Sunday, November 16, 2008

Political Inspiration

Nunavut has its first woman premier, Eva Aariak, a newly-elected member of the Legislature whose riding is actually mine: Iqaluit East. The other candidates were Paul Okalik, the incumbent, and Tagak Curley, who was acclaimed to his riding in Rankin. As one of my friends noted, I guess if you are only going to elect one woman to the Legislature, ya might as well make her the premier!

Nunavut works on a consensus political system, so we have no political parties--at least at the Territorial level. The Legislative Assembly selects its premier and cabinet after the new ministers take office during a leadership forum. There are usually nineteen MLAs but because we're waiting for a by-election, eighteen were at the forum. It's all explained in Nunavut's Legislative Assembly and Executive Council Act (, in case any of you want some light reading.

The news made us news papers from the Brockville Recorder to the Prince George Citizen to the Globe and Mail. It's understandable, as she is the only woman currently serving as a provincial or territorial premier in Canada, and only the fifth woman — after Rita Johnston (B.C. 1991-92), Nellie Cournoyea (NWT, 1991-1995), Catherine Callbeck (PEI, 1993-1996), and Pat Duncan (Yukon, 2000-2002) ever to hold a premiership. With a federal MP a woman too, it seems Nunavut has made the news more than once this year. Rightly so.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Year in Review

October 29th marked the anniversary of my first year in Nunavut. The days are shorter now and the time passes quickly with work, gym and the usual routine of life. I broke out my snow pants and parka this week. They provide the best protection from the cold wind. I've also renewed my love of moisturizer. Last year, I forgot to bring any with me and spent weeks suffering dry skin while I waited for my cargo to arrive on First Air.

A year in Iqaluit still makes me an Arctic novice, but I am happy to look back on lots of exciting firsts: my first blizzard day, my first sighting of aurora borealis, my first taste of raw seal and raw caribou, learning 5 words of Inuktitut (ok, maybe 6), breaking open the band on my sealift container...not to mention coming to possess a seaworthy crate stamped with my name and address.... I continue to study the view from my window, marvelling at the haunting beauty of the place I call home. Moreover, I have been lucky to share all these moments with good friends whose generosity, spirit, and goodwill have made life here so much better.

So, the adventure continues.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

There is Turkey in the Arctic

This weekend was my first Thanksgiving. It was a propos, as almost ten of my friends answered the call for moving day on Saturday. We moved me in a couple of hours, an amazing blitz that made me feel like this Thanksgiving I had quite a bit to be thankful for. Certainly, the meals I ate this weekend made me feel no less. At one, we had an entire table full of dessert, at another, a twenty-nine pound turkey (yes, they sell turkey at Northmart). I have never seen such a big turkey. Happily, there was a lot of cranberry chutney, homemade stuffing, mashed potatoes, green beans, and molasses brown bread to back it up, not to mention pumpkin-sausage pasta, pies, and chocolate pudding. You see, food is an obsession for us here on Baffin island. The food may be physically removed from us, but it is never far from our minds. The holidays are just an excuse to celebrate food with each other.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Movin' on Up

At the end of this month, it's my one-year anniversary of moving to Iqaluit. To celebrate, I've decided to repack all of my worldly goods and relocate to a nicer apartment in Iqaluit. My current apartment is a nice place, two floors, hotel-style, elevator-serviced...but it lacks a certain homey feeling. My new home, also furnished by Public Works, has a little more charm. More importantly, it has a view of Frobisher Bay, a view that's worth moving for, as you can see.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Fall Colours

In Nunavut? How, when there are no trees?

Trees we may not have, but the tundra has lovely plants, the leaves of which turn bright colours in the fall as the weather cools. There is as much red, gold, and brown (admittedly, always a lot of brown) in Nunavut as anywhere else in Canada. You just have to look much more closely. When the afternoon sun hangs low in the sky and hits the tundra the right way, the patchwork of colours is pretty spectacular, especially in the Western Arctic. Above left is a photo of Kugluktuk's Kugluk/Bloodt Falls Territorial Park, near where the Coppermine River meets the Arctic Ocean. On the right is a photo of Mount Pelly in Ovayok (Mount Pelly) Territorial Park, just outside Cambridge Bay. Sunset there is worth the drive, you'll notice from the photos below.

