AN ARCTIC SUMMER PART I 1977

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MORRISON KIDS WITH LOCAL CHILDREN

Alex was now contracted by the Government of the Northwest Territories to build on-site fuel storage depots in a number of Arctic communities to take care of their heating, electricity etc. Looking back I am amazed how he and Bob managed to get equipment to hamlets that had no road access. It required getting equipment onto barges the previous summer.

We are all aware of the plight of our First Nations people. I want to include some of our observations, having lived and worked in Yellowknife and an additional 1,000 km north, on the Arctic Islands.

Alex was unusually moved by his experience in HOLMAN on Victoria Island. He arranged to use the RCMP trailer for accommodation for he and probably two others. He was amazed to hear that the police only visited once a month because there really was no crime. He was equally gratified to find that the barrels of fuel he had shipped in the year before, had sat on the beach all winter in view of the town and all the men and their snowmobiles, and not a drop had been stolen. He was also very affected by how happy the children were. This was pre -television days in this hamlet. Here is the unhappy ending to this tale. A year after television arrived courtesy of the Federal Government, the Hudson Bay store was vandalised . Eventually, if my memory serves, all the windows of the northern stores were boarded up in the pursuant years, but cannot speak to the current situation.INUIT WOMEN IN HOLMAN

NORMAN WELLS is an oil town. The Scottish explorer, Alexander MacKenzie http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexander_Mackenzie_(explorer)saw oil first in 1789 and by 1937 a refinery had been built, and it was a crucial source of fuel during the second world war, supplying the Yukon and Alaska.
Alex, Bob and Ernie our welder from Hay River, flew in there and built a tank in the early summer. When school was over, Jonathan, Michelle, Janine and I flew from Yellowknife to join them, on a fine summer evening. There still is no road access into this town, other than an ice road in the winter.

Once there, we boarded a small chartered plane to fly us to our next destination FT GOOD HOPE, 145 km north, also on the beautiful Mackenzie River. Checking the population, I find there was about 500 people there in 2012, a shrinking population, but I doubt there was even this many, when we were there, 37 years ago. Flying north into the midnight sun, made a long day.

We landed and I remember we were taken to the local School Hostel. It could be called a residential school, but it was empty now, as all the children had gone back to their communities. I was thrilled to be able to cook for family and crew with a very adequate government issue kitchen, with bedrooms for our us all. How did Alex arrange all this? Now as our supplies were unloaded from the plane and taken to the hostel, the local men came out of the surrounding area, to check us out.There was handshaking and introductions. When one man extended his hand to Alex and said his name, Jonas K???, Alex went into amazement mode and said to the poor man,(Jonathan,10 at the time, remembers this well) “How did you get here?” Poor Jonas looked blank and as Alex repeated his question, again, he made a little nod with his head and said he had walked.

More amazement,as Alex’s brain was trying to figure this out, but there are no more planes today. Alex had hired a welder named Jonas C?? over the phone who was supposed to meet us in Norman Wells, to fly in with our charter, but didn’t show. So, now Alex was wondering how he could have possibly got there before us. When Alex told the story he always included, ” just another crazy white man”. The next morning in came the welder Jonas, his own private charter, charged to the crazy white man.
In this small community of Dene and Slavey people, I recall the children coming to our door by age groups, five year olds for Janine, 9 year olds for Michelle and boys for Jonathan. Jon says there wasn’t much communication, they were from different worlds. There were ripe berries in season, I wish I could remember what they were, but the current craze for the children was to clutch a plastic bag with berries and after they were squeezed into a thick juice to enjoy, leaving plenty on their faces.Such a simple pleasure, but what struck me there in that community, was how the children that came by wanted to know my name. They didn’t want to know Mrs Morrison, they needed to know my name!! It was interesting to me. One boy was trying to tell me who he was, and he said , “he used to be my father and now he is my uncle.”
This made sense to him, as a fairly large proportion of babies are raised by their grandmothers. Among the Inuit, it was common for a girl to give her first child to her mother. Also, possibly to a sister who had not had a baby recently and had a very young baby already. It was not considered rejection and the child was fully aware who his birth mother was. “It takes a community to raise a child” right?
I remember we would try to keep regular working hours, and would attempt getting to bed before midnight with  children were playing merrily under our window, in the daylight. Then if I would go to the CO-o, for food the next morning , it would be deserted,everyone still sleeping.
The other remarkable landmark in this pretty little community was the Our Lady of Good Hope church, built in the 1860’s. Missionaries had  arrived from France , I saw the large tombstones in the graveyard there. They were responsible for the log church that looked unremarkable from the outside, but anything but ordinary inside. The interior was painstakingly painted with frescoes over every wall and even the ceiling. I will include a current picture from the web. It appears they have done an upgrade which includes a very dramatic starry ceiling.
I’ll see you soon at our next stop north in FT MCPHERSON

2005-07-06 Church at Fort Good Hope

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One thought on “AN ARCTIC SUMMER PART I 1977

  1. Jan Morrison

    Dan had a similar experience in Gjoa Haven. He left items there in the early 1980’s and no one touched them. This was in stark contrast to Dan’s experience in Tuktoyaktuk where things were stolen on a regular basis. …… The local council had voted it a non alcohol town. However now I read that the police say it is very stressful trying to keep up with all the alcohol related incidents in Gjoa , as some people are smuggling drugs and alcohol into the town.

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