Sunday, August 31, 2008

Origin of Steele

Given my interest with all things historical, I'm a bit surprised I've never tried this before. After reading around on Clare's blog, I thought I'd have a go at it and see if I could track down a little history of my family name. I've known for quite some time that "Steele" is Irish-Scots in origin. The earliest spelling I could find was "Stele", from Middle English. I recall reading some time ago that the first mention of my family name dates back to the Battle of Hastings. The fortunes of war dictated that my forebears chose the winning side of the battle and were awarded lands in Northern England and Scotland as a result. Searching around for a bit, I found that, going back to 1891, there are still Steeles clustered around Scotland, particularly in Lanarkshire, Ayrshire and Midlothian.

In terms of direct ancestors, my knowledge runs a little thin, though I do know through the family of a John Steele that emigrated to Canada in the 1870's, meaning I am the 5th or 6th generation of Steeles in Canada. For the most part they are scattered around Ontario, making me something of an anomaly I suppose what with all my travels around the arctic. I'd like to say I have some famous relatives but I'm not directly related to Sam Steele (of Mountie fame), Remington Steele of television reknown, nor to Danielle Steel, the author.

Here's an interesting thought: What kind of life would I have led if my mother had named me Robin/Robyn Steele?

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Sad News

This afternoon I took a call. The type of call I dread. My classroom assistant called to tell that one of my students had committed suicide. I'm numb. I just saw the kid yesterday in school. We were laughing and joking...and now this. After I put down the phone I felt like I was in some weird dream. I walked down to the church where people from town had gathered. On the way I bumped into the psych. nurse who confirmed the awful news.

I'm lost for words here and don't really know what else to say. It's going to be a rough few days ahead for the community.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Hungarian Highlights - Part 2 (Budapest)

Link to Part One

I didn't linger long in Budapest. It just didn't draw me in like Prague did the summer before. But it was still an interesting place and I ended up spending 3 days there at the start of my trip before heading off across the Hungarian countryside.

Budapest Castle

Roman burial sarcophagus

Excavation work up by the castle.

Getting lost in the castle labyrinth.

Chain Bridge spanning the Danube.

Another view of Budapest Castle.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

High Tech Humidifier

One of the greatest difficulties I have to deal with on a daily basis (but especially during the long winters) is the dry air. It plays havoc with breathing at times even though I'm far from being asthmatic. A couple years ago I bought a humidifier off a staff member who was leaving for the South to help me breathe a little easier at night. The humidifier did a good job but gave up the ghost back in late spring. When I was South to visit my parents, I picked up a brand new one and it arrived in the mail today.

For a humidifier, this thing is pretty spiffy. Unlike the last one, you can really see the mist it sprays into the air. And for some reason it has a night light. A night light? Are you kidding me? I'm not sure what purpose it serves but at least I know I won't wake up in the middle of the night with dry nasal passage and a tickle in my throat which is all I care about.

I'm not sure how many times tonight I've glanced over at it thinking that the house is on fire.

Killer Excitement

Around lunch time we received some interesting visitors. A pod of killer whales was swimming around the bay. The staff room cleared out pretty quick as everyone wanted to take in the spectacle. My initial reaction was a bit muted since I've seen killer whales a few times before. But as I was told later, it is pretty rare to see killer whales in the bay here. I recall a few times spotting narwhal but never killer whales. Understandably, our new staff members were pretty excited which brought back pleasant memories of the times I had first seen animals like whales, polar bears and seals. After finishing my lunch in an empty staffroom I ducked out the back door of the school for a peak. Despite the distance I was able to make out a few dorsal fins above the surface of the water. As luck would have it, I didn't have my camera on me but you can check out this picture from Clare's blog of the sight.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Sealift Ship

Boxes Galore

Early this morning the first of our sealift ships arrived. For the first time in about 4 years I put in an order, which I had combined with my housemate's. I left work as soon as I could to see if I could find the crate down by the breakwater. Luckily this didn't take very long. A couple staff members were able to borrow a truck which we used to ferry a few colleagues' crates up to their units.

Once my housemate and I had all our boxes unloaded and into the livingroom I was a bit worried about whether we'd be able to find a home for everything we order in our tiny housing unit. Ordering everything I thought I needed seemed so straight forward back in the spring. As it turned out, after a couple hours of fretting moving stuff around, we got it all tucked away better than I expected. The entire exercise from unloading the crate to packing away the last box of stew took about 4 hours.

We actually had plenty more boxes than you see here piled up in the kitchen and our front entrance.

...and or course all this stuff needs a pretty big crate. My housemate stands beside it.

