Friday, January 05, 2007

Lights out

Thanks to Marc Winkler for sending me this photo of Inuvik trees in early December. People are always asking me how dark it gets during the Winter in Yellowknife. I've blogged about the Northern darkness before, but for those of you who have just joined us it goes something like this: in Yellowknife on the the Winter solstice on Dec. 21 there are about five hours of daylight, meaning the sun rises at about 10 a.m. and sets around 3 p.m.
As you move farther North during Winter solstice season, the total number of hours of sunlight starts to decrease. Near the top of the Northwest Territories in Inuvik, where this photo was taken, I'm told there's no direct sunlight for at least a few weeks during the year's darkest days. As an illustration, this photo is believed to have been taken at 12:40 p.m. sometime during the first week of December.


Thursday, January 04, 2007

Iqaluit sled ride

About four hours after arriving in Iqaluit for a work sojourn last May, my friend Chris offered me a ride home. This video shows a few seconds of our trip.

A lot of people in Yellowknife have, and presumably ride, snow machines. But I can't say I see them within the city limits all that often. But in Iqaluit, anecdotal evidence seems to show snowmobiles as a primary method of transportation for a substantial number of people. (Though Iqaluit city administration seemed antsy about getting them off the streets while I was working there more than two years ago, I haven't heard of any action being taken)

Much of the appeal to living in Iqaluit, for me anyway, is getting around town on a snowmobile in the winter. Then if you get yourself an ATV for when the snow melts, you've got your transportation needs covered for the entire year.


Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Late New Year's post

Though a little late, thought I'd share a story I wrote for the Nunavut News/North newspaper while living in Iqaluit about two years ago. I'd have to say it's one of the strangest New Year's tales I've ever heard. It took place in Canada's Northernmost community, Grise Fiord - home to fewer than 200 people on the southern shores of Ellesmere Island, way up at the tip of Nunavut. Here's the story.


Saturday, December 30, 2006

The Yellowknife Airport

For anyone thinking of taking a trip to the Northwest Territories, this is one of the first things you'll see when you get off the plane. The thing is, you're not going to see a polar bear anywhere near Yellowknife because the few that do reside in the Western Arctic live much farther North.

Almost all of the populations of polar bears in Canada's North roam the tundra of Nunavut, which was once part of the Northwest Territories. But for more than seven years, Nunavut has been its own territory, and the N.W.T. has been left searching for its own cultural icons.

There are a few, like birch bark baskets, moccasins, and bead work which originate in the N.W.T. But many of the gift shops in Yellowknife still stock tonnes of Inuksuit and soapstone carvings, all of which are distinctly Eastern Arctic, read Nunavut. N.W.T. licence plates are still the shape of polar bears, and a 'Nanuq' skin still sits on the floor of our legislative assembly. With no action since the two were divided in 1999, I'm not sure this will, or should, ever change.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Back like Bison

These animals were standing beside the road about an hour outside of Yellowknife in the middle of November. The photo was made in the middle of a morning spent looking for an unexpectedly hard-to-find dog mushing competition.

It was so hard to find that I never did make it and ended up pulling over on the side of the road to shoot, among other things, a frozen self-portrait of me in my new wolf-fur hooded parka from Nunavut. (see below)

Since I last posted anything on Arctic Comment, it's been the sort of while that's added up to nearly a year. But a few things have happened to renew my interest in this project. As before, I'll try to stick to opinion and interesting video/images which relate at least indirectly to Canada's North. I'm also going to avoid posting personal drivel about things like my cat, although he's incredibly cute. Any personal items posted will hopefully be the type of great stories that will help illustrate something about the North. Any feedback or constructive criticism will be gratefully accepted. Here's to what's to come.

Until I get posting full swing, I'll wish everyone a Merry Christmas. I do so not because I'm a Christian, but because it's still socially acceptable to do so in the North.

Zai jian

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Video: Tourists on ice

This is a video of Japanese tourists using a brush to clear snow off an ice road so their photographs will more vividly capture the fact they are driving on ice. I don't want to seem like I'm harping on the Japanese here, but just as our ice roads are of interest to them, they are of interest to me. And I must admit, when I first came up here, I thought ice roads were pretty cool as well. Below is a different perspective of the same road.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Video: Driving in downtown Yellowknife

Here's a video shot out the window while driving in downtown Yellowknife a few weeks ago. If the wind's a little loud, turn down the volume. The building shown just before the thing cuts out is the Northwest Territories legislative assembly. After watching this thing with fresh eyes, all I can say is that for a town of less than 20,000 people, there sure are a lot of pickup trucks.

Column: Our new Northern MPs

As a number of you have kindly -- and some not so kindly -- noted, I was about as far off as possible in predicting who would win the Northwest Territories parliamentary seat cushion last night.

In the absence of any kind of poll I was forced to use my instincts and some basic analysis; both of which are apparently not worth much on the open market. But I'll get over it.

Widely predicted by those who know, our five-time Liberal incumbent Ethel Blondin-Andrew was trounced by a New Democrat named Dennis Bevington. I’ve been looking for a photo I can legally post here, but instead I’ll just leave a link to his campaign site.

Dennis seems a solid enough guy, though not necessarily inspiring. In a Saturday piece in the Globe two days before the vote his top quote was something to the effect of feeling that Canadians are looking for a change.

