It all started back in the year 2000. I was working at a call center doing outbound sales. Not the most enjoyable job in the world, but it paid the bills. A friend of mine was telling me about this new job her brother was about to start with The North West Company. He was moving to Nunavut to work in a grocery store she said. As she explained the details I was intrigued. I went online and found the company's website and emailed them my resume.
I didn't think much more about it until one day I received a package in the mail containing an application form, a video, a shareholders report and all kinds of other information. I was taking my time filling the forms out and reviewing all of the information that they sent me. Then one day I got a phone call inviting me to attend an "information session" at a local hotel that the company was going to be hosting. Well I went slightly unprepared only to discover that following this information session they were doing some testing, and conducting interviews.
About one month later I received a phone call and a job offer. This was a very big decision to make. This would mean moving away from the place where I grew up, away from my family and friends, and go to a very remote and unfamilar part of the country. It was not that I was trying to get out of Saint John. Not at all. I was quite content living in the port city. I saw this as an opportunity of a lifetime. I was young, single, and love a good adventure. I figured this is a part of the country that many people don't know much about little alone get to go see with their own eyes.
My initial posting was to Coral Harbour, Nunavut. Go ahead and try to find it on the map. Sounds like an exotic name for Canada's arctic. Apparently There is fossilized Coral in the harbour, thus the name. The Inuktitut name for Coral Harbour is Salliq which actually means "flat". And boy is it flat! You can see for miles and miles in the distance in any direction.
Coral Harbour is a small town of about 800 people (My high school had more students than that), inhabited predominantly by Inuit. There were just a handful of outsiders such as myself living there. I arrived in early October and boy was I excited. For the first month or two I didn't have a chance to get homesick because I was too busy soaking everything up, getting to know the people, and learning their way of life. Admittedly I did get a bit homesick at Christmas.
The thing that probably surprised me the most was the attention I was getting from the ladies. Back home I was not used to getting anywhere near that much. Within the first month that I was there I was told that a total of 8 different girls expressed interest in me. My manager advised me to be cautious, he suggested that if I was interested in someone it might be wise to ask one of the cashiers what that person was like. Find out what kind of reputation they had etc. That turned out to be good advice.
I did date two girls in Coral Harbour. Susie Adams and Paddy Jar. I only saw Susie for about a month but Paddy and I dated for a while. Susie ended up being very jealous of Paddy and the two of them had some physical altercations. I never had two girls fight over me before.
My position was "Management Associate - General Merchandise". It is a manager in training type of position. At work I learned a lot that first year. Mostly about cultural differences with my staff and the general attitude that the people have up there towards their jobs. I faced many challenges during my time up there and I made some mistakes, but I learned from them and that is what is important.
While living in Coral Harbour I got involved with the Roman Catholic mission, helping for a while with Catechism and doing some readings. I also drew on my rich scouting history and started a cub pack. The schools principle and a father of one of the boys assisted me. Funding was obtained through a government grant and we formed the 1st Coral Harbour Cubs. Sadly this program collapsed upon my departure. The highlight of this endeavour would have been a weekend camping trip that we took in April.
It was here in Coral Harbour that I began collecting Inuit carvings and other items from the north. I was amazed at how little they were willing to sell them for compared to the highly inflated prices you see at Inuit art galleries down south. (That’s right, when you are up north the rest of the world is known as the south.) Not only did I buy carvings but I also acquired such things as polar bear teeth. Inuit carvings are quite something and can retail for a lot of money. Many teachers, nurses and other professionals working up north supplement their income by buying carvings and then re-selling them to galleries down south. It is sad that the artists are not able to enjoy greater profits for their works.
I managed to get "out on the land" a few times. Down south you would say "going to the country" or "up to the cottage" or maybe even "for a hike in the woods". Up here you are either in town or out on the land. Aside from the overnight camping trip with the Cubs, I managed to get out to see the Kirchoffer falls, Fossil Creek, and Six Mile Brook. It was the fishing trip to Six Mile Brook that was the most exciting. We traveled by 4 wheeler for several hours to get there. Once there we had a blast catching Arctic Char. I was never much of a fish person before this but boy did I love the taste of Arctic Char. On our way back to town that day we discovered that due to the tide going out hundreds of char were trapped in a tidal pool and we were able to catch them with our bare hands! What a thrill that was!
13 months after I first arrived in Coral Harbour I was off to Baker Lake. Ok now go try to find that on the map. This would turn out to be my favorite community that I lived in during my entire time up north. Baker Lake is actually, believe it or not, the geographical center of Canada.
Baker Lake, or Qamani’tuaq meaning "where the river widens", had a population of about 1600 people, twice the size of Coral Harbour but still pretty small. I felt much more welcome and accepted in this community. I went to the community hall as often as I could for various events. I made many friends, most of which I am still in contact with today thanks to the Internet.
