Thursday, April 9, 2020

St. Georges Society Cliffs – Revisited

Taking pictures of the community on March 30 made me think of another place I hadn’t been to in many years: St. Georges Society Cliffs.  The last time I walked along the top of these cliffs was in 2013.  They’re commonly known as ‘The Cliffs’, most likely because saying the official title all the time is exhausting.  Similarly, we just say ‘King George’ instead of King George V Mountain.  I decided to hike to The Cliffs on April 5.  My skidoo was in the shop being fixed so I didn’t have a choice.

Arctic Bay Airport

I packed for a day trip.  My essentials were: GPS, SPOT, batteries, gun, ammunition, machete, binoculars, toilet paper, snacks, juice boxes, Ziploc bags, matches, mirror, and a spare pair of gloves.  I doubted I would encounter aggressive wildlife, but you can never be sure.

I stepped outside, wearing my heavy Canada Goose clothing.  My backpack was full and my .22 rifle was slung across my chest.  The trigger & bolt locks would be removed when I reached the outskirts of town.  There were some clouds in the sky but for the most part, the weather was all sun & clear blue skies.  I was wearing my heavy clothing because I didn’t want to get stuck at The Cliffs, cold, and underdressed.  Even though it’s early spring, the weather can still suddenly change, especially at higher altitudes.

I began my hike at 10:30am.  The community was relatively quiet.  I followed the road to Victor Bay, listening to my boots crunching the snow on the ground.  A pickup truck drove by while I was near the top of the hill where the road crests and can no longer be seen from Arctic Bay.  I wondered if the driver saw my rifle and assumed I was going hunting?  I stopped at the wooden iglutaq I previously photographed and removed the two locks on my rifle.  I loaded a magazine and checked to make sure the safety was still on.  Now I was “packing heat”.   

I walked across a frozen pond, passed the spot where I slid down a hill, and ascended a snow-covered slope.  I’m not sure how much weight I was carrying, but it felt like a lot.  I thought I would be a few pounds lighter by the end of the day.  I continued walking south, looking at all the rocks littering the snowy landscape.  I returned to the place where I photographed Arctic Bay on March 30.  I took several more pictures.

I stopped next to a big rock to catch my breath.  I marked the large boulder on my GPS as a future point of reference.  The GPS was also tracking my every move and displaying the path I was in the process of creating.  I continued walking towards The Cliffs, the crunching sounds of snow being my only companion.  The second big rock I marked on my GPS was on top of another hill.  I hiked up this hill by moving from one small rock to another so that I wouldn’t slip.

I knew I reached The Cliffs when I saw an inuksuk sitting on top of a rock.  However, there was only one.  There were three inuksuks in 2013.  I was certain I was in the right place.  The natural elements must have knocked over the other two.  I took a picture of the remaining inuksuk and then began inspecting The Cliffs.

The Cliffs haven’t changed much in the last 7 years.  In fact, I don’t think they have changed at all.  The land changes very, very slowly.  The Cliffs are still rocky and jagged.  I walked carefully and snapped as many pictures as I could.  I also aimed my camera at the large pyramid shaped mountain on the other side of Adams Sound.  The Sound was completely frozen. 

There were two visible skidoo trails in Adams Sound.  Both began at Arctic Bay on my left but split into two different directions.  The first one extended diagonally across the Sound towards Cape Cunningham while the second lay parallel to The Cliffs.  I spotted two skidoos driving along the first trail.  The second skidoo was pulling a qamutik.  The first skidoo was way ahead of the second one.  I assumed the people down there were going camping / hunting.  They were taking social distancing to the extreme.  I could still hear the engines roaring along even though I was far away.

I sat down and rested for some time.
  The sun was still shining and the sky was mostly blue.  The views of Adams Sound & Admiralty Inlet were great.  There was a very light breeze in the air.  Silence was omnipresent.  It was just me & my thoughts.  My Canada Goose clothing kept me quite warm.  If I had stayed in that spot for a little while longer, I probably would have dozed off.