If you are lucky, in late summer, you look and find not just leaves, but also berries shining purple, red, and almost black. The blueberries are the most prized. Small and sweet, an afternoon of patience and carefully combing the tundra will yield a large yogourt container worth of berries. I ate mine with cereal over the course of a week: along with what a got out of my organic plot in the greenhouse, it felt like I too could enjoy the idea of a late summer harvest.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Summer Tripping

Summer is a time when we are all outside. The long, sunny days and warm weather make it hard to resist. This summer was one of the warmest. Parts of a Greenlandic glacier broke off and floated into Frobisher Bay, right up to the shore of Apex and Iqaluit. So for much of the summer, little icebergs floated on the water, white and blue ones. Blue ones connote multi-year ice, the ice that was part of a glacier for more than a year. Frobisher Bay has quite extreme high and low tides, so during the low tide the ice would sit on the mud in the bay. The shapes were amazing.

Summer is also a time for visiting. Alisse and Greg came for ten days in August and we took a trip to Pangnirtung and Auyuittuq National Park. They found that Nunavut is a place where things work a little differently, perhaps a place to move more slowly?...

Pangnirtung is an East Baffin Island community located at the mouth of the Pangnirtung Fjord, which drains into Cumberland Sound. From Pang then, you can look one way into the fjord and the mountains, home of Auyuittuq Park and the Akshayuk pass, and the other way out to Cumberland Sound. The water is so clear, it sparkles as blue as the Caribbean, though a tad colder. Our trip would have been worthwhile just for the flight, during which the plane comes so close to the mountains around Pang that it feels like you can reach out and touch them.

After a couple days rest and fortification with potato chips and Nutella, Greg, Alisse, and I joined forces with Mark and Meagan for a trek into Auyuittuq park, through Askshayuk Pass. Akshayuk Pass is the most popular hiking destination in Auyuittuq. The pass, which is 97 km long, connects Pangnirtung Fiord in Cumberland Sound (closest community is Pangnirtung), with North Pangnirtung Fiord off Davis Strait (closest community is Qikiqtarjuaq). It's a traditional Inuit travel corridor, where people would go to hunt caribou. It's a gelologically active place. This summer, it experienced severe erosion. One of the lakes, Summit Lake, around halfway up the corridor, breached and the water that flooded the basins toward Pang eroded the moraine that blocks another lake, Crater Lake, from spilling into the passand creating a flash flood. As a result, our chosed hiking destination, the southeast end of the pass, from the first emergency shelter at the mouth of the pass, Overlord, to Windy Lake, just south of Summit Lake, was closed to visitors. it reopened just before we set out on our hike.

A hike in Auyuittuq Park means a hike through rivers and up sand dunes. The river crossings require neoprene footgear and good cheer. You often have to travel up and downstream to find the best place to cross. It does, however, make for a great photo!

The rivers make for easy access to fresh water. Every day, I drank litres of delicious glaciar water. Here I am refilling our water store with the most excellent water pump that Mark and Meaghan own. Perhaps a funny photo, but it's a funny process.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008


This month continues on an artistic theme.

A purple and yellow big top went up in Iqaluit a couple of weeks ago. Over the last ten days, Iqaluit hosted Alianait, an arts festival hosting performers from across Canada. I missed most of the festival, being in Kugluktuk and Yellowknife, but I did my best to catch up last weekend. I volunteered a bit and found myself helping out with the helium balloons on Canada Day. Let me tell you, tying a helium balloon in one of the windiest places on earth is a challenge. One sadly comic moment came when I tied a balloon to one little munchkin's wrist, and it flew off into the wind the moment she reached up for her mother's hand. Oops. I never was very good with the old slipknot.

Balloons aside, Alianait is really about music and culture. There are all sorts of workshops to attend. I managed to get to two, one for throat-singing and one for drum-dancing. The throat-singing was really unique, with Nathan Rogers doing some Mongolian throat-singing, and some beat to keep it interesting. It's amazing to see little girls throat sing. In case you have never seen throat-singing before, here's a little video demo:

You may have noticed I mentioned Nathan Rogers played at Alianait. He was among one of the many musicians who came to Iqaluit to take part in the festival. Others included Dave Badini (formerly of the Rheostatics), Pacific Curls, Little Miss Higgins, the Gjoa Band, and Bomba. They played in the big top and brought something lively to a pretty chilly Canada Day eve. Making music seems like such an easy way to bring warmth and energy to colder climes. It's worth remembering when the weather gets grim.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

By The Pricking of My Thumbs, Something Wicked This Way Comes...