At the store I continued to work in General Merchandise but I also spent more time in the office and did a little bit of training in foods. I also served as Christmas coordinator and H&R Block coordinator. I learned a lot during my time there. I was working under a great store manager. Allan Hart had been with the company since the 70’s and had been in Baker Lake for around 25 years. He was well established and integrated into the community.
I stayed in contact with Paddy Jar from Coral Harbour. We decided to make another attempt at our relationship and she ended up moving to Baker Lake in June of 2002. This was the first time I ever allowed a girlfriend to live with me. Things didn’t work out and a few months later she was back in Coral Harbour. I dated a couple other girls in Baker but did not get too serious with anyone.
I was very fortunate to attend World Youth Day in Toronto in 2002 as a member of the Nunavut contingent. That was a very memorable experience. There were eight of us from Baker Lake, but around 80 in total from around Nunavut. Perhaps I will make another page to talk about that experience.
I bought a few more carvings in Baker Lake, as I would do in every community I lived. In Coral Harbour the carvings were made more from bone and ivory but in Baker Lake they were made more of stone. I also had a pair of Caribou Kamiks made, traditional Inuit footwear. These would become well admired when I traveled to other communities.
In Baker Lake I also introduced scouting. This time we had a Beaver Colony and a Cub Pack. I had more adults volunteer to help as leaders, which made this possible. One big difference was this time we had boys and girls join where as in Coral Harbout it was only the boys who got involved. Again I was able to obtain funding through a government grant.
In Inuktitut Clyde River is known as "Kangiqtugaapik’ or “nice little inlet". It was a very beautiful place. It had some beautiful mountains all around and I took a many pictures (Not digital though). I even took part in an annual tradition of hiking to the top of Saw Tooth Mountain and back, it took us around 13 hours if I remember correctly. I was now on the great Baffin Island, which is where I would remain for the rest of my placements with the company.
One of the nicest things about living in Clyde River was that I had a three-bedroom house all to myself. Sure I had some plumbing problems and the roof leaked, but I had a three-bedroom house all to myself. I hadn’t lived in a single family house since I was 5 years old. I had always lived in apartments growing up with people living either downstairs or upstairs or on the other side of the wall. Although there wasn't anyone living upstairs from me I did awaks one night to footsteps above me. It turned out some children thought it would be fun to play on my roof at 5:00 in the morning.
Clyde river was a little behind the times. They did not have cable tv when I first moved there. And to make it worse you were unable to use Bell Express Vu because the mountains blcoked out the signal. The only choiced for tv was the CBC, APTN, and channel 9. What is channel 9 you ask? Well there was a guy in town who owned a DVD rental store. He also operated a pirate tv station from there. Sometimes the camera would simply be on him sitting in a chair and people would call in, kind of like how they do on the radio stations up north. Sometimes he would play one of his movies, but would interupt it from time to time with announcments. And when this happened he didn't pause the movie, oh no. That way there if you wanted to see what you missed you would have to go and rent it. I am sure this was highly illegal but so is not wearing your seat belt but I don't think I saw anyone wearing a seat belt the entire time I lived up north.
Clyde River proved to be somewhat of a challenge. A local man held the position of Grocery Manager but I did not feel he was doing a very good job. He and I did not see eye to eye on many things. This caused tension and created all kinds of problems. I had a number of issues with the way business was conducted there. The year I spent in Clyde was not the most enjoyable with reference to work.
It wasn’t all bad though. I did have fun fishing and kayaking and going out on the land. I also became a regular DJ at the community hall. I would simply bring my computer to the hall and hook it into the mixer and DJ with my growing collection of MP3’s. Eventually I purchased a lap top and that made things much easier. Different community groups would take turns hosting dances as fundraisers. The dances were often accompanied with games. Usually they would play a couple of games, dance to a few songs, play a couple of games, dance a couple of songs, etc. Sometimes I would provide my services free of charge but some groups paid me for my time.
I acquired some more carvings while in Clyde River. I also picked up a small seal skin stretched out on a wooden frame that I have used to display my collection of pins from around the north. I also got a small model kayak made out of caribou skin, a harpoon head, and a pen made from a Narwale tusk.
I was still a "Management Associate – Grocery" but there was no department manager here so I had more responsibilities. I did not have an office though which was a pain. I had to share the managers office with him. The manager here seemed to not have the stores best interest in mind. It seemed like the only motivation he had revolved around him getting a bonus. He would not spend money on regular maintaince so that he could keep expenses down and get a bigger bonus. I was left in charge as acting store manager for one month while he was on holidays. I took the opportunity to address some of these issues and discovered that many of them were easy to fix and not expensive at all.
