hires often have difficulty with the demands of teaching on top of the challenges of living in a small, isolated environment and all the adjustments that this entails.
3. There is a disconnect between students and teachers. It takes awhile for a new teacher to earn his or her stripes. The reality is that the teacher (myself included) is just one more face that has come and gone over the years.
4. There is a gulf between expectation and reality.
5. Teaching styles as taught at Southern institutions often do not mesh well, and at times may even conflict with, the learning styles of the students.

Southern universities do seem to be catching on. Although much of teacher training did little to prepare me for the northern classroom, there are some schools that offer courses on teaching certain minority groups (along with their cultures and learning styles). These are helpful and welcome of course but can tend toward lumping all minorities into the same pot and treating them like some amorphous mass. Perhaps this is understandable to some extent. I imagine it would be quite difficult to offer a course or set of teaching methodologies for dealing with each specific group.

There are also a number of things that we as teachers do (or don't do) which help or hurt the transition from a southern urban lifestyle to a rural isolated setting. A few of these I have also mentioned in past posts and I know other bloggers have touched on them as well. I'll just give you a short list.

1. Find out as much as you can about your community before you arrive. Ask questions.
2. Get involved in your community. Meet the neighbours. Sharing a talent or skill (like dragging out an old trumpet from time to time) is a good start.
3. Learn a few words of the language if you can.
4. Appreciate that change will not happen overnight.
5. Know why you are here.

1. Stay in your house all weekend.
2. Complain about how everything is so expensive, slow, or different from the South. (This is not to say that constructive suggestions are not needed but, overly stating your displeasures is a sure way to turn people off.)
3. Count down the days until your next vacation (or at least don't go around advertising it)
4. Patronize
5. Think you have all the answers. (ie. Some federal government genius had the idea of enclosing Iqaluit in a giant plastic bubble (seriously), other government genuises had the notion that Inuit would be better off if they would only stop be so stubborn and totally adopt Southern ways.) I continue to deal with the fallout from this last "solution" on a daily basis. But that is fodder for another posting.

Anyhow, I won't pretend I have all the answers here. (What a scarey world this would be if I did!) This is an issue though that continues to be a thorn in the side of northern education. I'd love to see the day when it is not.

Any suggestions or insights?

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Heaters, Hot Water and Hockey Sticks

I'm not sure why, but after taking last night's picture of the window I felt compelled to get rid of all that ice. I figured my little floor heater would do the trick. I've had the little gizmo for a few years now but I hadn't used it in some time. After several minutes though, the heater hadn't put much of a dent in the ice. At this point, the heater began to overheat, shut down and ran home to momma. Not to be deterred I hacked away at the now slightly softer ice with a butter knife for a couple minutes. This did the trick off getting rid of the bulk of the ice but left me with the problem of some good-sized pieces of ice on the window sill and down by the heaters along the floor.

Since I found the notion of water and electricity in close proximity not very enticing, I simply opened the window and reunited the errant ice chunks with their brethren outside. Of course once I tried to close the window.........yeah, it wasn't all that cooperative. A little hot water melted an particularly irksome patch of ice which I thought was responsible for my inability to close and latch the window. No dice. I still couldn't get the blasted thing closed without leaving a small gap at the bottom. That's when the hockey stick entered the fray as my housemate then volunteered to take his stick with him outside and push on the side of the window so I could then lock it in place. I think now I'll just wait until June rolls around before I crack it open again.

In other news, there are no classes next week at our school. Teachers will be doing Professional Development activities. I've taken Inuktitut lessons the past couple years and certainly my understanding of it has improved even if I am by no means fluent. This year I am participating in a series of meeting/discussions centred around helping with students with behavioural, academic and ESL issues. No word yet on whether how to properly close a window will be a part of this.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Holy Frostiness Batman

I think I might just scrape this stuff off and make an arctic slurpee.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Happy Anniversary!!

Big Happy Anniversary wishes go out to my dear parents. 21 years and counting. I hope you both enjoy your dinner this evening. You deserve it! You did put up with my sister and me for many years, afterall!


Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Lunar Eclipse

We had some late afternoon cloud roll in so I was uncertain how well we'd be able to see tonight's lunar eclipse. Fortunately, conditions weren't as bad as I thought they would be. I had a pretty good view of the eclipse from my livingroom window so it was just a matter of stepping out onto my front porch. This shot here is one of the better ones of the lot. It was taken at 9:34pm.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

View Out My Classroom Window

As much as I try not to, the only things I find myself thinking about lately are the ever-increasing amounts of daylight and all the bright blue skies. But after 3 months of darkness, I'm sure you can forgive me.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Strange Things Are Afoot

I heard strange tales of lights in the sky over Arctic Bay, which has me wondering just exactly what was flying around the sky yesterday. A student showed me a picture he had gotten hold of from the college instructor in town of a rather eratic streak of light visible in the eastern sky Sunday morning. (Head on over to Clare or Kendra's blog for a peek.)

Early speculation was that it could have something to do with an American satellite that is supposed to be shot down sometime over the next few days. I have yet to hear anything in the news about it so I'm a bit stumped, though I do have a theory (don't I always?) Judging from the photo it was too big and its light trail too large to be a shooting star. I have my money on it being a meteor of some sort. And, based solely on my stellar poker skills I demonstrated at times this past Friday night, I think that's a pretty good bet.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Yay Cole!

The whole family is pretty proud of my young nephew Cole tonight! His PeeWee team beat out Wasaga Beach, Ontario in 3 straight games and is heading off to the Ontario semi-finals. Good stuff, bud! Keep up the good work! Uncle Darcy is very proud of you.

Counting Ravens

I headed out again this afternoon to up my tally for the Great Backyard Bird Count. I figure I'd have to head out a little further than my own backyard to improve on yesterday's count (and really, anything would be an improvement over 4). Through my livingroom window, I noticed a flock of activity around one of the dogteams out on the ice so I headed down there. I was about halfway to the team when it dawned on me just how I might be able to get close enough to count without scaring them away (dreams of binoculars floated through my head). I figured I could get fairly close though. Every community I've taught in has been a home to ravens so I know them to be pretty fearless creatures. A few flew away, singley or in pairs as I got close but I figured they just weren't as into the Bach harpsichord concerto I had playing on my discman as I was. In the end, I was able to count 12 ravens before they all decided to head off in the direction of the dump. So impressed I was with my stealthiness that I completely forgot about my camera in my coat pocket.

With luck, I'll be able to get out one more time tomorrow after work, though I'm not sure the light level will be good enough. The one bird I'm looking forward to seeing but won't for a little while yet are the snow buntings, always a sure sign that spring is right around the corner.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Arctic Bay

After a long dark season, its refreshing to be able to get outside. I love the clear blue skies here.

***Hockey update - News from my sister is that my nephew's Peewee team won their game against Wasaga Beach 7-5 this afternoon. They won yesterday's game 4-2. Its a best-of-5 series and Cole's team is now up 2-0 in the series. Game 3 goes tomorrow back in Campbellford. Here's hoping for the best!

Great Backyard Bird Count

Clare over at "Arctic House and Other Musings" recently posted about the Great Backyard Bird Count. I decided to take up the challenge and double the number of Arctic Bay participants this year. That, plus the clear blue skies were just too tempting. Now that we have a few hours of useable light, I have no more excuses for spending so much time indoors on weekends.

And so, I threw on my winter gear, grabbed my camera and headed out for about an hour to see what I could. Originally I planned to hike it over to Victor Bay but since it was still a bit chilly I thought I'd have better luck out on Arctic Bay around the dog teams. Usually when the teams get fed, the area has plenty of ravens. I missed feeding time today so I ended up with a very small count. And what was my count? A grand total of 4, which, having tormented the dogs, soon flew away before I could get any decent pictures. I did get one interesting shot of some tracks on the ice sea though.

The forecast calls for more clear skies in the days ahead so I'm hoping to make another foray tomorrow to improve on my totals.

Seal Repost

A couple seals sit on the floor in the school kitchen. They were gutted, cleaned and their skins stretched and dried for use in cultural activities. The pelts will be used to teaching traditional sewing skills in the making of kamiks (kamiik), gloves (pualluuk) among other things.