The only problem now is remembering where I put everything. But I suppose I have an entire year to figure it out.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Evening Shots

11:30pm on an arctic night.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Elections - Nunavut Style

While there has been a lot of focus lately on the upcoming US Presidential Election and a flurry of media speculation over a federal election here in Canada, I should also point out another election which will be had right here in Nunavut this fall. On October 27, 2008** Nunavummiut will head to the polls to elect members for the territory's 3rd Legislative Assembly.

The political system here is a bit different from most other Canadian jurisdictions. Nunavut, along with the Northwest Territories, operates by a system of consensus government. Awhile back I came across a good little item by a former Speaker of the Nunavut Legislature, explaining how consensus government works. The author also points out some of the strengths and weaknesses of this system. For those of you jaded by politics and politicians, one of the advantages of this style of government is the lack of political parties here. Outside of Iqaluit its pretty rare to see any of those annoying "Vote For Me" elections signs which seem to clutter the streets of Southern Canada. In a consensus-style government, all candidates run as independents. Even yours truly could run for a seat in the Nunavut Legislature. (Now there's a scary thought!)

Rather than bombard you with my own political thoughts on a Sunday evening about this upcoming election, I'll save my thoughts for the time being.

**A few days before returning from summer vacation I recall seeing a newspaper headline which hinted at a possible FEDERAL election on this date as well. I strongly doubt this will happen and I haven't heard anything else since then with all the focus on the Olympics over the past couple weeks. I'm sure this may have been a Canadian first if the two elections had coincided though.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Hungarian Highlights - Part 1 (Budapest)

This will (hopefully) be the first of a series of pictures posted from this past summer's trip to Hungary. I'll do my best to keep my commentaries to a minimum and let the pictures do the talking.

Hungarian Parliament on the shore of the Danube.

The Opera House.

St. Stephen's Cathedral.

Soviet Army Memorial. This was the only site in the city where I didn't have to fight crowds for a photo. Understandably, the presence of this Cold War relic across from the Parliament is greatly resented and there is a push on to have it removed.

Vajdahunyad Castle.

Heroes Square.

Friday, August 22, 2008

And We're Off!

Another school year is off and running at Inuujaq School. I have some good little classes, including my grade 10 class - kids I've known since they were in grade 7 when I first arrived. They really are a great group to work with and I've been patiently waiting for the past three for the opportunity to have them in my class. I've also coached the bulk of them on various soccer teams in the past so my expectations of them are well-known.

Speaking of soccer, I'm hoping to put together a 13-and-under boys team for Regionals in November. I have all new players to work with this year with the exception of the captain who I've coached for the past 2 years. I still have to coordinate with the rec. director over practice times since the gym is shared between the school and the community, and I need to get cracking on ordering some new uniforms and a few pieces of equipment. So I will soon be busy enough. Coaching is a funny thing. Sure, there are times when I feel a bit worn down - pre-adolescent attitudes and all, but after some time off I feel the urge to get back into it. I was pretty sure that after 3 years, that I would move onto other pursuits this year, but the challenge and excitement of the game has drawn me back.

As an added bonus, the sun has reappeared for the first time since my return. 5C feels pretty warm after all the wind and snow we were pummeled with. Flights into the community are slowly getting back on track. I expect my housemate to make his return later this evening after having spent a week between here and Newfoundland, trying to return for the new school year.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

...With Apologies To Great Grandfather

My mother once told me that if my great grandpa Sedgewick knew how much I despise both unions and the NDP, he'd very likely roll over in his grave. This could well be true. But its not like either one of these despotic institutions has done much to inspire my confidence in them, or my respect for that matter. Sorry Grandpa Sedgewick.

A news article caught my attention tonight about NDP leader Jack Layton not wanting a fall election. Who knew that the leader of the party that supposedly fights for "the little people" would speak out against them voting in an election? Come on, Jack. Don't insult my intelligence. You accuse the other parties of political posturing and rhetoric yet you join right into the fray. The NDP hold seats in large part due to powerful unions.

Ah unions! Now the nosebleed truly begins! My big issue with unions is simply this - I was never asked if I wanted to be part of a union. When I signed my first contract, I was automatically a "union man" (I'm still trying to cleanse myself of the stench of union to this day.) I was never asked if I wanted to join a union, I was automatically a part of it. How democratic is that?! And yes, I know from my history studies about the Rand Decision of 1945. The only way to strengthen themselves was to force people to be members. Nice. And its not like I get much out my union.** Sure, each year I get a cute little card stating that little ole' Darcy is a "member in good standing". Of course I'm a member in good standing. I have no choice about the union dues I pay. This is money that the union steals from me, in my book. Pure and simple.

