Reflecting on the Adventure of a Lifetime

August 25-26, 2017

Our last full day on Leg 9 of the Canada C3 expedition arrived far too quickly.  In the morning briefing we shared highlights from our two days in Gjoa Haven, and discussed what our last 24 hours on the Polar Prince would entail.  A group of us spent the morning finalizing the group artwork for the hangar; we created two images connected by text (in French, English and Inuktitut) that symbolized the collaborative adventure we had been on together, moving from traditional conceptions of the North for many, to something more personal, evocative and transformative.

We felt lucky to have one final afternoon to learn on the land at Jenny-Lind Island, home to snow geese, owls, lemmings, squirrels, and muskox.  While we only saw the first and the last of this list of animals, there was lots of evidence of all in the form of feathers, bones, holes, and hoofprints strewn across the sand, rocks, peat bogs, and water of this immense, flat island.  Many on the trip used the long hike as a time of reflection, reviewing our experiences, conversations, and rich learning of the previous twelve days.  This continued as we headed back in light rain to the ship, where a final celebratory dinner awaited us, prepared by Chef Matt.  Accompanied by impressive videos of the trip from the Communications Team, poetry readings, and guitar music later in the hangar, we began the process of trying to understand what Leg 9 has meant to each of us.

This continued through our long journey home the next day, talking in pairs and small groups as we travelled from Cambridge Bay to Yellowknife, and then onto Edmonton, and for me, finally arriving in Toronto in the wee hours.  A range of emotions hit me as I travelled from the North to home – sadness that this remarkable adventure was over; happiness in seeing my family; but mostly gratitude for the incredible gift of going on this expedition at this moment in my life.  While the immediate challenge of travelling to new places and learning from such interesting people is over, now comes the hardest part of the journey; how I will I share what I have learned with others?  How has this voyage changed me as a person, as an educator, as a mother, wife, sister and daughter?  How will the process of making meaning help me to contribute to Canada’s growth as a nation in her next 150 years?  These are the questions that I’ll continue to work towards answering in the days and months to come.

             

Northern Hospitality

August 24, 2017

A second day in Gjoa Haven proved to be a gift as we got a glimpse into the generous hospitality of the people in this community, as well as some of its challenges.  After a presentation by the Parks Canada staff about the protection of the local sites of the wrecks of the Erasmus and the Terror (Franklin’s ships), we wandered the town to see what we could find.  Many people warmly greeted us and stopped to chat; they were interested in the C3 ship and our journey. I made a point of visiting the local Co-op and Northern stores, both fixtures in many Arctic towns; I had heard about the shocking prices of food in the North, and wanted to see for myself.  A few prices that would make feeding a family a challenge: &11.99 for 4L of milk, a large box of Cornflakes for $9.99, and $16.49 for 12 rolls of toilet paper!  Surprisingly the produce wasn’t as expensive as I thought it would be, but I learned that it was subsidized to help get families on a healthier diet.  This strategy isn’t working well however; despite alarming rates of diabetes in the North, the Inuit don’t eat a lot of vegetables as their traditional diet is rich in meat and fish. Health and wellness is a huge concern in isolated communities, and this one example demonstrates that there aren’t any easy answers in solving these complex challenges as they are connected to the social/cultural traditions and economic realities of the Inuit.

Later in the day we went back ashore for a special event put on by the community just for us.  The community centre was packed with families, with children of all ages playing and enjoying each other’s company.  We were treated to a meal of ‘country food’, which means traditional Inuit delicacies such as caribou stew, seal, dried caribou, and air-dried char. There were many speeches (simultaneously translated into English and Inuktituk), throat-singing, drum-dancing, and presentations on Amundsen.  The highlight was a group of children performing a square dance, a favourite past-time in many Inuit communities; as they got a number of our group up dancing for the crowd, this proved highly entertaining as the children were far superior dancers. This was a heart-warming event, where we were introduced to the warm hospitality and focus on family in Gjoa Haven.  What a wonderful end to our time in this community!


