Wednesday, January 30, 2013

life in cambridge bay

Remember the book BFG by Roald Dahl? He's a Big Friendly Giant who collects and distributes dreams to children.  He meets the Queen of England and the King of Sweden and the Sultan of Baghdad and convinces them to send a fleet of helicopters to the land of giants. The BFG leads them so far that the pilots begin to wonder where they are.  They open up an atlas and realize that he's led them to the blank pages of the atlas. You know, they leave those pages at the end of the atlas blank on purpose. As the pilot explains: "That's why they always put two blank pages at the back of the atlas. They're for new countries.You're meant to fill them in yourself."

This is what the Arctic looks like from an airplane

That's what the plane ride to Cambridge Bay felt like after a while.  Soon enough, we stopped seeing trees, buildings, roads, signs of anything but this huge sheet of white that I could barely distinguish from the clouds.  This blanket of white seemed to stretch on and on forever...until suddenly, you see an airstrip, a handful of streets and several dozens buildings, and you've finally reached Cambridge Bay, at the end of the blank pages of the atlas.

this is where Cambridge Bay is

It's not that far a stretch of imagination. Cambridge Bay, or Ikaluktutiak as is its traditional Inuinnaqtun name, is quite a remote community, if you look at its spot on the map. Most times of the year, it's accessible only by airplane; only for a short while when the Arctic ice melts just enough can boats come through.  Unlike Yellowknife, the nearest large city 800 kilometres away, there are no roads connecting the Cambridge Bay to other communities.

This is what happens when you walk outside for five minutes: Frosty Beard

This is where I'm going to be living for the next few years, working as a social justice lawyer in the most northernly situated law offices in North America.  It's definitely going to be different from all of the previous places I've lived before, especially considering the fact that this time last year I was living in the subsaharan environment of Windhoek, Namibia.  For one thing, I'm going to be going to work dressed like this:


You're looking at a (very much not cheap) Canada Goose Snow Mantra, the highest level that Canada Goose makes for maximum warmth in an Arctic environment. I'm also wearing Baffin boots that are made to withstand -100°C weather...although let's hope that I don't ever have to test that out. And no, you can't see my face with this coyote fur-lined hood, so I don't really have much peripheral vision when I'm walking to work. I guess I really am going to be that lawyer that wears long johns and snowpants to work

These days, Cambridge Bay has finally pulled out of its period of 24-hours of darkness, but for now daytime still remains a somewhat magical time that is perpetually sunrise or sunset. The sun rises around ten in the morning, lingers around the horizon, and then dips back down around half past two in the afternoon. This means the sky is always beautiful.  

The folks around town are friendly, always greeting us with a "Hi!" and "Cold out there, eh?" This question surprises me, because it's kind of always cold here. In the warmest months of the summer, the temperature gets to be about maybe 9°C above zero.  Remarking on the cold, though a very important Canadian tradition, doesn't strike me as being all that remarkable here.  Not that people here don't have anything to complain about: today, the temperature was about -50°C with the wind chill.

a view of the perpetual sunrise from my office window

sunset in Cambridge Bay

Monday, January 28, 2013

Winter on Prince Edward Island

We were curious to experience the Island during its off season. Most tourists visit Prince Edward Island during the summer.  The ocean is warm enough to swim in, and the road conditions are perfect for going for long drives through the countryside. That's when all the tourist attractions are open, from the amusement parks located near Green Gables, to the Island's famous restaurant at the Inn at Bay Fortune which was once run by chef Michael Smith, who still lives on the island. During tourist season, the population of the Island swells times in size as people from all over the world come to visit. The week we visited my in-laws, the first week of January, was described by Islanders as the deadest week of the year. The locals were all recovering from the holidays. There was, it seemed, nothing going on anywhere.