Yes, dear friends, all the fresh Arctic air has gone to my head, and I am awash in theatrical pretentions. My staged frolic took the form of MacBeth, a Part-Time Players production in Iqaluit. For months, under the watchful eyes of directors Valmai Goggin and Iona Strachan, a band of Nunavummiut brothers and sisters have rehearshed faithfully to produce MacBeth in one Act. I played the witches--yes, all the witches. It was a fun part with much cauldron bubbling and trouble. Shakespeare may be turning over in his grave, but people seemed happy with the result. I posted some pics so you can judge for yourself.
Thanks to Ed Maruyama for the great photos.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Intrepid Arctic

The snow is almost gone now. It is a little sad to see. The panorama has changed. There is a lot more brown and grey than there used to be. Even the sky has been grey, though it cleared today to reveal bright sunshine. The rivers are open too, and places where just three weeks ago there was ice and slush, there is now rushing water with the occasional blocks or slivers of ice. It makes for a whole new kind of Arctic adventure.

Here is what it was like back in the snowy March days--what I saw of them anyway. We had to get up at dawn and hike up hills with our skis to get to work...the snow was slippery, the weather -40!!
OK, maybe not. But you get the idea.

On May 10th, Sylvia Grinnell Park still had the touches of winter The river was not safe to cross, but there was plenty of slushy snow to sink into while walking up the path to picnic. Well, it was a BBQ more than a picnic, one that made me realize it was a long time since we BBQed a steak anywhere other than someone's house. Silverware, for example, is not readily found on the tundra. Perhaps that will change once the campers set up their tents in the summer...

Now, in mid-June, the rivers are entirely open, the tundra brown-green, and the Arctic flowers blossoming. The weather alternates between cold rain and bright sun. Two days ago, I did my first run--in trail runners no less. It's all part of the new outdoor adventure, one that promises to get even better over the summer.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Arctic Ethnic

About a month ago, I discovered that there are Armenians in the North. I was in Yellowknife buying a bottle of wine at the liquor store. At the checkout, I thought I heard someone speak Armenian, though I imagined it was more likely Turkish or Arabic and I had just misheard. The women at the checkout were pale, with dark hair. I'm not sure if it was the accent, the dark eyeliner, or the red lipstick. I asked where she was from. "Armenia", she responded, not even pausing to look up from the cash register. "Hayren khosoom ek?" I asked. Both she and the woman at the neighbouring cash were completely amazed. Never, they told me, had they encountered another Armenian at work, though there are apparently many Armenians in Yellowknife. These women were wives of diamond-polishers who worked in Yellowknife. One of them gave me her phone number and insisted I call her the next time I was in town. They want to have me to their homes for dinner. When I called my sister to tell her what happened, she said "canum, I have been waiting for the day you called me from the Arctic to tell me that Hayastansis invited you for dinner." She's good that way.

While Nunavut's Inuit traditions provide a unique cultural backdrop for life here, visible minorities and ethnic experiences are not as abundant as they were in Toronto. According to the 2006 Census, there are 420 persons of visible minority living in Nunavut, almost half of which are in Iqaluit. Contrast that with the 1,162,630 individuals in Toronto, and you can understand how it's a bit of an adjustment. At the same time, the Arctic is a place for "missionaries, mercenaries, and misfits"; I guess opportunity does not discriminate amongst those who chose to take it.

There are ethnic experiences I would not have had unless I lived here. It can also be very personal. I doubt I would have attended a passover seder in Toronto, or a traditional Hindu dance performance, or muddled through the traditional lahmacun recipe I have so I could share it with my friends at Easter (see below). People take the time to explain why a tradition exists and how it's developed, whereas at home it might be taken for granted. We also look forward to "theme" dinners and lunches at the Francophone Centre in a way that we never would in Toronto.

I return to Yellowknife next month and plan to give my new Armenian friends a call. I wonder if we'll spend time talking about the differences between Eastern and Western Armenia, Nunavut and NWT or if we'll just be amazed to speak Armenian in a place so far from anywhere any of us expected to hear it.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

A River Runs Through All Of It

Spring has arrived in the Arctic--or at least my part of the Arctic. With spring has come the melting. Everything is melting: the snow, the ice, the rivers... Little creeks and ponds have sprung up everywhere. That includes the main road through the middle of town. Almost overnight, it seems that snow banks became slush banks, ice became mud, and mud became muck. It is a drastic change from the -20C weather that was the norm only a couple of weeks ago.

