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Saturday 18 January 2014

A month of entries

Home for the holidays. 

One thing that's really difficult about being so far away from home is how much I miss my family and friends.  I have had an unreal experience in Nunavut so far and more importantly in Whale Cove. A lot has happened since my last blog so again, I'll split it up a bit. 

-Hockey update--

First off, I need to talk about the crazy media experience December turned out to be. Apparently that fundraising site that I started and the story that goes along with it garnered some heavy media coverage. I have been in awe since that whole thing started.  I now just can't wait for March when my bunch of boys from Whale Cove roll into Greenstone. They are going to be little celebrities!  It's very exciting to think about. Next is the tryouts for the team... Those start when I get back. We might be able to take a few more than originally planned now! Again, I have a lot of you to thank for making your donations and contributions. Without my friends and family involvement there would be no story for the media to cover so closely. So... Thank You. 

--Va cay--

This trip home has been an amazing break! I got to visit with so many people that I've not had the chance to see in many years. I finally got off a plane in Winnipeg and got to visit my aunt and uncle for the night! It was unreal seeing them! My tiny little cousin... Is all grown up now! Awesome job Tina and Greg!! She's going to make you guys so proud!

After my quick visit in Winnipeg I hopped in my car with my parents (who drove all the way from the Soo  to pick me up) and we were off to Longlac.  With a very hectic and speedy 5 hour visit in Thunder Bay.  Finally we arrived in Longlac at 3:30 am. Longest day of life. But it was awesome to see everyone!!

The next day was filled with so many smiles, hugs and stories. I was welcomed back to Greenstone with a Pancake Breakfast at GCHS. (With all proceeds going to the Whale Cove hockey team)  I went and visited many friends and got to throw a party at my house for everyone. 

I brought a taste of the North for everyone to try. (thanks George!) we sliced up some beluga (maktaaq). And I was impressed with how many people wanted to try it!!  Awesome. 

Then we were off to the Soo.  I can't explain how amazing it felt to see my Family and friends  in the Soo. It's crazy how you can move away from a place and never realize how much you missed it until you come back. And suddenly you're home again. We drove by Old Woman's Bay and that feeling struck me hard. I was home. 

I spent a little more than a week visiting with family and friends, meeting great new people an hearing all the awesome news that surrounds my best and closest friends!! "Another baby on the way!!" to "fergs wedding in August to look forward to" and "Dave finally found a great girl!"

I'm definitely going to miss everyone like crazy. But now I'm in an airplane headed to Toronto for some overdue visiting there!  I'm about to land so... Ill continue this later. 

...Three weeks later... 

So I got back to Whale Cove safely. Just in time too (the day i returned there was a blizzard that shut down the town for two days.)

Firstly, my trip to Toronto/Burlington was awesome. It was really nice to spend some time with some friends I haven't seen in way too long! Such a great time. Missed you guys a lot!  That trip was definitely overdue. 

Once I got back to Whale Cove, reality sunk in. January is F'n cold here. It was hard getting used to the temps again. For the past two weeks it has been below -45 with the windchill. Sometimes reaching down lower than-55. Just yesterday I almost cried when I was walking back from the rink. My body was so cold! The wind literally ripped through my clothes like they were made of mesh. I wasn't ready for that. Snow pants for that walk might be needed from now on. 

As I have been welcoming every opportunity to experience the land, wildlife and everything else that Whale Cove has to offer... I didn't hesitate to continue this trend when Shon and Michael asked if we wanted to join them on a seal hunt at the flow edge. This is where the Arctic Ocean is still water. We drove out on the sea ice to the waters edge. It was a miraculous day. Words can not explain that day. 
We did not see any seals but we did see plenty of wildlife. It is simply amazing that animals can survive this weather, but it is unexplainable how the flocks of ducks that we saw swimming in the ocean at the flow edge can live here year round. These ducks were splashing and playing in the water like the geese would do at Bellvue Park back home. Only difference is that on that day last weekend the temperature was -52.  How can these birds survive!?  Simply unreal.  Hopefully we can get out again soon. 

...another hockey update...