***This is a repost of some pictures I had put up earlier in the week. A few readers had commented that, for whatever reason, the picture weren't loading up so I've tried tried again.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Finger Pull

A couple students demonstrate a traditional Inuit game known as the finger pull. Basically two opponents brace themselves against each other on the floor. They lock fingers and pull back toward themselves. The winner is the one who a) pulls hard enough to cause the opponent's finger to straighten or b) makes the opponent let go.

This is one of my favourite sports, along with the Alaskan high kick. It takes some good technique in addition to upper body strength of course. A nice ice pack afterwards is also a good idea.

Heck of a Shot

One of the things I love about my job is that I am constantly challenged to explore and discover new information. Often times this is a direct result of questions my students ask me during a class. Having taught here almost 3 years, my students know I'm not omniscient. As I remind them constantly, no one person can know everything about a given subject. I think sometimes due to the colonization process of the past, qallunaat were once thought to know everything. Heaven knows, many authority figures in the past attempted to pass themselves off this way in the past. Anyhow, I learned a quirky new fact this morning and was able to use it to teach my students about life.

We had just begun a look at Canada's involvement in WWI this morning and since the students have tomorrow off I thought I'd take a different approach to the class by having them ask me any questions they might have about the subject. Given that this is a hunting culture here, it didn't take very long before I was asked about firearms. Specifically, the subject of snipers came up. I read a Masters thesis back in university about sniper training in Canada's military during WWI so I was able to speak rather intelligently on the topic for several minutes. I then invited the students to take a look with me on Wikipedia to see what other things we could discover. (ah, Wikipedia, friend of social studies teachers everywhere).

A question came up about how far one could shoot and make a successful shot. We discovered that a Canadian soldier holds the record for the longest confirmed sniper kill. Corporal Rob Furlong of the PPCLI had a confirmed kill during Operation Anaconda in Afganistan in 2002 - a rather impressive 2430m (1.509 miles) .

I was a bit surprised I had never heard of this as I try to keep up to date on military matters. I guess I'm not surprised the feds wouldn't want this little tidbit of information to become too well-known as it tends to clash with its soft-hearted, loopy liberal, slushy delusions of Canadians as strictly peacekeepers who, God forbid, should never get involved in armed conflict. Anyhow, given the hunting culture here, the boys were quite impressed with this feat. I was able to use this morsel of information to explain how sniping (however gruesome or politically-incorrect one might find it) requires patience, determination and a high level of discipline - three qualities which also help you succeed in life.


Here are a couple examples of kamiks to be found around our school. Beautiful works of art and very practical in these -30C temperatures.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Go Cole Go!

My young nephew is in action this coming weekend in a very big hockey game, backstopping his Peewee team in a quarter-final match in Wasaga Beach, Ontario. This is as far into the play-offs his team has ever gone before so we are all very excited for him. The little quirk here is that my sisters and I were all born in Wasaga Beach (well, Collingwood General Hospital actually). But childhood sentiments aside, I hope Cole's team takes it. (hope my dear sis survives all those long hours of driving as well)


Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Frozen, Broken......Fixed!

It seems the one thing that has become unintentional subject matter for my blog this year has been my water tank. Once again, when I seem to be at a loss about what to blog about, ye old water tank steps up to the plate. Last night we had our tank filled up after being without water for a couple big deal in itself. I think I might have a massive coronary when we actually do start out a Monday morning with water. (4 Mondays and counting folks! Call Guinness 'cause we're going to set a record!)

Anyhow, we were a bit of a loss last night after the water truck departed as to why we still couldn't get any water out of the taps. We had all our jugs we keep in the fridge for water emergencies in the sink ready for fill up and were perplexed when the taps didn't seem to be cooperating. This was just plain wierd. One of our neighbours who lives in the unit at the far end of our building stopped by to ask if we had any water since apparently, his taps weren't cooperating either. So a quick call over to Housing was made and a maintenance worker dispatched. Turns out that the access door leading to the room containing the water and sewage tanks for the building had been left open. Several days of -40C weather had wreaked havoc with the water pump and cracked a number of pipes. The pump was fixed without too much trouble but the maintenance worker said he'd have to wait until morning to get the damaged pipes fixed.