The new weather brings some interesting changes to my wardrobe. Some changes are long-awaited and totally welcome, i.e. ditching long underwear as everyday wear. Other changes are not so expected but kind of cool: rubber boots. I am not talking any kind of rubber boot. I mean a fully insulated, industrial (at least that's what the label says), Kamik-brand bottle-green rubber boot. Imagine something you would wear in your fishing boat while on the way to gather seaweed for the local marine biology centre. I am wearing something similar in the picture below, but those are loaners [NOTE: Photo still to follow].

The story of how I came to borrow these boots illustrates Iqaluit's new muddy reality. Friday night, I was walking to a friend's house in downtown Iqaluit (distinguished from the rest of Iqaluit by the fact that it is in "town", i.e. less than 10 minutes from the Bay). Walking there, I came across a large puddle that required negotiating. On the one side of the puddle was the road, relatively dry. On the other side, a fairly big snowbank. I chose the snow bank. I chose unwisely. Almost as soon as I had stepped onto it, my right foot sank into the snow bank and, as I soon realized, the source of said puddle. I swore as I stood knee deep in slush with water rapidly soaked my EMS pants, MEC longjohns, Wigwam sock and Merrell hiking boot--which together probably cost me more than my court robes and which were now completely useless in keeping me warm or dry. My cursing turned to slight panic as I discovered the muck underneath the snowbank had taken hold of my boot like a little suction cup. As I struggled to get my right foot out, my left foot sank into another slushy pocket, not as deep but just as uncomfortable. A very nice gentleman witnessed my distress and walked over to see if he could assist. Happily, I made a not very graceful exit before he needed to intervene. Footwear intact and dignity slightly bruised, I arrived at my friends' door where they provided me with food, wine, warm socks, pants, and even a pair of boots to walk home in. Thank god for friends.

All weekend, I heard similar stories from folks in town; people had gone in up to their ankles, knees, thighs. You name it. It made me feel better. It also made me wonder if these stories get a life of their own, with everyone sinking a little deeper into the puddle every time.

But I swear to you, I was in up to my knee. .. :)

Monday, April 14, 2008

Kugluktuk Frolics

This week's court circuit in Kuglutuk had to take on a blizzard. As things stand today, Blizzard: 2, Court: 0. That's more due to chance than anything else. the storm cleared, but not until late in the day--too late for flights and too late for court.

Nonetheless, the fearless crew soldiered on, taking some time to enjoy the the fine Frolics in Kugultuk. The Frolics are a spring festival, much like Toonik Tyme in Iqaluit. While I myself saw no actual frolicking, I did get to meet some of the entertainers who had flown in from Calgary. Most notably, we had some of the fine musicians from Quicksilver lead us in an impromptu sing-a-long at the Coppermine Inn. Well, perhaps it's fairer to say that they indulged us with a few songs... :)

Indulgence was definitely in the air. The Coppermine is a family-owned hotel with a fine kitchen. Irene, part-saint, part-chef, part-den mother, prepares really good meals with dangerously decadent desserts. My favorite was the white chocolate-cranberry-oatmeal cookie. I generally doubt white chocolate, but these cookies made me a believer--so much so that Irene gave me the recipe and even agreed to let me share it. Remember how I told you she is part saint?
Quicksilver can be found at:
Irene's Oatmeal Cookies
1 cup margarine
¾ cup brown sugar
¾ cup white sugar
1 tsp vanilla
2 eggs

2 cups flour ( 1 cup whole, 1 cup white)
2 cups oatmeal
½ cup pecans
½ cup sunflower seeds
1 cup dried cranberries (can also use raisins)
1 cup white, butterscotch or dark chocolate chips
1 tsp baking soda

Bake at 350F, 8-10 minutes

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Flying Solo in the Flatlands

I am in Arviat, a hamlet on the western shore of Hudson Bay, population: almost 2000. That makes it Nunavut's third-largest community. It's my first cicuit on my own, which also means it's my first weekend on my own in a community. Being on my own, I have relied (much like Blanche Dubois) on the kindness of strangers, though with better results.