If that wasn't bad enough, once that was fixed I found out that I had another problem. If you weren't careful and the toilet will keep running and drain your entire water tank. See up north every house has a water tank and a truck comes and fills it up a couple of times a week (If you are lucky). The drains all lead to a septic tank under your house which another truck has to come and pump out. Depending on weather, driver availability, mechanical problems, etc, you may not get water or get pumped out frequently enough leaving you unable to enjoy the luxury of running water for a period of time. All part of the challanges living up north.
I did manage to meet a girl in Arctic Bay. Her name was Sheba. This will tell you how small of a community this was. One of her sisters was the office manager at the store, one of her brothers was the General Merchandise Department Manager, one of her brothers was one of my stock clerks, another one of her sisters was living common-law with a store manager in a different community. Sheba had a baby boy Bradley who I became quite attached to.
I was only in Arctic Bay for 4 months before moving to my final community, Cape Dorset. As luck would have it that is where Shebas sister (the one that was with the store manager) was. That’s right my new boss would be her brother-in-law. Sheba and Bradley did move with me and I would be “shacked up” with a girl for the second time of my life.
See some photos from Arctic Bay.
The biggest change with me moving to Cape Dorset was my position. I was now a Department Manager – Grocery. No more being a trainee, instead I had a trainee of my own for a while. The store was old and falling apart but Ian (my new boss) and I worked hard at keeping it together. We faced stiff competition from the co-op with their newly renovated store. In all my previous communities the Northern store was the dominant store in town. This was the first time I had to be concerned about the competition.
One of the Hamlet employees had been attempting to get a scouting program off the ground and I was happy to team up with him. This time we were able to deliver a cub and scout program. As in every communtiy I found the kids were eager for activities like this and we had lots of interest.
At first everything was all cozy with Sheba, Bradley and me & Ian, Eunice (Sheba’s sister) and their kids. We all got along great and spent a lot of time together. Eventually Sheba grew homesick and she and Bradley returned to Arctic Bay. Ian and Eunice still treated me well after she left and I felt like I was a part of their family. They often invited me over for supper and we spent a lot of time together. Their youngest daughter Natasha became particularly attached to me.
After Sheba left I did have some interest from several young ladies in town. I did date one lady for a couple of months but like all the other relationships I had up north it did not last. Part of me longed for a lasting relationship but I did not seem to be able to meet the right person.
One thing that I looked forward to each week was the Saturday night poker game with the guys. Sometimes we would play for five hours or more. At first we would all bring a pile of change and play dealers choice but eventually we got into playing Texas Hold 'em tournaments. I usualy won more than I lost, or broke even at the very least. But it wasn't about the money, just for the fun.
I worked in Cape Dorset for 10 months before finally leaving the north. One morning I woke up and realized that the time had come for me to move on in my life. I felt I had learned what I needed to learn and obtained the necessary experience to pursue a career in retail down south. I decided I was going to move to Ottawa rather than back home to New Brunswick. I managed to find a job and a place to live before ever leaving Cape Dorset. I left on good terms with The North West Company and they agreed to pay for my ticket to Ottawa.
See some photos from Cape Dorset.
A lot of people ask me “Did you learn the language?” Yes I did, well not fluently but I learned how to say a few things. Basic useful words and phrases mostly, and a few bad words of course. I joke that I know as much Inuktitut as I know French. Sadly it is not too far from the truth. I never did grasp French all too well.
While living up north I was brave enough
musk ox, Walrus, and bannock (a type of bread). Usually I would not have a lot, just enough to say I had some. I did however eat lots of caribou, char and bannock. I could not get enough of them. Just thinking about it is making me hungry.
In general, I loved to take part in anything traditional. I loved going to the community hall and playing games or square dancing. I know what you are thinking. Their version of square dancing is not the kind we learned in junior high with a caller yelling "swing your partner round and round". It is more of a rehearsed dance that is done the same way every time. It may differ from community to community but it is generally the same. There is a small square version for four couples or a large square version where every one is in one big circle. Good times!
One thing that surprised me up north were the nicknames they would give their children. I have heard many parents calling their child simply “boy” or “girl”. I have even heard people refer to a child as “fatso”, or "lazy". Imagine what kind of complex they may have when they grow up.
I could go on about negative things, the social problems and alcohol and substance abuse, but I prefer to remember all the good things about Nunavut. They are good people up there and I feel blessed for having the opportunity to experience it for myself. Anyone thinking about visiting or moving up north, I encourage you to give it a shot. I admit it is not for everyone. But if you are open minded and like a good adventure like me, you will have memories to last a lifetime.
If anyone has any questions for me feel free to Send me an Email. I would be happy to talk about my experiences further. Also check out the Nunavut Newbies Blog for people new to or thinking of moving to Nunavut.
This Page Last Updated: Monday, 15-Oct-2007 22:26:32 EDT