I continued walking along the edge of The Cliffs and took more pictures.  Suddenly, I spotted a large rock with a giant crack down its centre.  This was my first time seeing this rock.  I was perplexed as to how this giant boulder could have broken into two pieces?  Was it gravity or years & years of slow erosion?  I took a closer look at this giant boulder before returning to photographing The Cliffs.  Satisfied with the many pictures I collected, I turned north, heading inland, towards the hill I ascended at the beginning of the hike.

Victor Bay.
The return walk took me across two small frozen lakes and two rocky hills.  I used my GPS to guide me back to where I started.  The trail I created somewhat resembled an oval.  Victor Bay came into view after an hour of walking.  I photographed the bay, noting a long skidoo trail extending across the entire bay and beyond.  The trail leads to the floe edge.

Victor Bay.

I was able to find the same spot where I slid down a hill (last month) to get to the road to Victor Bay.
  I walked across the same frozen pond but in the opposite direction.  When Arctic Bay came into view I stopped, unloaded my rifle, and placed locks on the trigger & bolt.  I followed the road down to the community.

A large white hare ran across the snow when I entered the community.  It stopped several times to eat and look around.  I used these precious moments to photograph the animal.  The last time I saw it was next to an orange loader.

Overall, I enjoyed my hike to The Cliffs.  I came, I saw, I photographed.  The activity gave me the perfect excuse to go outside & get some exercise for a couple of hours.  I didn’t have to worry about social distancing because I was alone. 

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Out For A Walk

There were two other things I wanted to mention in my previous post but I decided to cut them from the final draft because the post was getting too long.  I will address them here.  You probably already know about them from news outlets but I want to have them on record for my blog.  Sorry to have to make you wait so long.
The first is the Government of Nunavut “spen[ding] just over $5 million dollars” to recover from the infamous ransomware attack of November 2019.  The money was spent on reformatting government computers and designing a new “state-of-the-art” system to prevent future attacks.  Microsoft’s Detection and Remediation Team (DART) assisted with the analysis of the attack & design of the new system.  Hopefully, the updated system is up and running by now.  An analysis report of the attack is to be delivered to the government in late April.
The second is the cancellation of the 2020 Arctic Winter Games (AWG).  The Games were scheduled to take place in Whitehorse from March 15 to 21.  The cancellation was announced on March 7 with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic being the reason.  CBC News North reported that “about 2000 athletes […] from […] Russia, Greenland, Finland, Norway, Yukon, Nunavut, Nunavik, Northwest Territories, northern Alberta, and Alaska were supposed to attend.”  Canada sends multiple teams from different regions but they compete on their own.  The Nunavut team included many athletes from Arctic Bay.  Naturally, they were all shocked & disappointed by the cancellation.  Several of them told me how excited they were to be representing the territory in the Games.  Now all that excitement was gone.  Thankfully, the next AWG is in 2022. 

I have been wanting to attend the AWG for a very long time but my occupation and other commitments prevent me from getting the necessary time off.  It’s a big northern event that I would like to cover for this blog.  Hopefully, in the near future, I will be given the opportunity to attend the Games in some capacity.  Coach?  Spectator?  Freelance journalist?  Doesn’t matter as long as I’m there.
Speaking of sports cancellations, (this is new news, by the way), the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the Japanese government announced on March 24 the postponement of the 2020 Tokyo Olympic & Paralympic Games for a year.  Wow.  COVID-19 has really impacted and taken hold of world affairs.  At first, the IOC & Japan reassured everyone that the Games would proceed, but it didn’t take long for the pandemic to change their minds.  The postponement will lead to serious financial losses for sponsors, broadcasters, and the city of Tokyo.  Estimates are somewhere in the billions of dollars.  In the past, the Olympics have been cancelled in 1916, 1940, and 1944 because of the world wars.
South of the border, COVID-19 cases in the United States continue to skyrocket.  In just two weeks, the country has racked up more than 160,000 cases!  That’s close to double the amount China has recorded . . . officially.  And the disease is not stopping.  The acceleration began on March 17, the same day the three-week school closure in Nunavut started.  I’m not sure what happened on that day to cause COVID-19 to go on the offensive.  Maybe it wanted to “celebrate” St. Patrick’s Day its own way?  Or maybe it’s the American we-always-need-to-be-first-in-everything mentality?  Whatever the reason, the people in charge need to take charge and stop the disease from causing more problems & misery. 