I was here once before, for a circuit at the end of January that was plagued by a blizzard. The Community Hall where we held court got so cold that I sat in my parka, snow pants and hat taking notes during trial. A wind chill warning one day kept many at home for fear they would get frostbite in the -60C weather. This weekend has been warmer: a high of -22C today, -32C with the wind chill. I am still wearing snow pants, but at least I can walk around. That's a good thing, because Arviat has some cool spots. The Kiluk Sewing Centre, an arts and craft centre, is right across the road from my hotel. There, women design sealskin clothing, luggage, and wallhangings. There's also some local sculpture, though what gets most of my attention is the sealskin outerwear. The woman working at the Centre takes me on a little tour and explains that much of the new collection is on tour. The cute leather jacket I admire apparently comes in red and burgundy: pretty cool. I mean, what girl would not want to own a burgundy red leather jacket with silver fox fur at the waist, collar, and wrists?

One of the most magical moments in my Arctic experience happened on this circuit. This weekend just happens to be the 5th annual "Hudsons Bay Dog Sled Quest", during which dog-sled teams race from Churchill, Manitoba to Arviat. The teams started yesterday, Saturday March 29th in Churchill. Tonight, the community got word that the first team would be crossing the finish line. The staff at the Coop hotel told me I could go with them to watch the racers. I was in a meeting with defence counsel but headed straight over when we finished--circuit bag and all. It was 7:30 p.m. and the sun was an enormous red ball just dipping below the horizon over Hudson's Bay. At the edge of town, where the baseball diamond is in the summer, was a bright, fire-engine red banner saying "Finish". A crowd gathered as people came from all over town in cars, on skidoos, and by foot. We stood watching the southern horizon waiting from the first team. I got cold and decided to take a quick walk back to the hotel to drop off my bag (after all, it is -30C outside). I had only gone a few steps when a woman pulled up next to me on a skidoo. It was only a 5-10 minute walk, but I could not resist the temptation to ride a skidoo. I loaded the cicuit bag on the back and hopped on. It was a much better experience than the first time, probably because I was wearing warmer clothes and only went around the corner. When I got inside, I dropped by bag and, after a moment to warm up ran back outside, where I could see that almost half the town was now gathered to see the first team arrive. The By-Law truck sounded its siren to call people to the finish line. I could see the team too, a distant kamotik doing its best to stay on course for the finish line. I entered my own race with a couple of local kids, all of us running to get to the finish line in time to see the team cross. I got there when it was only a hundred or so metres away. People cheered and clapped their sealskin-mittened hands. When the team crossed the finish line, the crowd rushed in to hug the musher, David Oolooyak. I rushed back to my room for a hot cup of tea and a bedtime snack.

If I wasn't already in love with Nunavut, I would be head over heels now.

Links and Info:

You can read all about the Hudsons Bay Dog Sled Quest at their official website:
The Kiluk Sewing Centre in Arviat retails at Queen's Quay and the airport store in Toronto. You can also check them out next weekend at Iqaluit's mining sympsoium.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Easter Blizzard Bunny

Spring has come to the Arctic, and with it snow. I returned from circuit on Friday night to find Iqaluit a storm brewing. Saturday morning, most of the view from my window was obscured by snow. I could hear the wind howling a little and the ravens looked like they had trouble taking off.

Fortunately, I spend most of the day right after a circuit lying around my apartment eating food. In good weather, I feel vaguely guilty about this. This weekend, however, I felt like it was not just an indulgence but also a necessity. It`s true that the large snow drifts did not close Northmart or Arctic Ventures, the grocery stores. Cabs still made it out, not as regularly as they might but regularly enough to get me to some serious eating festivals. At one of them, all the guests got little Lindt chocolate bunnies. This is a great thing for two reasons: 1) eating and chocolate are a very important part of Easter in my family and 2) a foil wrapped chocolate bunny makes an excellent Arctic window sill ornament--as you can see.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Prosecutor of the North

I have refrained from writing about work for a lot of reasons. My blog is not a forum for venting work frustrations. Most of what I do is very private and personal. The stories of victims and accused are not mine to tell. In fact, it's part of my job NOT to tell them.

So, before I start getting into the meat of this post, let me just say: nothing herein is attributable to the Public Prosecution Service of Canada, the Attorney General of Canada, the Department of Justice and reflect only the views of one individual. Etc. etc.

One thing about being a prosecutor in a small, Arctic town is that what you do surrounds you, not just intellectually but also physically and sometimes emotionally. You cannot separate yourself from what you do. There is no suburban enclave far from those you prosecute into which to retreat. At times, this has a humorous quality--like the time I saw one of the couples I dealt with in a bail hearing at the Northmart checkout. The accused waived to me cheerfully from behind his cart of groceries. I cheerfully waived back. Why not? They looked happy.