In the last two weeks we have been making preparations to make this trip to Ontario even more special. Last week, I was contacted by a representative of Rogers Media and Sportsnet.  They have shown interest in our story up here and have decided that they want to cover the entire event in march. They (a camera crew, a few sportsnet personalities and a producer) will be coming to Whale Cove and will be filming here for 4 or 5 days. They will interview some local people about their lives in Whale Cove, they will shoot from the rink during a practice and they will have the chance to speak to the boys. Then they will be joining us on our trip to Greenstone!  They will be with us every step of the way an will end with us extending our trip to Toronto!!  I'm not sure yet what the details of the Toronto trip will be. But. I'm sure it's going to be amazing!!

I am simply blown away by all of this! Amazing.  

Signing off. If you haven't already. Join "happiness in hockey" on Facebook and follow us there. I'll be updating that site regularly now. 

Thursday 28 November 2013

Fundraising and Polar Bears

Well it's almost the end of November and I would be lying if I said that I wasn't looking forward to Christmas!!  It will be a welcomed break and a great visit with everyone!  I am hoping that everything works out well with the flights...and if so, I'll be flying to Winnipeg on December 16th. And heading home to the Sault with mom and dad from there (with visits in Winnipeg, Thunder Bay and longlac!). Merry Christmas to me!!

I have honestly had an amazing few weeks. I'm starting to get comfortable with the winter and have begun accepting that the sun now sets before 3:00 pm. And rises well after I am in the school.
I do not get to witness much of the sunlight (except on my cold, brisk walk home for lunch). I have started to secretly take up yoga and I am the new proud owner of a 2-month-old full beard.  
I have learned a few lessons (self-taught) that I thought I would share with everyone...
1. No matter how well you think you know a "shortcut"... Stick to the road, path or trail during the winter. About a week back, I came out of the coop (the only place to buy something in Whale Cove) and decided Id take a short cut... I'd walk off the trail and go up behind a few buildings... head through the school parking lot and up to my house. Anyways, I seriously only made it about 50 feet, fell through the snow, and actually ended up getting absolutely soaked. I was chest high in snow and couldn't get out. I worked a while and climbed out, just to fall back in. After I finally got out of the snow and back on to the "long way home", I still had about a 7 minute walk in -40 degree winds. By the time I got home, my one soaked boot (somehow there was about a foot of water at the bottom of the hole I fell into... I don't understand how "water" exists in these temperatures but it was definitely there)  so... Anyways, my soaked boot was like a cinder block, my pants were seriously frozen and my legs were absolutely numb, dark red and tingly ... Lesson #1... Learned. 

Lesson 2...Whether we like it or not, our surroundings don't have much effect on our overall lives or happiness. I have started to recognize that wherever I am and whatever the circumstances... It's on me to be happy. I could find things to dwell on and be miserable about... Sure.  
It's consistently -40 with a horrible wind, I can't really go outside without the threat of being attacked by a polar bear and I rarely see the sun (unless its through my classroom window). Boooohoooo right? Poor Andy?  Haha. It's actually the opposite. I don't think I've been happier here than I have been in the last few weeks. And a lot of that has to do with you guys.  I started to feel down, feel trapped... (Not that everyone here isn't amazing because like I've said plenty of times now... They are by far the nicest people, the most welcoming and kind people I've ever met... And I genuinely feel at home.) But the lack of sun, activity, the fact that i have no method of getting out on the land and just being homesick had brought me to a place I didn't like... 

I woke up one day determined to find something to lift my spirits, and somehow I thought of an idea that could do just that. I started to plan a trip home. But not just any average trip home. I started to put together a plan that would allow me to bring ten boys from Whale Cove home with me. I started to plan a hockey trip... One that would be monumental not just for me, but for many. I started by trying to make sense of how expensive everything is here... Trying to cut corners. I priced a trip out for 12 people to go from here to Geraldton, and the best prices I could come up with were roughly $3000 a person. Just insane. And not doable in little Whale Cove... But, all day I spent trying to bring that price down, and by the end of it... I had it cut in half. Aeroplan is a wonderful thing when you live in the north. Did you know a flight from Taipei to Canada is actually cheaper than a flight from Nunavut to Thunder Bay??? But aeroplan considers Nunavut to Manitoba (direct) therefore being compared to the cheapest flight possible.  ;)  anyways... Where you all come in... During my attempts to make this a reality, I leaned on a few people who I have always known to be very helpful and insightful... And sure enough... I was helped immensely.  "There's this website for fundraising... I get emails for it all the time. You should look into it. It's called People would help you fundraise from all over. It's perfect for your team!"  
Thanks Lisa.   