To make a long stinky story short, the troubles were all straightened out by the time I arrived home from work today. Another bullet dodged. A good sense of humour has helped my housemate and I weather the storm. (18 months in the Reserves has certainly helped me in making due and not sweating the small stuff.) Our neighbour in the unit right next door to us has had a much harder time dealing with the mini-crisis, apparently calling the hamlet garage (8 times according to my housemate and the water truck driver I spoke with), the RCMP and, if the stories are to be believed, Health Canada. (Newbies......grrrrr!) I'm not sure which is funnier, laughing our way through 3 days without water, or him. What I do know is that, in the future, if I happen to see that maintenance door open when I pass by, I'll be closing it tight rather than assuming someone is in the there doing some work.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Everyone is Responsible...Part 2

A couple days ago I wrote about the education system and the responsibilities we all have in making it work effectively. There are many stakeholders in education (government, DEA's, administrators and teachers, parents and students) and all have a unique role to play.

Often times, instead of working together, conflict results, with each stakeholder blaming someone else, rather than taking responsibility for what they themselves have control over. This isn't intended to be a rant though some may take it as such. Everyone is responsible to some extent for the mess that education in Nunavut is sometimes accused of becoming. Its been my experience that someone is always looking for someone else to blame. My purpose here is not to offend anyone, though I suspect I will not be successful in the case of every reader who reads this. I just wish we could move past the "blame game" and move forward. Perhaps once we realize that everyone plays an important role and holds responsibility we can get off the merry-go-round and actually make progress. So who is to blame here?

The Government is to in Nunavut is very expensive; 9 years into the new territory that is Nunavut and there is still no education act; there are few resources for the classroom (yes I always hear about new modules coming out but to me these are like government tax hear a great deal about them but don't really seem to see them); my community hasn't had a permanent full-time, social worker the entire time I've been here making it difficult for community members (let alone students) get professional help that they may need; the GN fills classrooms with teachers that are unqualified for their position (apparently having a warm body fill a position is more important than ensuring the individual in question actually holds the qualifications necessary to perform their role properly); there is a painful lack of housing - this ensures that the majority of teachers accepting positions in communities with no private market are 1) older couples finishing off their career or 2) younger teachers with no families. In both cases you have people for whom sharing accomodation isn't a big issue. In the case of the former, they are here for a short time anyway and in the latter case, sharing housing is like an extension of university days. Attracting teachers with families or enticing teachers to stay for more than a year or two......this doesn't seem to be happening. Sharing accomodation may be convenient in the short term but does the government think it will attract teachers for lets say 10-20 years if they will be forced to share housing for that entire time? The government is so decentralized that the right hand indeed has no idea what the right hand is doing. I could go into more detail but that is fodder for another post. Plus, I don't want to get too far off topic here. Suffice it to say though that Education isn't the only department affected by this. Yes, government is to blame.

DEA's (District Education Authorities) are to blame........DEA's must be more visible in our schools. I've taught in schools where the only time I ever saw DEA members was when there was some big problem that needed to be addressed (when a student become violently out of control for example); they also need to get priorities straight. I've attended the odd meeting where more time was spent on mindless details than on important issues like say making sure vacant positions for the upcoming school year were being filled. Making up rules and expectations for student is welcomed by teachers, but if you are going to do this then please help the school enforce them. Don't make rules, leave it to administrators to enforce and then complain to the school when your own rules are enforced. Yes, DEA's are to blame.

Parents are to blame......Parents have a vital role to play in the education system and certainly there are parents out there doing a commendable job. I have nothing but respect for anyone trying to raise a child in this rather crazy, self-centred world we live in. Unfortunately, there are parents out there who seem to have no rules at home. you know where your child is?.......right now? If a child has no rules at home then please don't expect a teacher to deal all the fall-out of a free-for-all at home. Make sure kids go to bed at a reasonable hour. A great number of people in Nunavut are smokers. The cost of one package of cigarettes is around $15 give or take. This is more than enogh money to provide a good breakfast for a child and get them off to a good start rather than to expect the school to feed your child through its breakfast program. Also, get involved in your child's education. Do you read to your child? assist them with your homework? Come into the school and meet with your child's teachers. It is much easier for a parent to make an appointment at the school to see one teacher than to expect a teacher to make 20-odd phone calls every night to parents. Please don't blame the school for all the ills of "the system". It just isn't helpful. Yes, parents are to blame.