Then, there's name recognition. You see a name in the paper and you think, "Hey, I know that person...why do I know that person?...Oh, yeah....Ha." I can tell you, this was not such a common occurrence back when I worked in Toronto. For one thing, I am not sure I ever saw any of the accused I dealt of whose appeals I had carriage. They usually had a very nice lawyer I got to talk to. A very nice lawyer who I might not even recognize because we were always robed and everyone looks different without the robes--especially judges. A fact I discovered when I was out for a run one March afternoon in Toronto in the courtyard behind Osgoode Hall, home of the Court of Appeal, and sped past a group of men walking jumped a chain link barrier and then thought, "those guys look really familiar...oh...uh-oh..."

Here, judges, counsel and court staff are a wee bit less formal. We often stay in the same hotel on circuit, which means we see each other not just in regular clothes, but also sometimes in pajamas--and always in sock-feet. You feel pretty different having a resolution meeting sitting on a carpeted floor in your fleece, jeans, and socks than suited in a boardroom. The challenge, of course, is to guard against this informality creeping into your courtroom demeanour or your approach to the law. But I never put much stock in wearing shoes in the office, as many of you know.

At the end of the day, I think I enjoy the humanity that comes with this kind of work. You are so close to the frailties of the human condition that are so interesting to me. It's fascinating, so fascinating that at times you need to remind yourself to break away from it and do something else. Otherwise, I think you risk losing your own humanity or becoming jaded, neither of which is really a palatable option.

Sunday, February 24, 2008


I rode my first snowmobile this weekend. It was only for 5 minutes, but it confirmed to me what I had believed before: snowmobiles are just as fun as motos and jet skis. With just the push of a lever, you and the engine fly accross the snow in an incredibly satisfying way. Even riding on the back is pretty fun, as you and the machine can climb up a hill quite efficiently.

The thing they do NOT have in common with motos and jet skis, however, is cold. You may have noticed from some of my posts that it's a little bit colder up here than it is in Toronto. Currently, on this sunny Sunday morning, it's -32C--without the windchill. I have just about worked out how to dress for that weather in town, but as Mark said on Friday, snowmobiling is a "whole new level of cold".

For one thing, you really should not wear jeans under your snow pants if you are riding a snowmobile for the first time. You should probably also not leave your hood undone so that the frosty wind (did I mention we have ice crystals?) sweeps down your back and all the way to the waistband of your snow pants. Personally, my core did not require cooling to that point. Not this time of year in any case. I also don't recommend being hungry. Not the first time. But live and learn is how it all goes and I certainly have enough warm clothes to try again.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

36 (or more) Hours in Our Nation's Capital

Living in Iqaluit, Ottawa is a big city getaway destination. I used to scoff at Ottawa's charms. I chose instead to visit bigger cities, warmer climes. Now, our nation's capital offersthe lure of stores, sidewalks, restaurants and, ironically, warmer weather--all a magical 3 hour flight away. Last weekend, I took the magical plane ride to spend time with friends. I say magical because life here is such a contrast. Most things are made, not bought. What we buy depends on the availability at a few stores, most of which are varying sizes of the traditional general store. If you come from a large southern city, like I do, you are used to finding ingredients when you want them. Consider herbs. Basil, cilantro, mint: you can find them at almost any grocery store in Toronto. Maybe not every day, but often enough that you could set out to the store with the idea of buying them. Here, fresh herbs arrive on Tuesdays and Thursdays at Northmart. They are unpacked and quickly snatched up by eager shoppers. Unless there is a blizzard, which means flights may be cancelled. Once, Northmart was out of bananas. Never did I imagine I would find an occasion that called for singing, "we have no bananas today", but I did. I don't mean for this to sound negative. The impredictability makes every trip to the grocery store an adventure. People seek out a lot more "country food" (local Arctic fare) for fresh meat and fish, which is nice. It just makes me realize how fantastic the wealth of living in a big Canadian city is. I decided to bask a little in this on vacation.

On the first morning, I had time to myself in the By-Town. I woke up and decided to take a luxurious day doing whatever I wanted. I don't know Ottawa very well, but I wandered to Wellington Village. There, I spent an hour at Bridgehead, Ottawa's answer to a fair trade Starbuck's, eating, drinking fancy coffee and reading the newspaper. When I had walked in, I was totally overwhelmed by the choice of items on the menu. I couldn't even begin to think about what to eat. I wanted to eat I did: chili, cookies, gingerbread latte. And I kept eating. I walked toward Westboro and in between stopping to shop at outdoor stores I ate a "cheese bagel" (more a danish than a bagel really), another latte, and a mocha chip cookie. The cookie, a product of the 3 tarts bakery, was so good. Indeed, everything there looked good, so good that we returned there the next day to buy a box of assorted chocolate treats.

