Dear Confreres, Associates, Family and Friends
Summer is slipping by quickly and, as usual, it has been full of activity and good visits. My dad, Paul and my sister Theresa came from Grande Prairie, AB for a visit at the beginning of June, driving up the Dempster highway in my sister’s new retirement RV. In July I reconnected with long lost cousins, Johnny and Wendy Johnsen, who found me on Facebook and came all the way from Spruce View, AB to visit and to enjoy the beauty of the Arctic, venturing as far as Tuktoyaktuk.
During the first week of August I welcomed Fr. Michael Bechard, chaplain of Kings’s College in London, ON along with three of his colleagues; Michelle, David and Ben, from “Northern Bridge Community Partnerships”. Northern Bridge is a new initiative which is hoping to provide opportunities for King’s students and graduates to travel to northern Canada and serve for a period of time in the small communities in whatever capacity the communities may find helpful.
Fr. Michael and the group spent a few days in Inuvik talking to community and group leaders seeing what opportunities might be available and then went off to Tsiigehtchic to do the same thing there. On the drive to Tsiigehtchic we witnessed one of the many fires blazing across the north, this one just outside of Ft. McPherson. The people did not seem too concerned about it coming nearer to town and sure enough the skies opened up that night and rain kept the fire under control.
I have just returned from a 12 day stay in Paulatuk that was filled with all kinds of good experiences. The visit began with Ocean’s Day, which was an opportunity for the community to welcome government leaders to mark Darnley Bay as Canada’s newest marine conservation area. After the dignitaries flew home it was time to begin “Iqalukpik”, the annual Arctic Char Jamboree; a thanksgiving celebration for the abundance of fish and wildlife which sustains the community throughout the year. It is a homecoming event and people from across the region returned to join the festivities.
Activities during the weekend included many traditional competitions that emphasized skills for living on the land like fish fileting, fire making, bannock baking and tea boiling. There were also some interesting strength events which include rolling and tipping a 50 gallon drum filled with water, running with heavy 5 gallon pails and towing a four wheeler ATV by rope, a necessary skill when machines break down on the tundra.
A highlight of the whole weekend was celebrating the wedding of a lovely young couple, Jill and Michael Green. Preparing for a wedding in a remote community is not an easy thing to do and I thought the bride and groom displayed great patience and good humor as I got off the plane the day before the wedding and was informed that the bride’s dress had not arrived yet and they were hoping that it was on board and luckily it was.
Besides the wedding and the Jamboree the trip was also a major opportunity to begin the renovation work on the 75 year old mission house. “Father’s House” as it is called, was the first wooden building in Paulatuk and was the center around which the rest of community has grown. The two story structure still stands strong after so many years in the elements but after having been abandoned for the past twenty years it is need of some serious repair.
As the house has fallen into neglect its windows have become the target of young, soon to be, hunters and their slingshots so we are starting by replacing all the old wooden, single pane segmented windows with modern varieties complete with double glazing and vinyl coated frames. These will be more suitable for the environment and hopefully the fact that that they are brand new will discourage future target practice. I am very grateful to All Weather Windows Canada who donated all 18 windows, enough for the whole building, as well as some spare glass replacement units for future repairs. Thanks also go to the western conference of St. Vincent de Paul who arranged for shipping of the windows, on the annual barge, to the community.
With the help of such generous benefactors renovations will hopefully continue over the next few summers until the point when we can begin to use the building again for the purpose of a food bank and thrift store for the people of Paulatuk. It was great to hear from so many members of the community who stopped by to help out and who shared what the house had meant to them when it was lived in by the local priest, Fr. Léonce. It was described as a “safe place” that children could go and visit after school and that Father was always welcoming. It was where the women would gather to sew and tell stories and where the community would celebrate Mass until finally it became too small and the new church was built. The fact that so many gave positive feedback to our work was heartening.
I had a really good helper in Stef Michniewski, a member of the St. Vincent de Paul Society out of Sherwood Park, AB, who is the liaison between the Society and community of Paulatuk. Stef has been on a tour of the region and he joined me for these days in Paulatuk to meet the people and learn a little about the hamlet. Stef is retired but still full of energy and enthusiasm and didn’t even complain when temperatures in our rustic accommodations dropped into the single digits during the night.
Upon my return to Inuvik I will have just a few short days in the parish before I leave for my “summer” vacation. Rather than heading south I will begin my holiday heading northward. The plan is to do a solo kayak trip from Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk on the Mackenzie River and along the coast of the Beaufort Sea. I have done the trip many times in the winter following the ice road in my truck but it will be whole new experience to see it up close, on the water, and over the period of several days. Along the way I am planning on stopping at some of the abandoned Inuvialuit settlements that dot the Mackenzie delta. These camps, some of which are over one thousand years old, hold the history of the northern people in their earth and are still reverently spoken of and visited by the local people. I will share the experiences of my trip with you when I return.
Until next time, Peace