Teachers (and administrators) are to blows my mind the number of teachers I've bumped into who are clueless about the history and socio-cultural background of the community they choose to move to. Make an effort to understand your community. Get a team, join a social club, learn a bit of the language, go to a community feast or dance, head out on the land.....anything. Just don't sit in your house weekends and mark off the days on your calendar until your next set of holidays or bitch about how everything costs so much more than in southern Canada. Please get involved...the community will meet you half-way. I've been around long enough to see this. Please don't come here simply to pay off a debt or to pad your retirement. Yes, salaries in the north are higher than elsewhere but please don't advertise that "I only have to teach here a couple more years and then my student loan will be gone." It's annoying and boring to hear. Kindly, keep that kind of thing to yourself. Think of the students first rather than your monthly bank statement. Yes, teachers are to blame.

Students are to blame. It is your education; take ownership of it. One thing I've heard in the past is the accusation that "You can't teach!" Actually this is very true. I can't teach. I can't teach if a student is not prepared to learn. Teaching implies learning. No one is going to wave a magic wand over your head. You cannot learn by osmosis. I love when students let me know if they will miss a few days of school or stop by to ask how they are doing in a class. It makes my day, seriously. It is much easier to help someone when you know that that person cares and is trying. Understand that teachers have a life outside of the school...yes I know some of my students would be shocked to discover that I do have a life outside of the classroom. But in all seriousness, please respect that. Don't throw rocks at my door or egg my windows (or grafitti the school for that matter). It's not going to make you learn any better or faster and besides fixing any damage you might cause will just eat up money that would be much better spent on say classroom resources. Finally, if school is "boring", do something to make it unboring. Yes, students are to blame.

Everyone has a role to play. When we stop playing our role and start blaming others for things they can't control or to cover failure on our own part than it serves no useful purpose. In the end, who is to blame? The answer is: we all are. Now that I've tarred everyone, hopefully the "blame game" can come to an end and we can all move forward....together. The future of our children and our territory depends on this.

Gratuitous Sun Worship

These pictures were taken yesterday. It's pretty cloudy outside today with just the slightest hint of blue in the sky but knowing the sun is up there somewhere is good enough for me.

AND......after 4 days of sub -45C temperatures, its warmed up a rather balmy -38C.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Died and Gone to Heaven

My latest order of CDs arrived in the mail this afternoon and I couldn't be happier. Normally, what I order isn't anything to scream too loudly about. For the most part I order recordings that complete collections of pieces I've grown fond of over the years or they are recordings from musical ensembles I've grown to love. This time things were a bit different.

Among them was were a group of pieces by a little-known contemporary of JS Bach - David Heinichen's Dresden Concerti. Ah, Heinichen.......Who? Actually I hadn't heard of him either. But I certainly wasn't disappointed. The recordings were by Musica Antiqua Cologne. I don't have many works from this ensemble but I know them to be at the forefront of Baroque and early Classical music so they were a definite plus to my growing collection. Plus, the composer's name was Heinichen afterall, so when I ordered them I thinking that any composer named after a brand of beer had to be good. I wasn't disappointed.

This wasn't the piece de resistance though. I also ordered a number of recordings featuring piano works performed on the Steinway piano - a name I know all too well from my university days. This was a 20-CD box set of Chopin, Beethoven, Mozart, Rachmaninov to name a few performed by such giants as Vladimir Horowitz,, Alfred Brendel (love his Beethoven!), Vladimir Ashkenazy and Claudio Arrau to name but a few. I can't wait to dig into this one. When I think Beethoven, Brendel comes to mind and Horowitz in my humble opinion is the best interpreter of Chopin, bar none. Normally, I'd be happy with this. I mean, I grew up with a piano in the house and went to university for a music degree while specializing in piano. But, for the musical afficianado in me it gets even better.