And just how much you might wonder? Well, let's see. It has varied over the past 5 years from between $35 to $55 roughly. So, for the sake of arguement, that's an average of $45 dollars every two weeks, multiplied by 26 pay periods, multiplied by 5 years......dang!....$5850. Thanks. I'm not sure what I get for paying that. Certainly the union isn't using this money to translate any of the information we get at our school here for the benefit of our Inuktitut-speaking staff. Isn't Inuktitut the working language of the territory?! Sad! Unions like to say that they serve as a voice for the workers. But trust me. I don't need these people to speak for me. I am educated and quite capable of speaking for myself.

**(That would be the NTA - Nunavut Teachers Association. Funny enough, a couple years back, the union decided to change its name to NTA from FNT (Federation of Nunavut Teachers). One reason that was cited for the name change was that the initials FNT were thought to sometimes be used in a derogatory fashion. Gee, I can't imagine why.)

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Northern Sovereignty

I caught word today that Arctic Bay was due to have some special visitors, though I think this is quite doubtful because of our current weather situation. Canada's latest northern sovereignty exercise, Operation Nanook 08, is on the go and Defence Minister Peter MacKay and the Chief of the Defense Staff are due to visit a select number of northern communities, Arctic Bay being one of them.

One of the scenarios involves a cruise ship which I find quite timely as I was told that during this summer a number of cruise line passengers were en route from Resolute Bay were stranded here in Arctic Bay due to drifting pack ice and a malfunctioning aircraft. If the Northwest Passage becomes ice-free summer long, it makes sense that the powers that be must be able to deal with this and other such emergencies.

According to the news articles I have read, the original plan was that MacKay would be here in part to observe the Canadian military's abilities to carry out this exercise. Part of me hopes MacKay would also make an announcement to upgrade some of the equipment that is due to take part in this exercise. Aurora aircraft - pride of early 1980's. I may be wrong here but aren't the Auroras old turbo-prop aircraft?? Really, I'm not a war-monger here. I'm a lover not a fighter, truly. But it makes sense that if you're going to do a job and do it well then you should have reliable and up-to-date equipment. After all, here you have to have good equipment and be prepared. The weather can be a real challenge as Mother Nature is most certainly demonstrating at the moment.

August Blizzard

After 8 years of teaching I've seen a lot. I've seen Mother Nature in all her forms. Still, I have to admit that conditions outside at the moment are a bit shocking. While I understand theoretically that snow can really occur at any time this far North, this really boggles the mind. There is nothing in my current experience that I can compare this to. The current forecast calls for 5-10 cm of snow tonight and a further 5-10cm of snow for tomorrow. Thank goodness for that shovel!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Resolute Pictures

Here are a few pictures from my layover up in Resolute Bay.

Quite a lunar landscape.

School in Resolute.

Snow in August (freaky but not unheard of).

South Camp Inn where I stayed during my extended layover.

Anglican Church.

Dodging Bullets

For the first time in 4 days I can happily report that I am no longer in Resolute Bay.

It's GREAT to finally be home!!

Monday, August 18, 2008

Resolute, Nunavut

Since I find myself with some extra time here I thought I would share with you a little northern history of this community. I first visited Resolute in August 2003 when I transfered to Arctic Bay from Qikiqtarjuaq (Broughton Island). At the moment I'm getting an extended stay due to some rather uncooperative weather. Resolute Bay was created in 1947 as a military base and meteorological station. In 1953, in a bid to bolster its northern sovereignty claims and "civilize" the Inuit, the Canadian government relocated a small number of Inuit families from Inukjuak (now Port Harrison) in Northern Quebec and Pond Inlet on Baffin Island. The results of this social experiment were contentious at the time and remain so today. Traditional skills were slowly eroded as the Inuit families here became increasingly dependent on government support. (A great deal has been written of this episode but since I'm putting this post together off the top of my head, I will leave that whole debate for the time being.)

Today, Resolute serves as a jumping-off point for researchers and explorers heading to Ellesmere Island and the North Pole. The 215-foot gravel runway allows for jets and other large military aircraft to land safely and refuel in a region where airports and gas stations are few and far between. The airport lies just a few kilometres from the community itself and is littered with the remains of defunct vehicles, hangars and other out-buildings.

In August 2007, the Canadian Government announced plans to construct a 100-man army training centre (along with a deep-sea port at Nanisivik) to strengthen its claim to the arctic and aid efforts with research and search-and-rescue. With a current population of approximately 229, Resolute has 3 hotels, a small school (renovated in 2003-2004), a 2-member RCMP detachment, and other logistical services to support scientific ventures and resource exploration.