Warm Welcome in Gjoa Haven

August 23, 2017

Having arrived in Gjoa Haven the night before, we transferred to shore and were greeted by youth from the community – grade 11 students Barbara and Alvin proved to be warm and knowledgeable guides over the next two days.  They gave us a guided tour of the town, encouraging us to stop to photograph the muskox hide drying in front of one house, and introducing us to Wayne Puqiqnak, a local sculptor, at another.  A small group of us ended up at the local highschool, where both elementary and secondary students had gathered to learn more about the C3 journey.  I was fortunate to work with a grade 6 class after this, using the C3 giant floor map of Canada (made in collaboration with the Canadian Geographical Society and the Canadian Museum of Nature) as the basis for our discussion.  It was a hoot to crawl from coast to coast to coast as the children found places they had travelled to in the past, or dreamed of going to in the future.  The children and their teacher were lovely – curious, kind, and enthusiastic – and a highlight of my trip to Gjoa Haven.

After a short visit to Gjoa Haven’s beautiful new hamlet offices, we visited the Heritage Centre, which has a great exhibit on the history of the area, and a wonderful gallery where many in our group bought the work of local artists.  We joined the Canadian Rangers for a long hike out to Swan Lake, and were delighted to see our Captain out for a run (he did 17km around the lake and back – what a way to stay in shape at sea!)  On the way back to town we visited the monument to Roald Amundsen, the Norwegian explorer who was the first European to make it through the Northwest Passage.  Gjoa Haven is named after his ship, which spent two winters in the beautiful harbour in which our ship was now anchored.  Moments like this resonated with me as the history of these places came alive, juxtaposed by the contemporary realities of the community.  The residents of Gjoa are rightfully proud of their connection to Amundsen’s travels, as their ancestors were the ones to teach him how to survive and travel in the North. There is an important learning that can be connected to reconciliation here – all cultures have expertise and ways of knowing that can help us accomplish our hopes and goals in life, if only we are open to learning from them.

 

 

From Reconciliation to ReconciliACTION

August 22, 2017

By Tuesday of the Leg 9 C3 journey, we had gotten used to the disconcertingly loud boom-crunch as the ice hit the bow of the Polar Prince, and the sway of the ship that accompanied it, and then just like that, the ice was gone.  As we sailed down the west side of the Boothia Peninsula to King William Island, we found ourselves in calm water devoid of ice, and few views to see. So we shifted into on-board programming mode to continue our learning into the C3 themes.  Charlene Bearhead presented her work as the Education Coordinator for the National Inquiry into Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls – I can’t imagine a tougher assignment as an educator. She spoke eloquently of the many themes that have been featured in the education guide, entitled Their Voices Will Guide Us, which has been created with the spirit of these women in mind.  Over 107 reports and inquiries have been conducted on missing and murdered Indigenous women, with over 1000 recommendations, and to date few have been implemented.  Charlene spoke movingly about women she has known who have been murdered or gone missing, and described how in some cases, little has been done to investigate their disappearance. The educational materials, due out in early September, will help all of us better understand this national tragedy, and help us move from reconciliation to reconciliACTION – taking concrete actions towards reconciliation with indigenous people in our families, schools and communities.

The second highlight of the day was doing a Facebook Live session with our three youth ambassadors to highlight their special contributions to the journey.  With a beautiful sun set in the harbor of Gjoa Haven behind us, these young women told us more about themselves, and what they were learning on Leg 9.  It did give me pause to consider how many Indigenous girls and young women might still be with us to make their own important contributions if only our nation had taken action on the recommendations of these previous reports and inquiries generations earlier.  Working towards implementing the recommendations of the National Inquiry, when they are ready, will be critical work that all Canadians need to take on.

Magic in the Northwest Passage

August 21, 2017

 It was an early start to the day today; up at 6am as we were anxious not to miss our passage through the Bellot Strait.  As has been the norm, we woke up to full sun; for most of the journey so far, the sun has gotten low on the horizon at night, but hasn’t fully set, so even in the wee hours there has been daylight of varying intensity outside.  We gathered on the bow in the sunshine, waiting to see how the currents and the slack water would guide (or impede) our journey.  At only about 800 m. wide, the Strait forms a critical connection to the waters of Prince Regent Sound, and saves us going north around Somerset Island, which is still full of sea ice.  We formed an impromptu choir to sing Stan Roger’s epic song Northwest Passage on a Facebook Live Session as Bellot is considered the heart of this incredible journey.