I sat back after about an hour of setting the site up and watched you all remind me how lucky I am. In a really weird way, that day was the best day here. But I did nothing at all. I seriously sat on the couch... Watched the hockey games and continuously was reminded of my friends and family as the countless donations for my hockey team poured in. I received over 100 emails and the team fundraising site: was shared over 300 times.  My friends and family and a few complete strangers opened their hearts for a good cause and raised over $1300 in the first day.  And by doing so... Made me realize how lucky we all are to have each other. To have what we have and to want what we want.  

So... Enough corny talk... But before I move on... I want to say thanks. Thank you not just for your kindness and support, but thanks for all the things people normally don't say thanks for. Thank you for making me smile, for that time You called to talk, or that time you sent an email... Thanks for everything. OKAY... Moving on.  

I am now proud to say that I have stood in front of a polar bear and was able to take it all in. I took pictures... Lots of pictures.
I stood 80 meters or so away from it and zoomed in as close as my camera would zoom.  The entire time being completely in awe of how amazing this animal was, how majestic it was and truly how dangerous it was. Haha.
It is hard to grasp, but not being the "alpha mammal" is actually empowering once you accept it.  Maybe I'll try and explain that some other time. Can't find those words right now... But, knowing that at any moment, if it wanted to, that bear could really be deadly... Actually somehow made me feel peaceful. Yea... Too hard to explain. And I just sound nuts. Haha. Some other time.  

So the weather here, like I said is basically the same everyday now. It's -25 to -40 but with wind it feels much colder. It's kinda similar to Northern Ontario's coldest. "Our dead of winter". But it's two months away from the "dead of winter".  We have yet to see a blizzard. Which is abnormal. They said last year by this time there were many days that school was cancelled because of blizzards. During a blizzard, there is heavy snowfall and massive 70-100 km/hr winds. Which makes it so people can't see outside. It is very dangerous to even go outside as you might get lost, and in those temps, it wouldn't take long to freeze to death. Haha.  So yea. A little worse than a blizzard back home.  Hopefully we don't see many of those.
I hope everyone is doing fabulous, and I'll be home in less than 3 weeks to have a good visit!  Talk soon

If you are interested in helping my hockey team please visit the site below. 

And again thanks to everyone who has already supported us!  Simply amazing how kind everyone has been!

Thursday 7 November 2013

Polar Bear season.

In the last few weeks I have witnessed yet again, a lot of change.  One thing that has become very evident in my short stay here is that the only thing that is guaranteed... is... change.  The vast open land that we travelled over with absolutely no trail, covered in small shrubs, lichen and berries now covered in a thick layer of hard packed ice and snow.  The lakes that we were fishing in less than a month ago, are now blanketed by almost a foot of ice.
And most amazingly, the sun that was up past midnight on the night of my arrival... now sets before 3:45pm.

I thought of how I was going to write this blog entry, and a lot has happened since my last. I decided that the best way is to break it up into two sections (my social life, and the polar bear hunt) this might make it easier to read and more importantly...easier to write.

What to do on the weekend?

Whale Cove, as most of you know by now, is very small. 

It is only roughly 400 people.  There is no restaurant, no pool hall and definitely no dance clubs.  This does not mean that there isn't anything to do.  

Take for instance a few weeks ago... I was sitting in the staff room talking about what I was planning on doing for the weekend.  Before I knew it, my plans changed three times and I was taking part in a 9-ball tournament on Friday, going fishing Saturday and playing in a poker tournament Saturday night. 