Excluding things like research stations, abandoned settlements and the like, this is currently the eighth-most northern permanently inhabited civilian settlement on the planet, and the second-most civilian settlement in North America, sitting at 74.41 degrees North. The community's name comes from the HMS Resolute, part of an 1852 expedition searching for the lost Franklin Expedition.

It is also one of the coldest inhabited places in the world. Snow can occur during any month of the year. In fact, we've picked up 3-4cm of it over the past 24 hours. (Pictures will hopefully follow once I am able to return home to Arctic Bay.)

Travel Update

The latest news I have is that I am confirmed for a flight out of Resolute on Thursday, August 21. Apparently if I had elected to return to Iqaluit yesterday I would have made it into Nanisivik since I was told the weather had cleared long enough for a plane to land. Tomorrow's scheduled flight is booked solid but I still plan to go through the motions of getting up at 0430h and heading to the airport just in case I can get on on stand-by.

I suppose there is nothing else for it now but to just hunker down and wait. I have to admit to a little frustration with this but I am still in good spirits overall. You can't control the weather so getting overly upset at Mother Nature is just wasted energy in the end.

Stay tuned.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Slowly Getting Home

I was supposed to arrive home yesterday but my flight ended up over-flying Nanisivik and landed in Resolute Bay. Nanisivik is notorious for its low cloud cover and because there are is no ground radar, pilots must make a visual-only landing. Yesterday's conditions just were not favorable for a safe landing. At any rate, I can take solace in the fact that quite a number of people from Arctic Bay are also stuck, including 4 other teachers from my school, our rec director and people returning on medical.

This morning was not much better. The Resolute-Iqaluit flight cancelled the Nanisivik portion of its route so I didn't even get on the plane. At the moment, the best its looking is for a Tuesday take-off, although I still plan to show up at the airport tomorrow morning just in case I can get on on standby.

And yes, our school year officially begins tomorrow with students having their first day on Wednesday. Seeing as none of the high school teachers have been able to return yet, it should make things interesting.....5 teachers stuck in Resolute, my housemate still stuck in Newfoundland and another teacher that I think may be still in Ottawa at the moment although I really have no idea. Ah! The vagaries of Northern travel. This will be an interesting week.

Stay tuned.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Palace Coup

Some time ago, I began this blog about life in the North. Now, it seems, life in the South has taken over a bit and my readers have heard a few more Southern tales of late. Well, no longer. The North has staged a palace coup and will once again be taking over the blog. This is just my convoluted way of saying I will shortly be returning to the North. This Saturday, I should be home in Arctic Bay assuming the weather (which can be a bit fickle this time of year) cooperates.

A mad dash to fit in dental and banking appointments and pick up a few last minute an air humidifier so I can breathe. Yep, kids, almost time to head back to class.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Arctic Port

About a year ago, a subject that received much attention both locally and nationally was the proposed construction of a deep water port out at the old Nanisivik mine. The Prime Minister Himself even showed up to make an announcement in person. Since then, I hadn't really heard too much more about this but this little CBC article caught my attention this evening. While I feel it is a good thing that Canada is taking a stronger stand on northern sovereignty issues, I just hope that this little project has a few spin-off benefits for the people on whose land this port will occupy. I don't think it´s too much to ask.


Increasingly I get asked how I've been able to put in 8 years teaching in the North (5 years and counting in Nunavut.) I don't presume to have some magic formula or possess some magic gene in my DNA. I'm not sure if I have any solid answers but I do have some ideas.

1. An appreciation for difference. Nunavut's culture is definitely unique. I challenge myself to learn more about it each day. Five years on and I'm still learning. I make my mistakes but at the same time, those experiences provide me valuable insights and understanding about the world around me. Picking up a bit of Inuktitut has definitely helped. I'm no where near achieving fluency but again, I try to learn a little everyday. Whether its language, a land trip or trying a new food, my experience is that if people see you are trying and not coming across as a condescending Southerner, they will be much more receptive. They will offer good advice and gently correct your mistakes (in my case, this happens quite frequently.)

2. The single life - Yes ladies, I am single. Unlike couples or couples with children there are a lot fewer things I have to worry costs, clothing costs, schooling, health care and so forth. Some days looking after Darcy can be a full-time job. Joking aside, however, lack of family responsibilities frees me up to focus on my work and focus on the culture around me. This is not to say that couples with children can't experience the North just as well as I have. I'm not sure I would be able to move around as easily and do some of the things I have done if I had familial responsibilities.