It was a sunny day in Arctic Bay on March 22.  I decided to go out for a walk and photograph the town in this brave new COVID-19 world.  The disease was not present in the community but everyone was being told to practice social distancing and frequently wash their hands.  Being outside would give me a short break from being inside.  I didn’t want to develop cabin fever.

The sun shined brightly as I walked towards the centre of town.  I took pictures of houses, King George V Mountain, the hockey arena, the Tangmaarvik Inn, a loud raven sitting on a ledge, sled dogs, and kids skating on a large outdoor rink.  A local used a CAT loader to push snow to two opposite ends, making a smooth icy surface. 

I stepped into the Northern Store to buy a few items.  The store is operating under strict guidelines.  Only 10 people are allowed inside at a time.  You have to line up outside and wait to be let in by a guard.  I think the Co-op is doing something similar.  Masks are not required; just stay six feet apart.
I went for a second extended walk on March 30.  The feeling of wanting to get out of the house was in me.  The sun was out and I decided to walk to Uluksan Point to take some pictures.  I stopped halfway to the cemetery, turned around, and took several pictures of the community.  Suddenly, a thought came to my head.  I looked at the tall rocky hills on my left and realized that it had been several years since I hiked up there.  Doing so now would enable me to photograph the town from a higher altitude.  I changed my plan and took to the hills.

Hiking up the hill was a slow, tiring process because I was wearing heavy clothing.  I took my time because I had plenty of it to spare.  I stopped halfway and took a few pictures.  I kept the best ones and continued my ascent.  I reached the top and took as many pictures as I could.  I photographed the town, its neighbourhoods, and landmarks.  The view was grand & picturesque. 

Arctic Bay Health Centre.
Old Bed & Breakfast.
Hockey Arena.
French boat Vagabond.
Two new buildings have been added to the Uptown neighbourhood where I reside: a five-plex social housing apartment block at one end and a small rectangular shaped blue house.  I heard the blue house was purchased & brought up on sealift by the Northern Store as staff housing.  The French boat Vagabond is still frozen in the ice near the Gas Station.  It’s still in one piece.   

I started my hike at noon.  The town was quiet because everyone was inside eating lunch.  I was standing at the top of the rocky hill when the time was 1pm.  It only took a few minutes for the town to “come alive”.  People emerged from their dwellings and started going wherever they needed to go.  Cars, trucks, skidoos, and Hondas (atvs) made start-up noises and began moving in various directions.  A snowplow slowly cleared snow off the main road on the west side of the town.  A jeep drove onto the frozen ice in the bay and had no difficulty driving all the way to the Northern Store.  My one regret is not filming this transition from silence to bustling activity.  There will be a next time.

My last photograph of the area was two hunters returning from a hunt.  They were driving their skidoos towards the community, following a trail in the centre of the frozen bay.

Hamlet Office (City Hall).
I walked in the direction of Victor Bay, not wanting to slide down the hill I ascended.  I slid down a hill next to a small frozen pond.  Sliding was a lot faster than descending in steps.  I walked across the pond and followed the Victor Bay road to Arctic Bay.  I photographed a wooden iglutak on the side of the road.  I’m not sure if it’s abandoned or placed there on purpose.  I safely made it home and spent the next several hours editing the photographs I took. 