I know, I said that there is no pool hall... and there isn't.  One of my co-workers (Sophie) and her husband (Peter) have a pool table in their house.  This thing is amazing!  A very nice pool table.  I couldn't believe it!  Anyways, I lost badly.  So did Morteza.  But it was very nice to get out and shoot some pool!  Next time I will do much better! ;)

Poker here is very common and popular.  I guess it is just like everywhere else I have been.  Poker is played to basically get a group of friends around a table and have some laughs.  Really good poker players here. I have been lucky a few times... but I am convinced now that they are just trying to make me feel comfortable and confident before they fleece me! haha.  I really enjoy the times that I can get out and play poker with everyone.  It is a lot of fun and a great way to become more involved with the community and get to meet more people.  My poker buddies have also become some of the people I am closest to here in town.  Shon, George and Benji are great guys who have taken the time to show me a lot of their hunting and fishing ways.  There is a lot to be learned as a Qaabluna (white person) up here and I am very grateful and glad that they are taking the time to show me.  I owe a lot of my fun times and amazing experiences to these guys.

As I said, the lakes are completely frozen over and are safe to go on now.  They have been for a few weeks.  We have started making our way out fishing as well, but have yet to catch anything through the ice.  Hopefully next weekend! I have never gone ice fishing and interrupted a hockey game before.  That is what happened this past Friday.  After school, Morteza and I went out to Fish Lake with Joe (one of the high school students) as our guide.  

We wanted to try our luck with the Land Locked Char.  And when we got there, we were met by a heard of our students wearing their hockey skates and gloves. 

 They played hockey around us... and watched us catch ... nothing.  Haha, it was a real neat experience.  The boys helped us cut our holes (without an auger, it is much harder)
and they gave us a ton of tips on where to go, what to use as lures, one of my students (John) even helped me by tying my lure on my line.  (he wanted to show me how they tie their hooks on).
The winter days are going to obviously get shorter, and shorter until there will be no daylight (outside of working hours) for us to enjoy.  I think it is safe to assume that those weeks if not months, I will have many hours to write wonderfully edited blog entries.  I will be up to date on the T.V. Series Dexter and I will know all of the newest movie titles!  But I also expect to be able to go on the land and see some more remarkable things.  Hopefully at least.  I have met some amazing people here that have done their best to make me feel at home.  I am very thankful for this and only hope that some of them have felt my appreciation somehow. 

The Polar Bear Hunt

Now, I know that this is a very touchy subject for animals rights activists, Greenpeace and Inuits as a whole.  I am going to do my best to just tell it how it is. 

As far as I know, Nunavut is one of the only places left in the world where the polar bear hunt is legal. In the Nunavut hunting regulations there is a section for polar bear.
  I also know that scientists around the world have speculated that there is about 20000 - 25000 Polar Bears left in the world.  About 15000 of those Polar Bears reside in Canada's far North (most living in Nunavut).  I do believe most people here expect there to be a change in this soon, but the hunt is completely legal and from what I have seen, it has been justified. 

On November 4, 2013, the Whale Cove residents and hunters all gathered into the hall.  They had a meeting (an annual meeting), which they have every year to discuss and decide who will hunt the Polar Bears).
  I went to this, and even though I couldn't understand most of what they were saying (mostly in Inuktitut), I was really amazed at how the entire community was involved in this decision.  Everyone who wanted to speak got their turn, and many people made some very good points.  There were 7 tags to be handed out to the hunters of Whale Cove.  Do they just do a draw? Who would be entered into that draw? Do they have a open hunt? (meaning everyone hunts and the first people to get bears get the tags for their bear.) After a long deliberation and many conversations it was decided by the entire community that the first 4 tags would be open, and then the last 3 would be drawn at random from a pool of all the residents of 16+ years of age.  They voted almost unanimously for this.  It was really cool to see it all unfold. 

After the meeting was over it was a mass exit to the door and the awaiting polar bears. It was seriously a race to the first four bears.
  And it really didn't take too much time.  With in 36 hours all four of those open tags were filled.  I have yet to see a Polar Bear.  I can not believe that there were four that close to town. 

The night after the meeting, there were still open tags to be filled.  Shon called me, and asked... "wanna come see if we can find a Polar Bear?"  I jumped at the opportunity and geared up, Morteza and I met him down by his place where he had seen some Polar Bear tracks.  These tracks turned out to be a few days old and were not worth pursuing, so we ended up going on a little adventure to the point. 
It was about 9:00 pm. completely dark and Shon and Don were using spotlights to try and see in the distance. 
We drove along the shoreline of the ocean but we didn't see any Polar Bears. 