What really had me excited was a set of 10 CDs chalk full of some pretty historical recordings - gems I never imagined I'd get my hands on much less even get the opportunity to hear - a 10 CD-set "20th Century Maestros". Yes I think I've died and gone to heaven. The recordings feature conductors I grew up hearing about - Furtwangler (always chuckled quietly about his name in music classes), Toscanini, von Karajan, Fritz Reiner and George Szell to name but a few. The recording span 1926 to 1951 and feature the Berlin Philharmonic, Vienna Philharmonic, Czech Phiharmonic and the Amsterdam Concertgebouw among others.

I've only begun to scratch the surface of these CDs. But it is easily the best money I've spent so far on recordings. (The complete works of JS Bach I picked up a couple years ago does give these a run for the money admittedly). Much of what I have in my library was recorded in the past 30 years so i wasn't sure what to expect. The recordings bely their age certainly. They sound as if you're listening to them with an ear pressed up against a long tube but still, they are worth having for their historic value. Giving them a quick listen to earlier in the evening, they really make me pause and reflect, especially when it come to some of the works from the 1940's. Afterall, here we have some of the greatest works from the Western tradition yet at the time of some of the recordings, a great war was waging. Human beings are such a force for ultimate good or ultimate evil at times.

Philosphizing aside though, with a 1940 recording of Schubert's Unfinished Symphony, a 1941 Symphony #7 by Beethoven (my personal favorite of all nine by the way), a 1948 of Beethoven's 5th (Vienna Philharmonic!), a 1942 version of Mozart's Symphony #41 and a recording of Mussorgsky's "Pictures from an Exhibition" from 1930 among a few other gems........yeah, I think I've died and gone to heaven.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Everyone is Responsible...Part 1

There's something that's been stewing around in my mind lately. Something to which I've given much thought. And I've thought about this very carefully so that it doesn't come out in the wrong way. When I decided to enter the education field, I did it with the firm belief that it was a noble profession, something more than just a job. For me, I've always felt it was a calling. You enter the classroom everyday knowing that your words and actions can have a profound impact on young people, even if it may not seem evident in the short term.

Teaching in an isolated community has its own special challenges and I don't need to rehash these here as long-time readers know I've addressed some of these issues in past posts. I suppose what I am trying to get at is this: often the reality you face is quite different from what you are led to believe in teachers college or from what lofty ideals you may have had floating around in your head prior to signing your first teaching contract.

I find too often that when it comes to education, people can be quick to point fingers. Parents blame teachers; teachers blame parents and students; DEA's blame teachers and parents; parents blame government and around and around we go, devolving into a never-ending vortex in which nothing seems to be accomplished. I've been around long enough to see this get played out may times over ad nauseam.

In the end though, everyone is responsible. Everyone has their role to play. As my parents used to tell me growing up - if you just focused more on what YOU needed to do rather than focusing on what everyone else is doing then EVERYONE would be much better off.

So why this little quasi-rant? No big crisis. The sun is back; my sewage tank has submitted to my will and I had a student with chronically low attendance return to my class with a vengeance, completing most of the assignments he had missed and then scoring quite respectably on a unit test, despite registering for the course when I was already halfway through the unit.

I don't have any magic wands that will fix the system and don't want to come across as too preachy but I do have some general ideas floating around in my head that I feel would make a good start for everyone. I'll save those for a future post until I can word them in a lucid and productive way.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Hello Sun!

The sun finally rose high enough above the moutains to be seen from town here. This shot was taken from my classroom window during my lunch break around 12:15pm. At its zenith it looked to be about 2/3 over the horizon. The sun actually began to rise about a week ago (and stays up now for about 4 hours before setting) but we just weren't able to see it until today. We will now gain about 14 minutes of light a day until we reach 24-hour daylight on or about May 6.

As I mentioned in my last post, it was also super cold today. So this is what -46C looks like. I find it amusing that we have been waiting here for several weeks to see the sun and now that it has returned we are experiencing our coldest day of the year so far. I suppose that was the trade off.


Its so much easier to look at this picture from the comfort of my livingroom. I'll enjoy this picture because I darn near froze my hands taking it !

But Its A Dry Cold!