John A Macdonald, looking cold and lonely

We brought in the cold with us from Ontario.  Up until January, the weather had been mild and there hadn't been much snow - farm animals were still grazing on the green grass right up until December.  The first week of January was frigid and windy, and it seemed like every day there was a fresh layer of snow for the tractors to plough from the lanes.

my husband's parents' farm

a long way to plough

We went for a drive to Prince Edward Island National Park. We were the only car coming though the place, which is usually bustling with families picnicking in the summer. Brackley Beach in the winter was an incredible sight. Once we made it over the treacherously slippery red sand hills, we were rewarded with the snow-covered shoreline, where the powerful ocean waves crashed against the ice and the frozen ground.

lines traced by the wind carving through the ice

Afterwards, we kept driving and stopped for lunch in North Rustico. This little fishing community is usually quite lively during the summer, full of fishing boats catching fresh seafood from the harbour, bed and breakfasts for tourists, and even tight-knit community of artists settling in to enjoy the pleasant  scenery.  In January though, most of the fishing boats sat on the land like sleeping giants waiting for the spring thaw

Robin's! Some Islanders would claim it's even better than Tim Horton's

grabbing some yummy fish and chips for lunch

After lunch, we stopped by the old family farm, built by my husband's great-grandfather and still run by the family today.  I rarely get a chance to visit a large-scale fully functioning farm, so I was really excited to see how everything runs in the winter.

arriving at the farm

farm equipment sitting in the snow

the biggest pile of carrots I've ever seen

the largest bull I've ever seen. Seriously that was a big bull.

bonding with the cows

so many cows

this calf was born yesterday. He was literally still wet behind the ears

super high tech milking station

They say the family farm is dying in Canada, even in Prince Edward Island which was once mostly an island of family farms.  McCain's is the largest company on the island and owns more and more of the farmland to supply its French fries business, buying out many of the family farms that younger generations are no longer interested in tending and replacing them with corporate farms.  Still, I was impressed by the amount of work that goes into running a family farm. Farmers have to be vets, scientists, computer specialists, meteorologists and handymen all at once.  The advancement of farm technology is unbelievable.  At this farm, each of the fifty plus cows were fed using a computer that reads each cow's tag to calculate how much food should be rationed to the animal.  The tractors are outfitted with GPS, a monitoring system that allows the tractor to be run on autopilot, and even a stereo system.

My husband tries out the tractor

We stopped by the Charlottetown Farmers Market, which I really enjoyed. I bought some homemade jelly, local tea, and some handcrafted soaps. I'm always amused by urban foodies and hipsters who act as though they've singlehandedly discovered the art of local organic non-corporate food (or, as my friend Soo jokingly described, "organic artisanal local-sourced small-batch individually-hand-labelled harvest-day-numbered" food), when realistically, folks on Prince Edward Island have been eating like that for centuries. It's just as much effort to buy eggs or potatoes from the grocery store as it is to buy them from the roadside egg stand or the roadside potato stand. Getting the best cut of meat doesn't have to involve standing in a long line at a busy Manhattan boutique butchery. On the Island, you just drive to an industrial park to "the fish guy I know" and buy seafood freshly caught that day, or sometimes from the fishermen themselves, right off the boat. And boy, is the food good on the Island.

this fish guy we know

Seafood chowder and lobster poutine at the Daniel Brenan Brickhouse

After our lovely drive, we went back to my father-in-law's farmhouse, where we were greeted by the alpacas that our parents are raising.

what's up doc?

baby alpaca says hi

look at that baby alpaca's stare

We've always enjoyed visiting the farmhouse in the summer, but it was quite the sight to see in the winter, beautiful and quiet as ever, but covered in snow.

going for a walk in the woods near the farm

cool looking tree

my strong husband holding up a tree with one hand

broken down building

a holly tree

sunset at the farm

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Our new music video: Beaver Pond Forest

My band Scary Bear Soundtrack just released a new music video this week for our single Beaver Pond Forest!

Beaver Pond Forest is an area within the larger South March Highlands, a beautiful nature area in Ottawa west housing a diverse array of species while also considered a sacred site by Aboriginal community leaders. It's also currently being deforested and developed for housing.

The release of our music video got quite a bit of buzz this week, including by CBC Radio 1's "All in a Day" radio show host Alan Neal, and on the Rogers TV show Daytime Ottawa. The release party was a huge success, with us being able to raise funds to donate towards the South March Highlands and Carp River Conservation Fund. We're also quite pleased with how the music video turned out, filmed by a brilliant South African-Canadian film maker Toni van Eeden.

Check out the music video and share it with your friends! You can buy the song, along with the rest of the album here.

We've also been nominated as Ottawa's hottest band and Ottawa's hottest female musician on the Photogmusic site. We'd definitely appreciate your votes! Vote here!

Some buzz around town:

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Being eaten alive by a baby alpaca

We've been spending part of our holidays hanging out in Prince Edward Island, which is absolutely beautiful in the winter. It's been a great time...until a baby alpaca started eating me...