I also spent some time in the bridge; under the expert leadership of Captain Steffan Guy, it was a quiet and tense atmosphere as the crew focused on the logistics of sailing us safely through the strait.  Little did we know how hard the crew would work this day.  As we arrived at the west end of Bellot, the sea ice began to appear, sporadically at first, and then thick enough to form a sea of white as we entered Franklin Strait. Who knew that watching an icebreaker do its work could be so fascinating? We spent hours on deck, listening to the bow crash through large chunks of sea ice, often as much as five or six feet thick. At one point, we came to the rescue of two sailboats surrounded by ice; hopping into our wake, they were relieved to have such an easy passage. To celebrate our trip through the Northwest Passage, Chef Matt prepared ‘country food’ appetizers: air-dried char (from Jaypooti’s wife), narwhal (caught by Jena’s brother), cod’s tongues, scallops/bacon, and smoked char on cucumbers. The narwhal was surprisingly tasty – not unlike sushi.  The evening ended with a giant sing-along in the Knot, thanks to four talented guitar players (who do double-duty as scientists, zodiac drivers and expedition leaders) – a magical way to end a remarkable day!

 

 

 

 

A Memorable Visit to Resolute Bay

August 19, 2017

We sometimes end our days on the ship with a sharing circle; this is a loose version of a First Nations talking circle, where each member of the journey gets to express their reflection on what we have experienced.  Tonight this lasted for an hour and half; it was an incredibly rich way to build our understanding of our adventures, and of each other.  One of the reasons tonight’s circle was so valuable was to help process our visit to the town of Resolute Bay.  This Inuit community is the second most northernly community in Canada, with a population of about 250 (more if you count the steady stream of scientists and fossil fuel explorers who travel through).  Its history is well-documented (including in a Globe & Mail feature article today by Margaret Wente, who is on this journey with us.)  In brief, Inuit families from Northern Quebec were forced by the Canadian government to relocate there in the 1950s to support a sense of Canadian sovereignty in the North; they were left on a rocky shore with no food, shelter, or means of survival. We heard this story from Allie Salluviniq today, one of the last living survivors of this relocation, right at the spot where his family landed. It says so much about the resilience of this Inuit community to not only have survived this harrowing experience, but to also have made this place home.  Allie’s family greeted us warmly, introducing us to their children and welcoming us into their homes. We were fortunate to be able to return this hospitality as they joined us for dinner on the Polar Prince; having the children on board with us was a special treat!

The warmth with which we are being greeted by the Inuit we are meeting is becoming a central theme for me on this journey.  We are having experiences in the water and on the land that leave us filled with joy and awe – the North is such a beautiful part of Canada that so few get to see.  But what is proving to be most meaningful are the people I am meeting – on the ship and from the local communities, from all walks of life, and from areas of Canada I haven’t been to before. What I am learning from them is sometimes difficult to hear – as a Canadian from the south, I am shocked to learn about the neglect and atrocities that have been inflicted on Canadians in the North over the last 150 years.  I am working through my complicity in this as a person of British ancestry; my forefathers were the ones who brought this pain and suffering to the ancestors of the people I have been meeting and travelling with over the last week.  The Inuit’s warmth, hospitality, and acceptance of all of us, despite this challenging history, is a rich life lesson about diversity, inclusion, and reconciliation – one that I will take with me long after this journey is finished.