The food fest did not stop there. That night, we had dinner at Sweetgrass, a restaurant that cooks with an aboriginal theme and that must be one of the most welcoming places ever. The wait staff attended patiently to all my questions (I always have lots of questions), and I had the yummiest tomato-chorizo soup, a chipotle-spiced seafood plate and a chocolate tart. The next night, we had a much different but no less friendly dinner at the Manx, a pub that made me very happy with its pulled-pork naan pizza. You gotta love fusion. Saturday night it was Thai basil, a thai resto off the beaten path but worth the drive. We ordered som tam and then dared each other to eat it because it was so spicy! Sunday, it was brunch at Stoneface Dolly's, where the eggs benedict comes on homemade bread that is apparently never soggy. In fact, if you were to have one meal in Ottawa, you could manage to hit many birds with one stone there, as they have Bridgehead coffee AND 3 tarts desserts. We ended our weekend of excess with antipasto and homemade lentil soup by the fireplace. Oh, and chocolate.

Just in case you think that ALL I did was eat in Ottawa (though that's pretty close), I'll add that I went cross-country skiing in Gatineau Park. Coached patiently by my friend's husband, I managed 2 hours of skiing in the bright sunshine and tree-lined trails. It felt good to be outdoors at temperatures under -20C, and to find massive snowfalls entertaining rather than frustrating. Perhaps the Arctic will inure me to winter chills forever. Even Arctic winter chills...wouldn't that be nice?

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Frozen Pipes Can Impact Your Pipes

Today, I trekked out to the gym (which you'll recall is across the road from the airport) and found it closed. I sign posted in pink highlighter said "Closed Due to Frozen Pipes." My thought was, dude, it's chilly out here. If you wanted, I could show you some frozen pipes. Chilly it is: it's regularly in the low -30Cs without the wind chill. It freezes up cars, planes, snow machines and, well, pipes.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Home Sweet Home

There are some ways in which I am very bad at being a girl. For example, I forget to clean. I also hate blowdrying my hair. It's true that the forgetting is somewhat deliberate, since I also dislike cleaning but I usually need to remind myself to pick things up off the floor. Or I become frustrated always having to search for the matching sock in the clean laundry hamper and end up putting the laundry away. But I digress.

One other way that I am not a proper girl is home decorating. I mean, I like nicely decorated homes but I find that I have no idea how to make mine one of them. In particular, I have no idea how to make my newfound house into a home. I am starting with a lot fewer variables than most people because my unit has set furniture, lighting and window covers. That is the way of federal housing in Iqaluit--perhaps I should explain what I mean by that.

If you have read Canadian news lately, you might know that housing is an issue for those who live in the North. Statscan's recent update can tell you a lot more ( eg. 22.7% of total occupied private dwellings in Nunavut have more than one person per room; 4.2% is the Canadian average for aboriginal populations), or the news (like: In Iqaluit, I believe most of this available housing is owned by property corporations or some level of government. The federal government, my employer, owns/leases a number of units in buildings across Iqaluit. These, in turn are leased to me at a subsidized federal housing rate. The rate is determined through a calculation of some sort that may or may not include utilities, that may or may not be furnished, and apparently works out to approximately the market rate for Ottawa. Is your head spinning yet?...I'll refrain from getting into Territorial employees's housing, then, because that will probably result in a headache from which you may not recover. I do not, however, complain about my particular headache. I have a very good deal...a very, very good deal, actually.

Why is all this important to the Trading Spaces edition of this blog? Well, I have a furnished federal unit. This means that I have a set of furniture, lighting, window covers, and wall-to-wall carpeting that belongs to my unit. Due to my particular situation, these items are permanent and in some cases, like the headboard and mirrors, nailed to the wall. I came to this realization when, after my first week here, I thought it might be nice to move my bed to the opposite end of the room so that I could wake to a view of the Bay. Sounded lovely until I realized that I could not move the mirror, which would leave it hanging conspicuously above the bed...maybe not. I also found myself fantasizing about having a blue yoga room with gold stars, like Liz Gilbert did in "Eat Pray Love".