3. I can function well without many so-called Southern "conveniences". I've never had a house, car, boat, cell phone etc. to worry about. Actually with the possible exception of a house, I really couldn't care less if I ever owned any of the other "stuff". Its exactly that - stuff. And I find it just gets in the way. I can live without shopping malls, movie theatres, bars, fast food joints and the like. This is not to say I'm a complete stoic. I do try to hit Chapters a couple times during the year when I'm South visiting the folks. But if I don't see the inside of a mall on a daily or weekly basis, I hardly feel deprived. I'm actually finding as time goes on that I can only stand to be confined in those places for short periods of time before feeling a wee bit claustrophobic.

4. I'm stubborn. True not every place I've lived and taught in was a barrel of roses but I refuse to give up and quit (and those who know me best know I've had some pretty rough experiences in my pre-Arctic Bay days). I'm a firm believer in the notion that if you're going to commit to something, then finish the job.

5. I was an Army Cadet and a Reservist. Growing up I spent much of teenage years in either Army or Sea Cadets. You meet many different people, go to many different summer camps and face many adverse situations. Really, my summer camp experience was preparation in many ways for life. The Cadet summer camp and Reserve experiences helped me become super organized (even to a fault), accustomed to long distances from familiar faces and able to work in stressful conditions sometimes with very little sleep. Not to say that all my days are long, stressful and wrought with little sleep, but I have found that when the stuff hits the fan and I have to dig down really deep inside to get through a rough patch, I always find a little gas left in the tank.

I'm sure I could come up with a few more reasons. But since 5 is a nice, tidy number, I'll leave it at that.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Double Standard

Following the news of events happening back in Canada, I was quite shocked to hear about the grisly stabbing death of a young man in Winnipeg. As I was reading through some of the comment threads on the CBC website, I couldn't help but think what the take would have been if this had happened in the North. People will cry over the seal hunt but don't have the spine to demand harsher punishment, immigration policy or whatever other little cause they might be trying to use this sad story to lobby for.

I find it funny that whenever a story of violence is reported out of the North that inevitably some Einstein will raise the "fact" of how horrible and dangerous the North must be. Yet reading through the comments, I note that not one person decries how horrible and violent life must be in Winnipeg or even the West. Interesting.

As a Northerner and having spent time in both Nunavut and Manitoba I can tell you in no uncertain terms what my choice of place to live would be. Why would I ever return to the South? I mean, just look at how horribly violent people are there?

Saturday, August 02, 2008

The End Is Near!

No, I'm not some wacked out religious fundamentalist. My little adventure is winding down. Today is my last full day in Hungary. Tomorrow I catch my train and leave this most fascinating of places. Time sure flies when....yadda yadda yadda.

I spent my last day checking out a Roman military amphitheatre (just part of one exterior wall and some stone foundations which I'm guessing supported the seating). Then, for something a little different I did some caving. For a fairly flat country, Hungary does have some pretty interesting cave networks in the northern part of the country. I can't recall the cave's name off the top of my head but at 19km, it is Hungary's second-longest network of caverns. The tour visited perhaps 1km of this. (Climbing that 20 foot ladder at one point was definitely an experience.) But loved it! Especially because it was 34C outside but a very comfortable (for me anyway) 11C inside. I was actually the only one in our little tour group wearing shorts and a t-shirt. Even the guide wore long pants and a sweater. Wimps!

A wander over to Margit Island in the middle of the Danube with its big park, shady trees and the remnants of a 13th century Franciscan Monastery rounded out the day. My train doesn't actually depart until early evening tomorrow so I'll have some time for some last-minute wandering or perhaps a good book....maybe I'll even start planning for next summer.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Party With Buda

Ok, not really.

I arrived back to Budapest this morning, completing my 6 week circle of Hungary. I really did come full circle too as it turns out I am in the exact same hotel room as when I first arrived in the city back in June. What are the odds?

The past 4-5 days have been pretty full. I took a tour of an old coal mine and saw a couple castle ruins near a place called Salgotarjan (also a place chock full of wonderful Soviet-era apartment blocks) and then headed to Szesceny to see a 18th century manor house and a Franciscan Monastery. And now, after an early morning bus, I'm back to where it all started.

Anyhow, I might take one last trip out to a palace tomorrow that I'd like to see just outside the city. Other than that, its just plain old R&R around the hotel room until I head back to Zurich Sunday night before flying back to Canada the middle of next week.

It's been quite a little adventure and I'll be better able to elaborate and get some pictures up once I get home to Nunavut the middle of the month.