Getting some Arctic Exercise

August 18, 2017

I continue to be surprised by how busy each day is on the C3 journey; if we’re not helping out with housekeeping or meal service, we’re often rushing to the decks to view the wildlife on the land surrounding us via binoculars (to date: one polar bear, two muskox, thousands of birds, and today, bearded seals.) But while we’re busy, there hasn’t been much time for exercise, so we headed into Sophia Inlet today, a small leg of water off of Griffith Inlet, to get some hiking in.  We stopped in two places on this tranquil bay – on a flat rocky beach at the far end of the inlet, and near a waterfall coming down a low mountain.  The beach area looked empty at first, but once we were walking, small treasures began to appear – a whale vertebrae, a weathered wooden post, kittiwake feathers, bright green algae, smooth stones, and barnacles.  This provided a welcome opportunity to create some natural collages, a way to remember what I find without taking these items home.  I’m experimenting with a range of ways to make eco-art on this trip – art that has small eco-footprints but maximum visual impact.  (I’m planning to pull them into a creative map when I’m back as a way of sharing this journey.) The second landing involved a hike up a beautiful waterfall, and then up the low mountain that it flowed down from – what a spectacular view from the plateau at the top!  We were surprised how many seal bones we found on our way up – we had found it a strenuous hike to the top, so we were left wondering which animals had the energy to carry seals up with them!  We returned to the ship feeling happy and tired, and ready for a rest in the Knot, our community lounge.  But no rest for the wicked, as they say – we jumped onto the tail end of the kayaking and the paddle-boarding taking place off the ship.  The Polar Prince was moored in Griffith Bay, surrounded by dozens of chunks of sea ice.  Squeezing into a dry suit (no small feat in itself, I discovered), I hopped into a Greenland skin-on-frame kayak, having only kayaked twice before.  As the dry suits keep you warm in the frigid waters, I could allow my full attention to focus on the tranquility of skimming through the water and admiring the multiple shades of blue ice.   The dry suit also afforded a float in the sea before getting back on the ship; it was so much fun to bob in the suit – way more fun than the polar dip the day before when I discovered how COLD the water really is! A fitting end to an active day, and a wonderful balance to our onboard programming on the ship in the evening.

Remarkable People on C3

August 17, 2017

We have some remarkable people on board leg 9 of the C3 journey; with time on board as we travel from one incredible place to the next, there is lots of time for deep conversations as we eat, participate in programming, or hang out in the ‘Knot’, the ship’s lounge. We were lucky to hear from our three youth ambassadors today – Aviaq Johnston, Marta Thorpe, and Ann Makosinski. Each is impressive in her accomplishments – Aviaq is a published author, Marta is an experienced undergrad researcher (who has milked a squirrel!), and Ann already has a few inventions under her belt at 19. (Read more about each of them here.) As one of our themes is youth engagement, I’ve been interested to learn more from these young women what has led them to be fully engaged learners? Each has spoken about the power of having dedicated and skilled teachers – for Ann, it was her parents, for Aviag, a high school teacher, and for Marta, a few of her university professors on the research site near Yellowknife.  It’s a good reminder that education can take place is many settings – you don’t need a formal classroom for engaged learning to happen.

This was only reinforced by our visit to Beechey Island tonight.  This is one of the documented landing sites of the Franklin Expedition in 1845; the graves of three of the members of their expedition are buried here. With the help of David Grey (an accomplished Arctic researcher and historian), and Tom Zagon (a member of the team that has been searching for the ships of the Franklin Expedition), we got an excellent introduction, in situ, to the early British explorers of the North West Passage.  The island is a bleak yet starkly beautiful place, and we were moved by knowing we were treading in the footsteps of these courageous men (some of whom were the age of my sons now.)  On the return to our ship (and after a wonderful reception on the Coast Guard’s ship the Henry Larsen), we were reminded of the legacy of the colonial explorers on the Inuit by Jaypooti and Jena, two of the Inuit on this journey.  Their honest sharing of the negative effects of these explorations – violence, degradation, domination, and colonialism – was a thoughtful counterbalance to the British perspective that has pervaded the history many of us have been taught about the Arctic.  Jaypooti, Jena, and Aviaq are proving to be knowledgeable, generous, and respectful teachers for us all, and we are lucky to have them on this journey with us.

A Beautiful Day in Croker Bay

Aug. 16, 2017

Each day on the Canada C3 journey brings another set of remarkable adventures, and our third day was no exception! We continued our trip through Lancaster Sound to Dundas Harbour on Devon Island.  A former RCMP and Hudson’s Bay trading post, we heard a touching story from Jena Merkosak of Pond Inlet, about her grandmother’s birth in this area.  As part of the programming on board, I was honoured to give a presentation on my own research in the area of environmental art activism, connecting to the C3 themes of Environment and Youth Engagement.  Charlene followed this with a moving presentation on residential schools and Project Heart, a community arts project that honours residential school survivors.  As someone of European ancestry, coming to terms with the intergenerational trauma caused by colonialism is difficult but necessary part of the process of reconciliation.  I appreciate Charlene’s perspective in this: there is “nothing helpful in guilting white people, or in re-traumautizing indigenous people” in this process, but “we all have to take the responsibility to teach the truth; we are all teachers.”  Figuring out who the right teachers are for different parts of this process is an ongoing conversation in our group.