So, the decorating project was abandoned until a few days ago. That's when a couple of friends came over to pick up a CD and one of them exclaimed on how I still had the plastic wrap on my lampshades. I was embarassed that night into cutting them off. I also cut the plastic off the other three lampshades...and unpacked the last boxes of books, which she did not see. That was easy. The more difficult question involved spicing up the stark white walls that towered over my living room. My apartment has two floors and the top floor is a loft-type space, which means there's something like 20 feet of ceiling I need to fill. My painting collection, once so integral to my decor, remains in Toronto, so it could not help me. I did have, however, a number of fun wall-hangings from South East Asia. With some nails and hangers, I think I may have added colour, but the key question remains....what exactly will Ikea deliver to the Arctic?

Stay tuned for more, as I now expect a visit to Loomis and Ikea are in my future...

Sunday, January 13, 2008


I bet you are wondering why there is a post about roads coming from a woman who lives where there aren't really any roads at all--in the literal sense.

It all started with the Ice Road. There are many ice roads, but the one that I am referring to is the onfrom Yellowknife to Dettah. I was on it because I am in Yellowknife for the weekend on my way back to Iqaluit and my friend Karen (whose comments you may have seen on this site) was nice enough to take me on a little drive. In the summertime, you need to drive 27 km around Great Slave Lake to Dettah. In the winter, a quick 6.5 km drive across the frozen lake (well, across Yellowknife Bay, really) gets you there in 1/4 the time. We even got out of the car to have a look at the ice. It is apparently 8 feet thick. And full of cracks. Lots of cracks. Had I not already walked across a cracking almost-frozen river I may have been more perturbed. As it was, I kept pointing at the SUVs and trucks saying "how cool is that?!" every time one drove across. If you are fascinated by the idea, check out the History Channel series "Ice Road Truckers". I would, except that I don't have TV.

Also in the realm of roads: taxis. Yellowknife must have the chattiest taxi drivers in North America. Witness the two conversations I had in 24 hours:

Conversation #1--midnight on Saturday

Me: Chateau Nova, please.
Driver: So, you don't live here?
Me: No, I'm here for work.
Driver: Where are you from?
Me: Iqaluit.
Driver: Originally?
Me: Oh. No, I'm from Toronto.
Driver: No, I mean, like, where are you from? Your family is not Canadian, right?
Me: Oh, yeah, uh, no. My parents are immigrants. We're Armenian.
Driver: Yeah, because you look, like, Italian or Greek or something different.
Me: I guess that's true.

Hmmm...odd, but nothing to write home about until...

Conversation #2--7 pm Sunday

Me: [Private Address], please.
Driver: Sure. (Pause) You live around here?
Me: No, I'm from Iqaluit.
Driver: 'Cause you look like this lady who used to live around here, I used to call her the S[indecipherable] lady.
Me: Pardon? The what lady? The Steak lady?
Driver: No, no, the SNAKE lady?
Me: Snake lady?
Driver: Yeah, she got into my cab one day and asked if I minded pets. I said no, and she told me she had a pet snake. Can you imagine that?
Me: Well, I guess some people have unusual pets.
Driver: I mean, can you imagine going on a date with that woman? You wake up and there's a snake in the house?
Me: Yeah, I guess that comes as a bit of a surprise.
Driver: Though I've had bigger surprises. I once got drunk and woke up next to a woman who only had one arm.

Then we pulled up to the house. I think my response was fairly unremarkable, I mean, what do you say to that?!

But that was my weekend of roads and experiences on the road, which is really pretty good if you think about it.

Friday, January 4, 2008

There and Back Again

The travel whirlwind continues, this time mainly of my own doing. As the sun set in Iqaluit on Decmber 21st, I took off in a First Air jet for Ottawa: my first trip south since moving here two months ago. The first night, I was overwhelmed when trying to decide where to eat dinner and mesmerized by the number of Christmas lights on all the houses. I even went to BMV books just to absorb the atmosphere.

I did a lot of absorbing, mainly of calories: Xmas cookies, Xmas nachos, Xmas coffee, Xmas chocolate... And, let's face it, there's nothing like shedding long johns to make you feel justified in having dessert. I also can't deny it felt good to head home to see my friends and family. I came bearing Nunavummiut gifts, in particular char of all kinds for dinner parties. I think I may have started a trend for smoked, dried char on New Year's Eve.

I enjoyed every minute of my vacation, but I found that I was not only ready to come home, but also looking forward to it. As I eagerly watched for the bright yellow airport from the plane, I thought to myself that it was good to be home.