Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Last Peep: What I Miss About Iqaluit

[Lorraine writes]: Our arctic adventure is over (for now). In September, we migrated back south to be closer to family. And pretty soon it will be time to take down this blog. But in the meantime, here is one last 'peep' from Northern Chirp.

Tonight I'm in the Bruce Peninsula area, travelling for work, and thinking about the eastern arctic while surrounded by a wintery Georgian Bay wonderland. Seeing snow-heavy trees bowed down under the weight of heavy wet whiteness, and watching the water on the bay crash against the shore makes me think of how this landscape is like the eastern arctic and yet not like it at all. Both areas are stark and dramatic and beautiful. Both feel rugged and remote in their own ways. I love the communities and people in both places.

There are a lot of differences, too. Like trees, which I missed a lot when living on Baffin Island. But there is a lot I miss about Iqaluit and Baffin Island.

Here is my list of top 10 things I miss about Iqaluit (feel free to add your own Iqaluit favourites in the comments!)

1. The people: Of course. What fantastic friends and colleagues we were blessed to 'hang around' with. The north really does attract adventurous, quirky, wonderful characters and I miss so many of the great folks up there.

2. The landscape: Baffin Island is incredibly beautiful in a stark, harsh, wide-open, huge way. I loved the vastness of the horizons, and the simplicity of the landscape.

3. The pace of life: I'm really missing the laid back Iqaluit pace right now, as we lurch our way through the glitzy consumer-bombardment, crazy-busy, elevator-Christmas-music-in-shopping-mall type Christmas in the south.

4. PolarMan: I loved living in a community where folks accepted the local superhero as ... the local superhero. And how could you not love PolarMan's big-as-the-arctic heart?

5. Music: We had a great couple years of weekend music jams, weekly community choir, Road to Nowhere Band jam sessions and gigs, high school jazz band rehearsals (for John), St Jude's organ gigs (for Lorraine), and the funnest of all: playing in the pit orchestra for the local production of Fiddler on the Roof. Where will I ever again see a Russian Cossack character played by a long-time arctic resident from the Caribbean sporting dreadlocks?

6. The Harbour: It changed every day. I never stopped marveling at how you couldn't see those 30 foot tides push the ice up and down when you sat still and watched but yet, somehow, you knew it was happening. (Particularly when the dog teams on the ice would rise and drop from view behind the wall of ice scrunched up along the shore). And then there was the thrill when the first ship made it through the ice at the end of June or beginning of July each year....

7. The Astro Theatre "Movie" Messages: Phoning the answering machine for the local movie theatre, not only to find out what movies were on and whether Brian liked them, but also to hear Brian's commentary on everything from pothole travesties to political issues of the day.

8. Fur: I get strange looks in Toronto when I wear my fur-trimmed parkas or fur scarf, but so far no spray paint (My colleagues at work warn me its only a matter of time ...) I loved all the gorgeous fur handwork you see in evidence on Baffin Island parkas, boots, mitts and clothes, and all the other ways in which people integrated traditional art forms into everyday life.

9. "Country" food: When I was growing up in Alberta, we called it 'game' meat. I loved the access to fresh caribou, char, seal, and whale. And (true confessions time) I really loved eating the meat raw in the traditional Inuit style. John was never as enthusiastic as I was about this. But then again I grew up with a mother who could skin a deer in no time flat and who made the best moose sausage you ever tried, so perhaps I come by my carnivorous ways honestly ....

10. Arctic late night strolls: Bundling up and walking home late at night from visits to friends (usually after music jams!) living in the Road to Nowhere or Tundra Ridge or Legoland areas - walking down the hill, usually cutting across country because you can walk on the hard packed snow, and sometimes (if you were lucky) being stopped in your tracks because you just had to look up to watch the northern lights.

