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General News · 3rd March 2009
scott mercs
Gjoa Haven is a village of 1000 people located 1200 miles directly north of Winnipeg. The Arctic ocean froze solid by mid-October, and the disappearing ice so alarmingly obvious in recent summers is only a memory to a people who endure minus 40 and 50 temperatures that occur as frequently as a strong west coast wind. Yesterday the cold reached minus 51 with a 15kmh wind chill, and last week we had a 3 day stretch of minus 42 highs and minus 54 lows. Most days the temperature swings between minus 30 - 35, and I can't remember a day since November when the mercury climbed above minus 20. The ocean ice won't break up until mid June, and Inuit people will enjoy about 4 months of boating before winter descends once again.

I manage the only hotel in the village, and most of our guests are southern construction workers or Nunavut government employees. I live in a very comfortable suite with my Inuit girlfriend Jeevua, and Travis Graham from Hollyhock arrived in October to run our hotel kitchen. Beds rent for $225 a night, and a flight from Edmonton to Gjoa Haven via Yellowknife and back costs about $4000. An apple at the store costs $2.00, a pop $3.50, a bag of chips is $2.50 and a 2 litre container of milk is $7.00. The 30 communities in Nunavut are dependant on air travel, and in this village two flights daily bring supplies and people to the village from Yellowknife and elsewhere. When I order $1000 of food and supplies for the hotel, the shipment price is about the same expense as the food, and during the ice-free summer months about a third of the Gjoa Haven's year-long food and supply needs are delivered by barge from Hay River in the Northwest Territories, at a much more affordable price. Two RCMP officers patrol Gjoa Haven, the court circuit visits once every three months to spend about a day conducting court proceedings for local defendants, and the town is run by a Senior Administration Officer (SAO) who oversees municipal expenditures and staff.

The biggest challenge we face at the hotel is fixing things when they break down. Our 2008 Ford passenger van wouldn't start three weeks ago, and there is no mechanic available to repair it. Head office is going to fly a mechanic here from Edmonton, and while the service is under warranty, the $4000 flight is not. It was about minus 42 the morning the van stopped working, and I wonder if it just froze to death. The 14 million dollar, three kilometer water line froze solid on January 17th, and an eight man crew spent three weeks and $200,000.00 trying to thaw it out and couldn't. The same thing happened last winter, and the men who built the line and wired it with heat trace told me they knew it wouldn't work because the engineers who designed it had no real grasp of the severity of the weather up here. This is not Winnipeg, where every second week the temperature climbs to minus 15 or 20. This is a place where minus 20 is unheard of for four months and where minus 50 does unpredictable things to equipment and metal. Once a week we run out of water, and we wait for the water trucks to arrive and fill our hotel storage tanks with fresh water from a lake 3 miles out of town.

I haven't been able to experience or learn about spiritual traditions of Inuit people, and this has surprised me here more than anything. Life was brutal for the people that lived here before towns were developed in the 1950s, and many older Inuit people have told me that starvation and freezing to death were common. The elders here seem at peace with the world, but people under 40 seem to struggle with the clash between traditional values and modernity. I know there is a rich spiritual tradition somewhere in the life of this place, and I've probably just been too busy to discover it.

These villages are rough looking places, and overcrowding is far too common. Every home has television, and the comforts of modern life hold a very strong attraction to people who don't share the experience they view in the pop culture. Living in Nunavut has made me appreciate the things we take for granted in our own culture. We live in paradise on Cortes, and we enjoy food that people here can only dream about. With our tremendous societal wealth, most of us have side-stepped the traumas and abuse that are more common in places like this where many people can't find enough money to eat properly. This is a lovely place, but it's not Cortes. See you in June.
Thanks for writing
Comment by Tamara on 7th March 2009
Great writing Scott! I appreciate the stories of life elsewhere, cause your right, this is paradise, and sometimes, we are to busy to appreciate it! I was surprised by the light dusting of snow we received here this morning, and yet now at 11 it is all dripping and melting. Hope you are staying warm (as you can) and keep writing!!
Winter in Winnipeg
Comment by Tom leslie on 4th March 2009
Winnipeg is a city of about 800,000 located on the 49th parallel, the river froze solid by mid-november and the poeple here endure minus 40's to minus 50's windchill as frequently as a cortes island power failure.

The ice wont break up until may. Instead of spending $4000.00 for a return trip to Gjoa-Haven you can spend only 500 for a return trip and have 3500 left over to buy a used van.

Food supplies are brought in by truck but often the road is closed due to blizzards and freezing temperatures.

We have culture here "The Ballet" where grown men dance in skin tight leotard.

And now we are home to the longest skating rink in the world nearly 9km.

Winnipeg your sub-arctic oasis awaits.
hey yuh there Scott
Comment by steve m (no, not that steve m) on 4th March 2009
thanks for the cool article - a neat little glimpse of your far north experience
i don't normally have internet at home so i seldom get to look at the Cortes website. found your other two articles from the last two years and enjoyed them too
could you send some more photos?

and thanks "" for being here