Friday, March 20, 2020

Brave New World

The two biathlon cadets of 3045 Army Cadet Corps returned from the National Biathlon Competition in Valcartier, Quebec, on March 9.  They had a lot of fun despite not winning any medals.  Their parents & I were relieved that nothing bad happened while they were travelling.  Contrary to popular belief, travelling to southern Canada for many Nunavummiut, especially youth, carries the risks of experiencing culture shock and loss of direction.  Everything is larger, louder, and more chaotic.  It’s why northern corps stress that if cadets have to travel down south alone, there should be officers meeting & directing them at the airports.  We were glad this happened and the level of supervision was good.

March is still a cold month in Arctic Bay.  It’s like February but with more sunlight.  I always find the ice buildup on furnace chimneys visually impressive.  They start off small but grow and grow into tall ice sculptures.  The ice is chipped off but some households choose to wait for the warm weather of late April & May to melt the ice away.  I hope the people inside aren’t suffering.
The construction site at the community’s new fire hall has sat quietly since the start of winter.  Construction will not resume until the summer.  The exterior appears complete and only the interior needs work.  Sea cans, wooden crates, and generators sit around the fire hall.
In Grade 10 English, we began reading the novel Never Cry Wolf by Farley Mowat.  The books were purchased over the Christmas break.  I had grown tired of using two other novels and wanted to expand my choices.  I chose this novel because it’s written by a famous late Canadian author and the story’s setting is Northern Canada.
My Grade 11 Social Studies students & I studied the First World War and Canada’s involvement in the world conflict.  It’s the one topic I always teach in the course because I find it fascinating.  By the middle of the month, we were learning about the weapons used, the devastating effects of shell shock & trench foot, and examining four major battles of the war, one of them being the Battle of Vimy Ridge.
My Grade 10 Guitar students spent the first half of the month learning simple songs, eighth notes, basic chords, strumming patterns, and playing as a group.  I began researching the songs they submitted for the class fake book.    
And then everything changed.
It appears my prediction about the Coronavirus was wrong.  Very wrong.  Looks like it’s going to stay here for a lot longer than I thought.  The rate of infection and spread of the virus has sent the entire world into a panic.  Things escalated quickly over the course of a few days.  The World Health Organization (WHO) released a lengthy statement on February 11, giving the virus a new name: COVID-19.  I should have mentioned this in my previous post but forgot.  You can click here and read why they chose that name. 
The escalation began when Italy imposed a nation-wide quarantine on March 9.  Just under 9,000 cases were reported but that was enough to warrant the lockdown.  Restrictions limited ravel and many non-essential services were closed.  The restrictions weren’t as strict as the ones imposed in China.  Still, many other countries wondered if they would have to follow suit?  The answer came very quickly.
The WHO declared COVID-19 a pandemic on March 11.  Major outbreaks were reported in South Korea, Iran, and France.  On March 12, the Canadian province of Ontario announced the closure of all schools for 2 weeks after March Break.  The closure is to stop the spread of the virus.  The virus had reached Canadian soil by this point but with only a few confirmed cases.  Other provinces followed with their own school closures.

Observing these closures from Arctic Bay made everyone wonder if the Government of Nunavut would do the same?  I found that difficult to believe because my school rarely closes.  We only close, at most, a few times each year.  The decision was made on March 16 during lunchtime.

I was in the staff room eating my lunch and talking to several teachers when the principal walked in and announced the closure of all Nunavut schools & public facilities for 3 weeks.  One teacher found a CBC News North article reporting on the announcement.  I was truly surprised.  This is the first time something like this has happened in the 7 years living & teaching in the community.  Bilingual letters were being quickly written for students and announcements were being prepared for Facebook & local radio.  The closure was to begin on March 17, the next day.

High school midterm exams were set to begin the following week when the closure was announced.  Much time was spent putting the exams together and creating a three-day schedule.  The announcement forced the cancellation of midterms.  I’m certain other high schools in the territory were forced to do the same.

Students were surprised by the announcement.  I found a timeline video on YouTube that showed how COVID-19 spread across the world up until early March.  I showed the video to the high school students before they were dismissed.  I pointed to the number of people recovering from the disease, emphasizing it as a positive sign.  That appeared to calm some of their worries.  I ended the spontaneous presentation with the phrase, “See you all in 3 weeks.”