10 Honourable mentions:
- The crazy taxi drivers
- The Snack
- Alianait
- Friday dinners at the Legion
- Blizzard days
- Arctic Ventures
- The thrill of getting the "Saturday" Globe Mail (usually late Sunday, often Monday)
- Going out onto the land or water, hunting or fishing, for Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit (IQ) Days at work
- Arctic blueberries (so tiny and so delicious)
- Two hour grocery shopping trips because you have to visit everyone you bump into at the store

Here are four things I won't miss:
1. Wearing snow pants for seven months of the year almost every time I went outside.
2. $1800 'economy' flights to get to Ottawa or Montreal.
3. Low speed "high speed" internet.
4. Having to wait three weeks for Canada Post to deliver a letter from anywhere else in the country, and two weeks for a 'priority post' package.

And that's my last peep on this blog.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

How big is it? (à la Sesame Street)


You know how you're sitting around over breakfast and you start discussing which is bigger, Baffin Island or Great Britain? So then you go google it, and the answer surprises you, so you go on to google other various sizes, and it's all fun? You know what I mean?

Well,funny you should mention it, because that's what happened to us this morning, and here are the results, in descending order of square kilometres, and rounded off:

Greenland (no surprise here): 2.166 million

Nunavut: 1.9 million

Ontario: 1.076 million

Alberta: 661,000

Baffin Island: 507,000 (a mere quarter of Nunavut)

Norway: 307,000

Great Britain: 209,000

Cuba: 111,000

Newfoundland (not Labrador): 108,000

Iceland: 103,000

New Brunswick: 71,000

Lake Superior: 82,000
(largest lake in the world by area; by volume could hold water of all the rest of the great lakes plus three more Lake Eries)

Netherlands: 41,530
(27 per cent of land and 60 per cent of population are below sea level)

Lake Baikal: 31,772
(but because of its depth, holds more water than Lake Superior, making it the largest lake in the world by volume--but who's counting?)

Wales: 20,780
(and here's a website that will tell you the size of anything as related to Wales:

Lake Ontario: 19,500
(smallest of great lakes by area, 14th in the world)

Algonquin Park: 7,700

Island of Crete: 8,340

Manitoulin Island: 2,800
(reputedly the largest freshwater island in the world)

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Life under a microscope

My friend and 'honorary mother', Jack, has been bugging me about why I haven't been posting on the blog. He notices EVERYTHING.

I've been ruminating about why I'm feeling blog-shy these days. The short answer: living under a microscope.

On the one hand, there are lots of wonderful things about living in a small-town-sized capital city: the community events, the pace of life, the interesting people, a wonderful live music scene, vibrant local arts scene ... and ... I could go on ...

BUT on the other hand: in the end, its a small town. With a lot of government workers, including people I work with. I freaked out last fall at a meeting when the casual pre-meeting chit chat with three people from other departments (including two not even located in Iqaluit) included all three of them commenting on my recent blog posts. Its a bit weird to have that level of scrutiny.

Now, I grew up in a small prairie town, so this "everyone knows everyone else's life dramas" is not unfamiliar to me. And it makes me itch.

BUT, on the OTHER other hand, I just gotta get over it.

On the one hand ... on the other hand ... on the other other hand .... Just like in Fiddler on the Roof. Which, coincidentally, is (in part) about a small village dealing with changes and the life dramas that everyone knows about. OK, OK, so there is a little pogrom and community relocation thrown in the Fiddler story too.

And, coincidentally, Fiddler is the musical that John and I just played in the pit band for. A real-live small town community musical, done with fervour and fun (and man oh man it was a lot of work. And did I mention, fun?). It was just one of those things I love about living in this small-town capital city ...

Here is John's story about it:

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Back to Normal: Arctic Cold!

After pestering from family and friends, I'm breaking down and updating the blog again.

Life here is back to 'normal' -- i.e. pretty cold with nice dry crunchy snow. Most days are around -15 now, which is usually in the mid -20s with the windchill. Everything seems very crisp and beautiful. The bay is beginning to freeze over, and I think the last sealift ship with community supplies has left (there may be one or two adventurous last ones).

John took this picture from close to his office, at his new job (he's working as a reporter for Nunatsiaq News:

The other exciting news is that John's new book has come back from the publisher, and it looks beautiful.

