Travelling by air in the North? Remember these 10 things

When I visited the western Nunavut community of Cambridge Bay recently, a little plastic nose pad or a “plaquette” (as we say in Quebec) fell off my eyeglasses. So the glasses were lopsided and painful to wear.

Luckily, I had another pair with me —  actually two, counting my sunglasses.13096190_10208108908032524_2699857646217233277_nSo here are 10 things you want to think about if you’re heading from point A to point B by air in Canada’s Arctic, particularly if you’re planning to work when you arrive:

#1 — If you wear glasses, bring two pairs. When I first travelled to Iqaluit in the early 1990s, I stepped on my glasses in transit and broke them in half. I arrived in Iqaluit and found someone at Nunavut Arctic College who was able screw the two pieces together. Don’t ask what I looked like.

Iqaluit airport

#2 — Bring two of everything you really need. I still travel with a laptop and an iPad, two cameras (digital, cellphone), etc. If something breaks, you can still do your work. I learned that again the hard way when I was in Iceland and the top of my  laptop broke off when I opened it: Apple has fixed that weakness now. But, in that pre-smartphone era, I had to write my stories on a hotel computer.

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#3 — Remember your power cords. Once when I packed my equipment to leave for Yellowknife from Iqaluit, a co-worker started talking to me. Distracted, I left the power cord to my laptop on my desk. I couldn’t find one in Yellowknife. Again, I was fortunate to have a friend there who loaned me her laptop so I could get my work done in western Nunavut.DSC03780

#4 — Wear your heaviest outerwear on an airplane. A military survival expert in Resolute Bay said wearing a warm parka and boots when you crash on land can make a difference between life and death. He advised even carrying a sleeping bag on flights. I once got on a flight heading north in Montreal, with my warm parka packed in my suitcase. I arrived. It didn’t.

Resolute Bay

#5 — Pack enough essentials in your carry-on bag to tide you over. Just this week, a woman from Cambridge Bay, who was heading on a short hop from Cambridge Bay to Kugluktuk, arrived in Kugluktuk without her bag and a week’s worth of food and clothes. In the bag, which couldn’t be located, was a supply of frozen maktaaq (narwhal.) I once spent a week in Nunavik with only what I could pick up at a co-op store because I had packed everything in my bag, which never made it to the community.DSC02101

#6 — Bring socks. Bring underwear. Bring a toothbrush. Bring the right boots. You know.  I’ve packed and forgotten these items or brought the wrong ones. I arrived in Yellowknife this past weekend without my hair brush, which was back in Cambridge Bay — but a store was right across the street. You won’t have this luxury in most places. And bring the right kinds of boots. Are the streets snow-covered or icy? Muddy or dry?  Will you be out on the land?

The boots with built-in crampons that I use in icy Cambridge Bay would be silly for Iqaluit where it’s already rubber boot-season.

When I went to the floe edge in Pond Inlet I suffered from cold feet because I brought boots that were too light, and when I first went goose-hunting in May 1991, I arrived in Eastmain, Que. with boots that ended at my ankles — and spent the next 10 days in borrowed rubber boots in snow up to my knees. I’ve also ended up in Ottawa wearing sealskin kamiks when a flight was diverted there. Lessons learned.

#7 — Take snacks. And water. You never know when you may get an unexpected layover. This past weekend a five-minute station stop lasted for more than an hour.

#8 — Fill your carry-on bags to the maximum. I always travel with two heavy carry-ons and leave the light stuff in the bag, which may or may not arrive. But don’t let them out of your sight as I did on Ellesmere Island, only to find out later in the air that my backpack had been offloaded and left behind on the Lake Hazen tarmac.

View down Tanquary Fiord, Ellesmere Island

#9 — Check your time of departure and make sure you arrive when you need to. Sometimes flights are cancelled, sometimes they’re delayed or even leave earlier.DSC01399

#10 — Talk to people while you wait for the flight and while you’re in the air: You’ll make new friends. Even airports can be fun. On April 30, National Hockey League alumni arrived as I was leaving Cambridge Bay.

 

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The federal election, Nunavut-style

No one looks to Nunavut’s sprawling federal riding for a bellwether community to predict voter tendencies during an election — but if there were such a Nunavut community to look at during this past federal election, it would have been Cambridge Bay.

It was in this western Nunavut town that former Nunavut MP and Conservative cabinet minister Leona Aglukkaq started her political career as a hamlet councillor In 2011, she easily carried the community — and Nunavut —  in the same way that the Tories won the national vote.

This is how Cambridge Bay, population 2,000, looked in mid-September, with Mt. Pelly, 20 kilometres away, peering from behind. (PHOTO BY JANE GEORGE)

This is how Cambridge Bay, population 2,000, looked in mid-September, with Mt. Pelly, 20 kilometres away, peering from behind. (PHOTO BY JANE GEORGE)

Cambridge Bay, which is never short of news (and previous blog post inspiration) and where I have many friends, seemed like a good place to sit out this federal election.