I postponed cadets for the duration of the closure because the school was off limits.  That and I received orders from the military brass that all cadet activities are postponed until April.   The community hall & arena are also closed to the public.  For the next three weeks, everyone is instructed to stay at home, only go out when necessary, and stay 6 feet apart from everyone.  Handshakes are discouraged; instead, people are encouraged to bump elbows!  Well, at least it’s not headbutts. 

It’s now the third day of the closure and things are still escalating.  Cases in the United States are increasing at an alarming rate.  People are panic buying and hoarding supplies.  Stores down south are reporting many empty shelves that were stocked with toilet paper, hand wipes, face masks, hand sanitizers, painkillers, and food.  There are also reports of people selling these items at inflated prices on the internet and in parking lots.  I’m glad to see sites like Amazon & EBay stopping people from using their platforms to make a quick buck from the pandemic.  It’s like we’re all living a real disaster movie.

I’m doing alright up here in the far north.  I have enough toilet paper to last me a long time.  The people of Arctic Bay are calm and remaining hopeful that the disease will not reach them.  One benefit of living in a remote community.  At the present time, there are no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the community and in Nunavut.  I’ve been keeping myself busy by exercising, watching movies, reading, and playing piano.
With no school & cadets happening, I’m predicting fewer events to cover on this blog but I’ll keep writing.  This pandemic is big news and I can only imagine what will happen when the virus arrives in the territory.  The airline & tourism industries are going to suffer a lot financially because not many people will be travelling for the foreseeable future. 
Based on everything that has happened, two things are certain: 2020 is turning out to be a bad year for everyone and we’ve all entered a brave new world.

Here's a great YouTube video by Kurzgesagt - In A Nutshell explaining the Coronavirus & what you can do to protect yourself: "The Coronavirus Explained & What You Should Do".

Sunday, March 1, 2020

Late February (2020)

Professional Improvement (PI) Week, also known as (aka) Professional Development (PD) Week, occurred the week of February 17 – 21.  Students were off school while teachers attended school to learn & upgrade their teaching skills.  There was no teacher conference this year so the staff & I stayed in the community.  I couldn’t find any courses/workshops in other places that interested me.
I signed up for a workshop & an online course.  The two-day workshop was Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST), delivered by two trained instructors from LivingWorks, a suicide prevention centre.  The workshop specializes in suicide prevention & first aid, and the content is constantly updated.  The last time I took this course was in 2014 so it was time for an update.  The recent spate of suicides & tragedies in the community last year influenced me & many others to take this course.
My classroom was used for the workshop.  I made sure there were enough Kleenex boxes.  The course was attended by several teachers, nurses, and two high school students.  Suicide is a very difficult topic to discuss in Nunavut because the territory is the grip of a suicide epidemic.  I’m not sure what the current rate is, but it’s unacceptably high when compared to the rest of Canada.  Whenever a death by suicide occurs in the North, it affects many people.  Everyone in the North knows at least one family member, relative, and/or friend that died by suicide.  It must not be this way.
We received bilingual Participant Workbooks, written in English & Inuktitut.  The workbooks contain valuable information on recognizing suicidal thoughts & behaviours, intervening, and creating a safe plan.  The centrepiece of the course is the Pathway for Assisting Life (PAL), a detailed diagram that explains how to assist someone who is in distress and thinking about suicide.  The instructors trained us how to use it properly.
We read, asked questions, took notes, watched videos, role-played, and shared personal stories.  The videos were filmed & produced in Iqaluit.  The most serious & emotional parts were the personal stories because they were real.  The ones who struggled received support everyone. 

In the end, we all came out stronger and united in the fight against suicide.  We received certificates of completion and ASIST stickers to let people know that we received training.  I pasted my stickers on my classroom door.  I do recommend this course if you work in the public & private sectors.  It’s open to anyone.