Check it out on John's own blog: (If you decide you want a copy, order through John by emailing him at johnbird(at)sympatico(dot)ca (That way John receives a larger share of the sale price) They are $28 + shipping from John (compared to $35 in bookstores and on Amazon, etc.)

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Seal Hunting and Clam Digging ...

For a landlubber like me (Lorraine), it has been fun living in a sea port and getting used to how that affects life. A lot of life in Iqaluit revolves around the sea -- skidooing on the ice in winter, boating in summer, hunting on the water or ice all year round, and paying attention to the incredible tides (second highest in Canada, after Bay of Fundy).

This past week I had a chance to get out and enjoy the sea, going on a seal hunt and clam digging. My friend Juan and I tagged along for the day with a local hunter, Nujalia, and his wife, Diane. We spent 12 hours out on the bay (having to time our outing according to the tides), most of the time on the ocean hunting for seals. We stopped for a while to dig for nice big clams, and later pulled onto shore for a seal feast. It was a fantastic day. And who knew that seal intestines tasted like calamari!

Here are some pictures from that day:

Getting ready to leave

Our boat captain, Nujalia the seal hunter


Clam digging

The fruits of our clam digging labours

Ring Seal Feast! Yummy!

More feasting and hanging out...

Juan and stoney faced friend...

Coming home through the ice

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Ice Ice Ice Ice (and a little heat)

One of the things I love about living here is how the sea-scape changes every day (and during every day). The ice looks subtly different every time you see it in winter. Now in the summer, the open ocean in the bay looks different every day.

And what is different the last couple days is the amount of ice in the harbour - big chunks of icebergs, often stranded on the tidal flats. It is an amazing sight.

Ice ice ice ice. In July. And right on the heels of record-breaking hot arctic weather (see Iqaluit Sizzles Through Hottest Day on Record )

A month ago, around July 1, the ice finally all broke up and left the bay in June. And the annual sea lift ships slowly began to arrive.

But channels that should have opened up more further down the bay remained full of ice. A lot of that ice is multi-year ice coming down the Cumberland Sound (apparently) and even from the Davis Strait, and being blown (by changing wind patterns) into Frobisher Bay. Sometimes winds and tides will bring the iceberg chunks all the way into town. Nice big chunks of ancient glacial green ice.

Last weekend, this is what one iceberg in the harbour looked like (this picture was taken by my friend Danielle Lepage):

Two weeks ago, friends of our were part of a group that was supposed to travel to Greenland on the Aurora Magnetica (see, a french research ship that overwintered in the ice in the harbour here, testing its special hull built to withstand arctic ice. They couldn't make it through the band of ice across the top of Frobisher Bay. Things even got a little scary when their boat was pushed out of the water by the ice. Here are pictures taken by my friend Andre Samson, who was on the boat:

Apparently the Aurora Magnetica has now safely made it to Greenland, though. And though some of the sea lift ships are coming into port with heavy ice damage (those ancient pieces of glacial ice are like rocks), they're still getting through with ice breakers.

I'm finding the ice fascinating (and a little sobering, knowing that soon winter will back ...)

Monday, June 30, 2008

The Ship Comes In! ... and more Alianait ....

Its been a beautiful couple days, and its really starting to feel like summer in the arctic. Last week, the ice went out of the harbour, though you can still see it in the distance. And yesterday, the first sealift ship of the year arrived! Here it is:

Its been a really busy time, with work plus coordinating all the volunteers for the Alianait music festival. To tell you the truth, I'm at the end of my energy reserve, tapped out after a solid week of volunteer-rustling for musical concerts pretty well every day. So this afternoon, I shut off my cell phone and escaped my email for an hour, and went down to the harbour to check out that ship and look at the sea. Here are photos I took looking back into town from the pier:

After that brief sojourn, it was back to the big top tent at Alianait, to check in with John, who I'd roped into doing last minute security this afternoon. Here is a picture of three faithful Alianait volunteers: PolarMan (Iqaluit's own genuine superhero), Joshua (my 'wildest' volunteer), and John, Alianait pinch-hitting-volunteer extraordinaire: