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.

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