The sun was finally visible over the horizon today for the first time since early November. Usually this is a big event but the bigger event, at least for me, was the temperature. It was -46.6C when I got home from work this afternoon. Apparently, though, it was -48C out at Nanisivik airport. Yikes! Its been so cold the past couple days that the town has been blanketed with ice fog.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Key Words

My blog's stat counter lets me know the search words people type into a browser before they come across my blog. My more technological readers already know this I"m sure, but for me it's a new (ish) discovery. Usually the search words aren't all that exciting. Someone out there somewhere seems pretty determined to discover who Jordin Tootoo's girlfriend is judging by how many times certain key words have popped up in my stat counter program. I'm surprised I still have those words pop up since the post I did on Tootoo's visit to Arctic Bay was way back last spring. Sometimes, I have to question the intelligence or motives of some of the search words people type in. I get pictures of 40-year-old men living in their parents' basements that kinda creep me out (shudder). So let's just leave it at that.

A couple of terms that have popped up more recently gave me a needed morning smile -

"Arctic Bay's most wanted" (!) - Yes, I really must be more discreet when I sneak around town at night.


"Joy of turning 35" - Ouch! I'm not quite there yet. Although I'm sure it's really not all that bad. I know I'll age gracefully (knock on wood).

In more practical news, the mercury was sitting at -42.6C when I got home from work today. I'd post up a picture to prove this but it's taking me waaaaay too long to get "exhibit A" posted so you'll just have to take my word for it. Forecasted lows for the next two nights are set at -43C...which is freakishly cool in a Darcy sort of way. At any rate, I'll try to get these pictures posted as soon as I'm able.


Super Tuesday or Super Wednesday?

Ah...Super Tuesday. It was super because I had enough water in my water tank to enjoy a morning shower. It's also super because I can almost see the sun over the mountains. (Barring unexpected cloud, I anticipate seeing the sun here for the first time tomorrow which will definitely make it a Super Wednesday!)

Oh yeah there are Democratic and Republican presidential nominations today in 24 states. I haven't paid too much attention to the campaigning, although part of me thinks I should. I know Canada will be impacted in some way. (Sleeping with an elephant as Trudeau would say). But part of me too will be looking forward to Super Wednesday when this whole affair is finally over and I can have some peace of mind knowing I can turn on the television again without fear of being bombarded with more media hype.

I don't usually like to waste time and space commenting on American politics (especially when my good friends at FOX News just tell me what to think anyway), but in the end, I don't think it will make a big difference anyway. Most Americans I've met personally were nice enough people but it seems to me that the entire US of A has gone so far to the right in the last few years..........yikes. Anyhow, if I had the "privilege" of being and American and you twisted my arm, I'd have to say I'd support Obama for the Democrats and McCain for the Republicans. Obama seems to have the most charisma (a thin reason for voting for someone, I know) and also a refreshing air about him that I can't really put into words at the moment.

As for McCain, well, he seems like a nice guy. Certainly he's much less abrasive in his rhetoric even if I don't agree with all his views. He's really the only Republican candidate I feel any sense of respect for. He's also the only Republican candidate I'd consider inviting over for dinner. And I'm sure he wouldn't force me to pray first like Romney would. But hey, its not like my opinion really matters in the end. I'll watch the races with one eye open and keep the other eye on Super Wednesday.

Monday, February 04, 2008


I tend to get big doses of OCD when it comes to my music. In this case I tend to listen to certain styles of music obsessively before moving slowly, reluctantly, to something else. Lately I've been stuck in the Baroque, vaccilating back and forth between Bach and Vivaldi with a touch of Handel thrown in for good measure. This afternoon I jumped forward in time by randomly pulling out some Mozart. Okay, not so random as it turned out. I chose a CD of Mozart from the top of the pile out of one of my boxes and it turned out to be a CD containing 3 of my favorite woodwind concertos. Yes I love his 4 horn concertos, but there is just a part of me that is drawn to his Clarinet Concerto K622, Oboe Concerto K314 and Bassoon Concerto K191.