The online course I took was Conflict Resolution: An Introduction from the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD).  The American-based company was “[f]ounded in 1943 [and] develops programs, products, and services essential to the way educators learn, teach, and lead.”  Their website offers a variety of online course, books, and other resources for educators.  I did complete an online course of theirs in the past so I decided to give another one a try. 

I took the Conflict Resolution course because I feel I’m not trained enough in dealing with difficult situations.  Maybe I am, but I prefer to be overprepared.  Every person is different so if trouble arises, I would like to have many options to resolve the problem.  The problems can be with teachers, parents, and/or students.  The course did teach me a few methods to use but I made sure to write that their instructional videos need to be updated on the feedback form.  The videos are too old.  

I did some professional reading on the last day of PI Week because I finished the online course early.  The readings dealt with differentiated learning and classroom management.

Two Elders visited Inuujaq School on February 26 to talk to the high school students about bullying, its consequences, and how to stop it.  The Elders were Qapik Attagutsiak and Tommy Tatatuapik.  The talk was held in the math & science room in the afternoon.  The visiting Elders were given two very comfortable chairs to sit on.  Both spoke in Inuktitut.  A few parts were translated into English for the southern teachers.  Students & teachers were allowed to ask questions.  From what I observed, the anti-bullying talk was well-received by everyone in attendance, and the Elders were thanked for talking to the high school students.
A soccer camp workshop was held at the school on February 28 & 29.  The workshop was organized by the community’s Hamlet Office.  Two teachers, who are also experienced soccer coaches, flew up from Toronto to instruct students and community members.  I briefly watched the coaches at work with the high school students on the morning of February 28.  The students practiced dribbling in pairs and played a round robin game of soccer.  The students had a lot of fun.  The coaches worked with all classes throughout the day.  The soccer balls & nets the coaches brought up were donated to the school.

The two 3045 cadets selected to attend the National Biathlon Competition in Valcartier, Quebec, left on the morning of February 29.  I did not travel with them because there wasn’t enough money for a third plane ticket.  They would meet the other northern cadets & their coach at the airport in Montreal.  The two cadets would be travelling with the same two Iqaluit air cadets from the previous trip in January.  My newly promoted Master-Corporal cadet would be in charge of supervising the other three cadets during travel.  I gave her a quick crash course in effective supervision.

I arrived at the airport with Frank to make sure the check in process would go smoothly.  It did.  The cadets were required to travel in uniform.  They looked excited to be travelling to Quebec.  The newly promoted Lance-Corporal cadet would be travelling there for the first time.  She joined the corps in August 2019 and was already on her second out-of-town trip.  I checked to make sure both cadets had all the documents I gave them a few days ago.  I took a photograph of them next to the Inuk hunter mannequin just as the Canadian North plane was taxiing to the terminal.  Their parents, Frank, & I wished them the best and watched them board the plane.  As the plane taxied to the gravel runway, I hoped there wouldn’t be any problems along the way.  I had been promised there would be officers to meet the cadets in Ottawa and Montreal.  They would be out of town until March 9.
And finally, the media has been reporting on a new illness that’s been spreading in Asia and Europe.  The virus is called Coronavirus and it’s been hitting China pretty hard since the new year began.  Recently, Italy is seeing a dramatic increase in cases.  There are a few cases in North America but the virus isn’t spreading as fast.  Hopefully, it won’t.  The name makes me think of a virus that makes you addicted to Corona beer.  Apparently, the virus is similar to SARS and other RNA viruses.  I’m thinking this will be another one hit wonder disease like SARS & H1N1.  It’ll come and go.  Sure, many people will get infected but most will recover.  I’ll admit it’s been over a century since the last major pandemic, but maybe major pandemics are a thing of the past? 

The Chinese authorities have locked down Wuhan in the hope of containing the virus.  They even built two new hospitals in a matter of days to combat the virus!  That’s quite an accomplishment.  It takes forever for roads to be repaired/repaved here in Canada.  I wonder if Italy and other countries will be forced to do the same?  Only time will tell.