The afternoon found us arriving in the spectacular beauty of Croker Bay on Devon Island.  It contains a huge glacial valley, reaching down to the sea at the Bay.  I found myself in a zodiac with experienced guide Jean Castonguay, sea ice expert Tom Zagon, and new Canadian Valerii Dombrovskyi.  With Jean doing the driving, we had the ice walls of the Devon Island Ice Cap to ourselves for an hour while the others hiked on top of it. The glacier is a stunning sight, with nature proving itself to be a skilled sculptor of ice, snow, and water; shades of white, grey and blue can be found on its multiple faces, crevices and gullies.  As we cruised along its length, we passed by many bergie bits and growlers (different sizes of sea ice), reaching out to touch their smooth surfaces as they floated by.  I got a chance to try painting with pieces of teh glacier on the beach next – one of the ways I’m trying to capture the journey artistically.  A hike on the top of the glacier followed, with my first taste of the purity of glacial water.  During this visit we were captivated by the beauty of the glacier, yet we struggled with the knowledge that it is melting quickly due to human-induced climate change, along with other parts of the polar ice cap.  I worry deeply about the effects of this, and it forms in part the impetus for my own work in Environmental & Sustainability Education.

As if the day couldn’t get any better, in the evening we found ourselves on the hangar for a special dinner prepared by chef Matt Krizan from Mahone Bay, NS.  With a view of the glacier out the back, and Matt’s broad grin presenting us a fabulous meal (how did he do this in a ship’s galley?!), we toasted how lucky we are to see these beautiful parts of Canada that few get to see.  If more could see them, would everyone work towards better addressing climate change? How will I change to do this in my own life?

Note:  Not surprisingly, wifi is proving to be elusive at times.  I am writing posts daily but sometimes having a hard time getting internet access to post them – please be patient as I get caught up.

          

Reflecting on Reconciliation

Aug. 15, 2017

Our second day on Canada C3 was a day of thinking through what reconciliation means for me.  As one of the themes of this journey, we’re practicing reconciliation by learning about the ways of knowing of the Inuit, as well as the those of First Nations’ peoples across Canada.  The morning found us in Tay Bay for our first hike on the land, guided by Jaypooti Aliqatuqtuq, an Inuit hunter, guide, and bear guard who is on this leg with us.  His deep knowledge of the land was apparent in his explanation of bear tracks, owl pellets, native plants, and hunting sites – he is attuned to details in nature that most of us missed.  Another one of the respected members of our journey is Charlene Bearhead, a knowledge-keeper from Edmonton.  A mother of 6 & grandmother to 7, Charlene has been the Education Lead on the National Truth & Reconciliation Commission, and is now the Education Coordinator of the National Inquiry into Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls.  She is also a co-chair of the Gord Downie & Chanie Wenjack Fund, which supported the Legacy Room on the ship.  This contemplative space is filled with gifts from First Nation and Inuit communities along the Canada C3 route – lacrosse sticks, an Inuit drum, handmade snowshoes, books, and many meaningful artworks.  Charlene gave us a wonderful introduction to the Room and to the Fund (if you’re not familiar with it, please look it up.)

We were honoured to witness Jaypooti give Charlene a gift of polar bear claws for this room, which came from one of his hunts – it was an emotional moment that touched us all.  And the day ended with our first spectacular polar bear sighting on an ice flow, as well as observing broad-winged murres and kittiwakes on the steep cliffs Cape Hay.  Paul Smith, a bird biologist on the trip, shared his knowledge of how these remarkable birds survive in this harsh climate. This led me to think of the knowledge, the relationships, and the resilience we can learn from the Inuit, from First Nations’ peoples, and from ‘more-than-human’ beings like polar bears and seabirds, if only we take the time to listen, to observe, to feel and to connect.  For me, part of reconciliation is learning to see and respect the deep connections between all life forms on this planet, and how we can play active roles in contributing to their – and ultimately our own – health and longetivity.