I’m not saying Conservative Richard Edjericon, or anyone else on the ballot could do a better job. What I am doing is assessing our new MP in the wake of my election call having proved to be so far out in left field that you’d have needed a bleacher seat to field it.

Dennis, Jack and the rest of the NDP seem to support developments such as the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline, and will likely try to ensure benefits come North as much as possible. I suppose this is all anyone up here can ask for.

In the meantime we’ll have to watch closely to see what Mr. Harper has in store, and whether everyone will play nice in order to avoid the time, energy and cost of another election.

My feeling is Harper will be able to pass just about anything he wants in his first budget, as there’s not a leader alive who would want to be seen as forcing another election. I, on the other hand, would love one. Who says governments are meant to govern?

In other news, the Liberals held onto their seats in Nunavut and the Yukon.

Most interesting is that Nunavut's Conservative candidate -- who was openly denounced by the territory's conservative chapter president early on in the election -- might have won the seat with a little more support from the status-quo loving non-Inuit people in Iqaluit.

More than anything else she did or didn't do as MP, Nancy Karetak-Lindell's vote for same-sex marriage is likely what brought about the groundswell of Conservative support in the staunchly religious land of Nunavut.

With none of the three territories' MPs in the governing party, it will be interesting to see if anyone even bothers looking North now.

Here are the final results for the NWT.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Video: Steam on the water

It's been a while since I've posted a video here. As the previous ones seemed to go over well, here's another. This is taken the first week of January from the Yellowknife River Bridge, a few kilometres outside of Yellowknife. The water would usually be frozen over, but December's warm weather had left tonnes of open water steaming, as you will see.

The warm weather has also delayed the opening of a winter ice road to the diamond mines which is used to truck in supplies.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Column: Hot to talk Northern election

With an election on Monday, it’s time to send out some prediction on who’s going to win, and more importantly: why. We could get into how difficult it is to campaign up here, what with -30 C weather and great distances between tiny communities, but this close to the election, I’m just hot to talk turkey.

So let’s set it up: last time around, the race in the Northwest Territories must have been one of the country’s most exciting.

NDP candidate Dennis Bevington lost by 53 votes to Liberal incumbent Ethel Blondin-Andrew, whose photo appears here courtesy of the Prime Minister’s Office.

It was the closest race in the country. And unlike many ridings, the NDP camp was still sitting around on the floor of its humid office, chomping nervously on their nails late into the night, waiting for the final polls to come in as old man Martin delivered his victory salute on the tube.

The Conservative candidate – flown in from somewhere on the east coast – finished a distant third.

This time things are different. In Richard Edjericon, the Conservative camp has found someone who while not necessarily capable or well-respected, is at least local. And like Blondin-Andrew, he’s aboriginal.

Having a pair of aboriginal candidates running for two of the three mainstream parties has lead some to suggest a potential split in the aboriginal vote, allowing Bevington to come up the middle to be crowned King of the Arctic his third time out. This theory seems way too simplistic and I’m predicting a tight three-way race.

Some say that in the territories, because there are so few people, voters choose a candidate based on their character. This may be true. But I say people up here want to vote for the winning party just as much as the rest of Canada.

I suppose now is the time to come to terms with it, even though we may be crying about it six months from now when we realize what exactly we’re in for. By this I mean that Stephen Harper is our next Prime Minister, no matter how short his reign may be.

Up here, it may be even more important to have an MP in government than anywhere else. This is a huge territory, with very few people, and it is understandably a low priority on a lot of people’s political radar screens.

Paul Martin seemed to be trying to leave a legacy by paying attention to what was going on up here, but ideas such as the “Northern Strategy” captured the attention of few Canadians at large, and even fewer reporters.

More importantly, I think in the last election, a vote for Bevington was a vote to oust Blondin-Andrew, more than solid support for the man. Locals say there has never really been a strong NDP movement up here, and Bevington seemed to come out of nowhere. To me, this says he could fade back into nowhere just as fast.

And people seem to have forgotten that prior to 1987, or whenever Blondin-Andrew was first elected, the territories elected a Conservative MP for three consecutive terms.

This leads me to believe that there were a lot of Conservative supporters who have been hiding in the closet for a long time – either voting Liberal in hopes of getting/keeping federal money flowing up this way, or voting NDP last time around in hopes of getting rid of a been-there-too-long MP.

We’ve also got quite a few RCMP and Canadian Forces members up here, and the ones I’ve talked to have seemed pretty impressed with Harper’s plan to help defend the Arctic.

This brings my prediction for Monday: Edjericon wins what will once again be one of the tightest races in the country. I’m just waiting to see if those closet conservatives are willing to come out and support him, or whether the soft vote which propped Bevington up last time can be taken away as easily as I think. With no official Northern polls, we'll have to wait and see how everything shakes out on Monday.

The Greens are running a young guy who will capture some of the soft NDP support, as well. We’ve also got an independent candidate who seems hell-bent on pissing off aboriginal people, though I’ve never actually spoken with him.

With so many ideas swirling about, who doesn’t love federal politics? Now we just need some people to get out, cast their ballot, and add a little bit of legitimacy to this whole thing.