So I arrived in Cambridge Bay on Sept. 13 and left Oct. 20, the day after the votes were counted.

In Cambridge Bay on Oct. 19, voters decided to support Liberal candidate Hunter Tootoo and the New Democratic Party’s Jack Anawak, leaving the Tories and Aglukkaq in third place in Cambridge Bay (361 for Tootoo, 170 for Anawak, 164 for Aglukkaq and 10 for the Green party.)

How the Oct. 19 vote would shape up in Cambridge Bay became clear to me over the weeks as I watched the scenery change and the ice solidify — like opinions among voters.

When I arrived, Cambridge Bay was still in the last days of its longer-than-usual summer. Then, the days became colder.

Sunset in October by the shore. (PHOTO BY JANE GEORGE)

Sunset in October by the shore. (PHOTO BY JANE GEORGE)

One afternoon I spotted a field of frost flowers, spreading over the thin ice.

I spotted this frost flowers — formed when conditions are calm and there's a 15 C temperature difference between the air and the water. (PHOTO BY JANE GEORGE)

I spotted these frost flowers — formed when conditions are calm and there’s a 15 C temperature difference between the air and the water. You can see the field in the top of this post. (PHOTO BY JANE GEORGE)

A view to Mt. Pelly in October at sunset. (photo by JANE GEORGE)

A view to Mt. Pelly in October at sunset. (photo by JANE GEORGE)

The sunsets began to turn unreal shades, with a layer of bright pink mist over a darker blue sky.

In mid-October, the weather turned even colder, just around the time when Liberal leader (and now Prime Minister) Justin Trudeau visited Iqaluit.

There, among other things, he served up stew to hungry people at a community feast.

In Cambridge Bay, everything iced up and the foxes started to turn white.

A fox scampers across the ice in mid-October. (PHOTO BY JANE GEORGE)

A fox scampers across the ice in mid-October. (PHOTO BY JANE GEORGE)

Meanwhile, the three main party candidates also visited Cambridge Bay to campaign — Aglukkaq keeping a low profile, but the Liberals’ Tootoo and the NDP’s Anawak getting out and meeting people.

Signs for Tootoo cropped up over town. A homeowner kept a “Stop Harper/ Nutqarrit” sign posted on his house.

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The “Stop Harper” sign is bilingual, with “Nutqarrit” meaning “stop” in Inuinnaqtun. (PHOTO BY JANE GEORGE)

Students at the local high school voted for the NDP in mock election. And many people talked to me about wanting change.

I decided to write a story for the Nunatsiaq News Oct. 18 about the the mood in Cambridge Bay, and that this Tory stronghold was leaning to the Liberals and NDP,  as story which you can read here.

And on election day I went to the community hall to speak to voters after they cast ballots. I took a photo of elders after they came to vote, a photo that circulated among thousands of people on Twitter.

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A “This is how we vote in Canada” tweet, along with this photo, from Nunatsiaq News’ managing editor Lisa Gregoire saw my photo of elders circulate among thousands of people. (PHOTO BY JANE GEORGE)

I was careful to tell everyone I spoke to who I was (if they didn’t know me) and ask them only why they felt it was important to vote — not who they voted for.

A couple with a small child told me “we need help.” The North is crying out for help, they said, because they can’t survive on the $1,300 they receive every month from social assistance. “There’s nowhere to turn for help,” they said.

And the cost of food is so high that why said they couldn’t afford even a pound of hamburger, so they and others turn to the dump to scavenge for food.

I didn’t have to ask which party they voted for.

Throughout the day a steady stream of voters came to vote — and the numbers would show later that, while Aglukkaq held on to her vote from 2011, turnout increased, and three times as many voters in Cambridge Bay came out to support the Liberals and the NDP than the Tories.

I helped my friend Eva Kakolak Avadluk bring her two sons, Anthony and Ashlee, who are blind to the polling station so they could vote, using Braille ballots. (PHOTO BY JANE GEORGE)

I helped my friend Eva Kakolak Avadluk bring her two sons, Anthony and Ashlee, who are blind, to the polling station so they could vote using Braille ballots. (PHOTO BY JANE GEORGE)

So, more than 500 voters were happy Oct. 20 — but not Aglukkaq’s friends and supporters. One woman wrote me a couple of unpleasant messages and then a comment on Facebook — that made me think again how it’s much harder to report the news in Canada’s North than not.

After I posted the photo of my friends on my Facebook feed, I received this comment Oct. 20 from a friend and supporter of the former Nunavut MP Leona Aglukkaq.

After I posted the photo of my friends voting on my Facebook feed, I received this comment Oct. 20 from a friend and supporter of the former Nunavut MP Leona Aglukkaq.

I was able to delete the comment and block the woman on Facebook: sort of a solution.

But I was reminded again that, in a small Arctic community, you live beside people who may dislike you and bully you into being quiet — a tough situation for people who can’t leave (but one I saw in the 1990s and you can read about here or in a recent two-part series by Nunatsiaq News reporter Thomas Rohner).