Even though I've had quite a bit of musical training (even got a nice fancy piece of paper out of the deal) I find I have a hard time writing about music at times. Putting my thoughts and feelings about music into words.....its like I somehow limit the music or put it into a certain little box or corner.....trying to contain what for me cannot be contained. Anyhow, with this one caveat, I figured I'd put a few thoughts down about some of my favourites woodwind concertos while keeping clear of the ferocious temperatures outside my window at the moment. So here goes.......

Clarinet Concerto K622 - Wurttemberg Chamber Orchestra - This is one my favorite concertos. Of course I could say this about all 3 works off the disk. Sure, it's dark and brooding throughout and Mozart would be dead a mere 2 months after he wrote it but I love how he makes the clarinet just sing. The clarinet stands out on its own rather than just following along with the orchestra and filling in the harmony as is the case with many earlier concertos of the classical era. Writing it specifically for a clarinet virtuoso was also a big help I think in keeping this work well-known. Plus, the clarinet was a fairly new instrument at the time, so once again we have Mozart showing off his ability to grasp the capabilties and potential of new instruments and write just plain good music.

Oboe Concerto K314 - English Chamber Orchestra - I can't really put my finger on why this has been a favourite of mine (for many years now). Thematically, I don't find it as interesting as his Clarinet Concerto, but I've always been drawn to the sound of the oboe for whatever reason. The theme of the third movement sounds familiar to me for some strange reason. I'm not 100% sure but I think Mozart may have borrowed this theme (or vice versa) from an opera aria. I'm not sure which opera it is though. Part of me wants to say "The Magic Flute", but I'm not sure. I should also add that I love the English Chamber Orchestra. I have quite a few Vivaldi bassoon concertos performed by this same group and the playing is crisp and clean as always.

and speaking of bassoon concertos....

Bassoon Concerto K191 - Bamberg Symphony - This is one of Mozart's earliest bassoon concertos (I think he was about 19) so by listening to all three concertos in the reverse order off the disk you get a pretty good idea of Mozart's musical development. This is also one of the first non-piano works I heard. No longer is the bassoon instrument a simple continuo instrument! There are some fairly demanding passages, particularly in the opening movement. What impressed me most when I first heard the piece some 20 years ago was just how much of a musical range the bassoon was capable of producing. There aren't really that many well-known bassoon concertos out there which I think is a shame. The only ones I'm really familiar with are the one Vivaldi wrote (all 37 of them!) But its nice to see what is usually regarded as a bass instrument get its due. And....check your closets, basesments, archives everyone, because apparently Wolfy wrote 4 other bassoon concertos that have been lost. (I just love it when I hear of lost works being discovered.....but that is the subject of a whole other post.)

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Dive, Dive, Dive!

After a few days of mild weather, the mercury is once again creeping downward. Yesterday's forecast high was -12C and the low was -35C. It didn't quite get down to that I don't think but I don't ever think I've seen such a differential between the high and low.....anywhere. I can't say that I totally mind this. When temperatures rise too much this time of year, the weather can get quite unsettled. A couple years ago, the weather got really screwy. The mercury actually rose above the freezing mark in early February and you could hear dripping and trickling water as the snow melted. At this latitude events like that in the middle of winter just seemed plain wrong.

Oh yes, the unsettled weather. This tends to wreak havoc with flight schedules. Last week was a case in point. Arctic Bay was one of the only communities not under a blizzard warning last week but since Iqaluit was, what this meant for us was very few flights getting in to Nanisivik. A construction crew was due up here last week to fix the damage to our school from November's flood. The arrival of a sorely-needed photocopier has also been delayed. A couple staff members got stranded in Resolute on the trip home from Iqaluit and it looks like they will be there until Tuesday. As someone who has been stuck, stranded or delayed, I can totally sympathize. A third colleaugue is also down in Iqaluit at the moment with some students trying to make Nunavut's hockey team for next month's Arctic Winter Games.

We've also picked up a little snow the past couple days and I had to rack my brain to remember the last we had had that much snow in one downfall. I think its myth that it was ever be too cold to snow but I do notice we get more when the mercury lies between say 0 and -10. I've seen snow in temperatures much colder than this but it tends to be smaller flakes and a lot less thick when it comes down. The kind of snow that makes for a lousy snowball fight. But I'd much rather have this than the sticky mud that comes in the spring.