Monday, 27 June 2011

Restaurant Review ... and a Correction

Aurora Research Institute
First the correction. It turns out that the huge building-under-construction I thought was the new Aurora Research Institute is actually a new NWT government building. The research centre is a much smaller building; it is finished and fully functional on the inside. Outside is still a bit of a mess.

Now for restaurant review #1 ...

Here's what I wrote about the Café Gallery last time I was here: "It was recommended as having great soups, sandwiches, etc. A nice place to have a cup of coffee. 'Nice' is a stretch - and the staff was surly. Chicken soup, a bun and tea - $10."

Two years later, I have to say the Café Gallery is nice. It has art on the walls, matching chairs and tables, much more space - and the staff was really pleasant! Still, a turkey sandwich and an iced latté cost $15! It was a good sandwich, though.

Other Inuvik points of interest:
* At the library (where I have a temporary borrowing card), no outdoor footwear is allowed. It makes it cozy when everyone is padding around in their socks or bare feet. Ditto for the community college.
* Also at the library, when the phone rings, Dwayne (the manager) answers it, then yells out things like, "Charlie, your dad's outside to pick you up," or "Mona, your mom wants you to pick up milk on the way home."

 * I found another dining establishment, one that's not on the official "Places to Eat in Inuvik" list. It's called Brian's Burger Shack and it is one of those old-style chip trucks that sells, well, burgers and chips ... and poutine of all things. Apparently, Brian also makes chicken burgers (unlike Ready Reds), so I will try it out one of these days.

 * In my In my first week here, I have attended three community feasts and two jigging contests. With Canada Day and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's National Northern Event pending, more feasting and dancing are definitely on the agenda ...

Saturday, 25 June 2011

My Drum Dancing Debut

If you know me, you know I love to dance. So when the Inuvik Drummers and Dancers invited members of the audience to join them onstage to learn a little number during National Aboriginal Day, I was there. The only other "outsiders" to hop to it were four seniors from Indiana.

The dance was a "skinning dance" designed to celebrate post-hunting activity. It was simple to do - mostly upper body, hand and arm movements. One of the Inuvialuit elders even gave me her rabbit fur mittens to wear while I danced, to make the experience more authentic. We performed it once to learn the moves, then we did the dance again for real.

For me, it was the highlight of the Aboriginal Day celebrations. But it wasn't my only dance performance of the day ...

Multi-talented emcee
 All afternoon and evening, the emcee kept yelling out things like, "The first five (men, women, kids, tourists, elders, etc) who (are wearing shorts, own a home, can imitate the call of a ptarmigan, etc) will win this prize."

When he yelled out, "The first person to come onstage and walk like an Egyptian wins the next prize," nobody ran. He repeated the call ... still nobody rose to the challenge. Being a diehard fan of The Bangles, I knew this was something I'd be good at,  so I ran to centre stage and did my best Egyptian impersonation. Twice. For good measure, I also threw in a side-to-side head move I'd learned in Bollywood class. The emcee was speechless; all he could do was laugh and hand me my prize - a nice black satchel courtesy of Inuvik Gas Ltd.

Earlier in the day, I'd also won a ballcap bearing the Inuvialuit logo for being one of the first five people-wearing-red to run onstage. And a woman had walked around handing out flyswatters - with the Inuvialuit logo - to anyone who wanted one. I think pretty much everybody who attended the festivities that day (June 21) came home with at least one prize.

Blanket toss
This year's National Aboriginal Day activities started mid-afternoon with Inuit games (including the blanket toss), followed by musical numbers, performances by the Inuvik Drummers and Dancers, a jigging contest and, to wrap up the celebrations, an outdoor dance under the midnight sun. A community feast carried on all afternoon 'till the food ran out (whitefish and bannock for me; reindeer meat and goose soup for braver folks).

This is my second time at National Aboriginal Day in Inuvik, and it seems to me that, as much as the occasion is about dancing and games, it's even more about gathering the community together, spending time with family, friends and neighbours. All the activities, and the down time in between, are punctuated with much hugging, laughing, chatting and connecting. And it doesn't matter if you're a local or a visitor from far, far away. Everyone is welcome to join in.

Labrador Tea on the fire
Next time, I think I'll enter the jigging contest ...

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

What's new, Inuvik?

After one false start and 29 hours travelling, I finally arrived in rainy Inuvik -- where it NEVER rains. Second driest place on the planet after the Sahara, they tell me.

Anyhoo ... it didn't last long and by evening, Inuvik was back to its perpetually sunny summer self.

Nothing much has changed since I was here two years ago. The Midtown Market burned down last month, the victim of some questionable wiring. The Gallery Café now has wifi. The town just started a recycling program. And the recently opened Midnight Sun Mosque has been added to my must-see list.

The most obvious change to this town of 3,500 year-round residents, though, is a pair of giant (by Inuvik standards) buildings-under-construction. The swanky Aurora Research Centre and the "mega-school" are almost finished -- meaning they should be ready by next summer.

Like all buildings in Inuvik, the current schools and research centre are built on pilings pounded into the permafrost. Because the pilings are made of wood, they have a limited lifespan, and before the buildings collapse, the town must build new ones. When I was last here, the pilings for these two new buildings had just been set -- construction projects here take years.

Hot dog stands, on the other hand, can be set up in minutes ... which leads me to another significant development on the Inuvik streetscape: Ready Reds, a 'dog and burger stand is now open for business outside the Mad Trapper Pub. Other newcomers to the scene are Café 220 (aka lunch at the Legion) and the Twisted Ladle (aka the rec centre cafeteria), bringing the total number of Inuvik dining establishments to 10. I plan to try them all ...

Ready Reds is under the red umbrella on the left (north) side of the main drag, Mackenzie Road.

Monday, 20 June 2011

Grounded in Ottawa

For the first time in my life, I missed a flight. And not just any flight. I missed the once-a-day flight from Ottawa to Iqaluit, the flight that was to be the first leg of my four-part journey to Inuvik.

I thought the itinerary said the plane was to depart for Iqaluit at 12:15 p.m. Turns out, it was to arrive  in Iqaluit at 12:15. So ... by the time I arrived at YOW, my plane was somewhere over Kuujjuaq.

Now, missing a flight to the Arctic isn’t the same as missing a flight to, say, Montreal. It’s not like there’s another flight in an hour (or three, in this case). When Jay, the agent at Canadian North Airlines, told me my flight was long gone, I did what any levelheaded, resourceful grown-up would do in this situation -- I burst into tears.

Then, at Jay’s suggestion, I got on the phone to Aeroplan to see what could be done. The short answer? Nothing. I’m sure Ms. Aeroplan was not in the best of moods, having just been forced to return to work after a short-lived strike. But the more she insisted the situation was hopeless, the more I bawled.

Until ... Jay to the rescue! He had found some connections that would work! He took the phone from me and spent about 90 minutes with Ms. (“no-go”) Aeroplan, re-routing me through Toronto and Edmonton to catch me up to the next day’s Yellowknife-Inuvik link.

In the end, I spent 10 hours in the Ottawa Airport before I set foot on a plane, then seven hours trying to catch some zzzzzs on the hard floors and benches of Edmonton International. But but thanks to the kindness, patience and persistence of Jay and his colleague Rose at Canadian North, I managed to get off the ground and back on track.

Before I left them, though -- with hugs and more tears (of gratitude this time) --  Rose highlighted in bright yellow the departure times on my new itinerary ...