The bears that do get hunted are used for many things.  Every piece of the animal is used.  The meat is all eaten by the local families, the bones are all used, the organs are sent away to scientists for research and the fur is sold.  If the fur was the only thing these bears were being killed for, I would have a huge problem, but that is a misunderstanding that has no truth behind it.  The polar bear is a huge amount of meat that will feed families for months. 

I hope everyone is doing well, and I look forward to seeing you all at Christmas!

Sunday 13 October 2013

Interesting perspective

What does it mean to be in the north. My whole life, I've referred to where I lived as "north". When I grew up in Goulais river, I was in "Northern Ontario", and made sure I was not lumped into the Ontario to the south... Then I moved to Thunder Bay and it was the same, I was living in Northwestern Ontario, and felt as though that was different from the rest of my home province.  Then, yet again, I moved to a place that craved its' own identity. Greenstone and the 5500 residents definitely have a strong sense of pride in where they come from. The harsh winters, the great "secret" fishing lakes and the absolutely unforgiving winter weather and treacherous highways.  Actually... Come to think of it, in Goulais River and Thunder Bay, we always talked about those same things. The things that made us "different" from everywhere else. The great fishing, crazy winter weather and horrible driving conditions... I've started this blog with this thought to introduce you to something I've noticed up here. 

When I am talking to someone from Whale Cove and I refer to home... Whether the home I am talking about is where I have my childhood memories or where I own my house now... I refer to it as "Ontario". I don't say Goulais River, Sault Ste. Marie or Longlac... I just say Ontario... Because to anyone here... They are all the same.  

Everything in life is relative, and for the first time I can say that I am definitely from the "South". Here's something to think of... I live about 2200 km north of Sault Ste. Marie, and almost exactly 1800 km north of Longlac.  It would be a shorter drive to go to Florida than it would be to drive here. And anyone that lives in Nunavut excluding the residents of Arviat, would call where I live now..."south".  Whale Cove is one of the most Southern places in Nunavut. 
It makes you think, Perspective is an interesting thing. 

Anyways, the last week I have had to get back to life in Whale Cove.  After my trip to Iqaluit, I had to adjust again to the quiet lifestyle of it here. I have started to really make some headway in my class lately as well!  I have my GCHS ENG1D class from last year (Wilson's gr10 class now) to thank for this huge improvement in my class!  Mr. Wilson and I have started a pen pal program between our two classes. My students have really started to take interest in their writing and have started trying to make improvements in their writing and language skills. They have become interested like never before! I'm excited for them to get their first letters back from Wilson's class.  Some of them have already connected on Facebook and are telling me about their penpals. (Hopefully their letters will still be relevant). 

Many of my students have unbelievable stories that they should have the opportunity of sharing with someone who isn't accustomed to the way of life up here. They have done so much at such a young age, they hunt, they fish, they play but most importantly and impressively they survive. The class that they are writing to will get a sneak peak into the lives of true Inuit people.  A great experience for everyone!

As for the weather (the common thing to talk about). The skies opened up last night and dumped a bunch of snow... The winds have reached 70km/hr and have been howling for the whole weekend... And it isn't supposed to stop anytime soon. This seems like something that will become normal for me, and already is losing its appeal to talk about. But. Yea... I think winter might be here. Now I need to find out what I'm going to do with my 4 wheeler!  Haha I don't have anywhere to store it yet... But Sean said I should be okay if I just tarp it up. The quad season is almost over. :(

I wanted to write this tonight to make sure I wished everyone a happy thanksgiving!  I am truly thankful for many things in my life... For my amazing family, for my supportive and caring friends, for the lessons I have learned in life that make me a better person and also for the lessons I will have the opportunity to teach.

Have a great thanksgiving everybody. 

Sunday 6 October 2013

Travel guide for Iqaluit

So I am back in Whale cove after a week long trip to Iqaluit. It was a great trip... But it's also nice to be back in whale cove. 

As we all would, i expected that in Iqaluit the taxis would be just like everywhere else... after the cabbie explained that it was 6 bucks per stop anywhere in iqaluit, I said generously, "I'll get the cab fare". There were 3 of us in the cab... Julia and Jenny (my new teacher friends from Repulse Bay) were nice enough to let me in on a little secret of the north. The cab fare is per person. Haha. That would have been a pretty pricey cab ride!

So yea. There are many things like this that are different here.  A good thing to remember when in Nunavut is to not assume anything. Many things  you would just assume are just the same as everywhere else until its too late and you notice they aren't. 

The people in iqaluit are very artistic, the local cultural art is the  most amazing I've seen in regards to carvings and jewellery.  It may be an Inuit art themed Christmas!!
The whole city is lined with this cultural art. The streets have carvings on every corner, the buildings have cultural "graffiti" on them and the government buildings all have cultural aspects to them as well!  It's really neat to see. 

Another thing that was very different from anywhere else I've been is the restaurant/bar atmosphere here. It is very common and completely expected to have many locals come by your table to try and sell you their artwork.  Some come by to show you their latest carvings, others want to show you their earrings or necklaces... but, my personal favourite was an artist (a regular in the bar) that everyone knows as "smiley", he stopped by to entertain us, to make us laugh and also to talk us into buying his amazing wall hangings. He started by showing us a really nice painting on canvas, it was of narwhals and had a Nunavut theme in the background with the flag, some Inuktitut syllabics and an inuksuk. I really liked it, so I asked, "how much?" And the games began!! Smiley named his price, "100 bucks for this one." He knew this was a game of bargaining and definitely named a high price to be able to settle a little lower, but this bartering is an art in itself, and Smiley has definitely been doing it much longer than I.  We went back and forth for a bit and settled on $60. Julia (One of the girls I met on the plane & my new nunavut teacher friend) said she wanted one too, but he had left... I'm sure he heard her, he went away, only to return with 5 more. 
He came right back to our table. And this time he started much cheaper. He said he would give us a "deal" 1 for $40 or all 5 for $150!! This was a deal if you went on what I just paid for 1! But I am sure he won on that last sale. We ended up somehow getting all 5 for $100. The lesson here is ... if you are ever in any restaurant, Name your price when they come around with artwork. They will definitely leave at first, but if you have named a fair price (one that you and they are comfortable with) they will almost always come back and accept your offer. Make sure you have the cash on you. It's probably a wise thing to have a few hundred on you when you go out... Just so you are ready for the artists. 

The local artists depend on this market to make their money. They depend on the transient crowds in the hotel bars and restaurants to buy their artwork, and to be honest, I was taken back by how good it all was!
You definitely can get deals in these places too. If you were to go and buy carvings at the art stores, sometimes you could pay 3-5 times as much as you would in the bars.
You kinda cut out the middle man. The main trick is to know when to buy. A carving that was priced at $250 at dinner time may drop to $150 by midnight. Sometimes the artists need to sell, (for various reasons). The later the time, the better the deals!  But remember, the best quality artwork can be found at dinner time. 

Flying around Nunavut a little has given me a different perspective too. Many times during this trip to Iqaluit I witnessed the extremely laid back way of life that I am getting used to here. As an example... I got my boarding pass to board the flight back from iqaluit. On the pass it says that my seat is 10A. Normally you get on the plane and find your seat... Well today when I boarded the plane, there was only 1 guy on the plane before me... I looked for my seat, the guy was sitting in my seat! Haha. Before I could say anything he said, "we just sit wherever we want in the north... Grab my seat, I think I was 6A."  And that was it.  So when you get on a flight up here (if you are ever travelling in the north) and you like window seats, make sure you board the plane quickly. Before they are all taken. 

I was lucky enough to meet many people during this trip who made it very fun and also informative!  I was given a great tour of the city by my new friend Cheryl... She showed me the old Hudson Bay company buildings
that were built a very long time ago, showed me many different places that had unbelievable views and took many great pictures.
After the tour we went to a movie (by far the smallest theatre I have ever been in.) and she also took me out for a night of karaoke at the world famous Iqaluit legion.  Was great to get out and see the sights!  Thanks Cheryl! 

All in all, it was a great trip to Iqaluit. It was interesting to see how BIG a city of 7000 people could actually be.  
While sitting in the restaurant I didn't feel like I was in Nunavut. The city of Iqaluit is truly multicultural.  I know that seems weird because it has such a small population, but I can say that I was amazed with the different races, ethnicities and cultures that were present there. It definitely has a feeling of a big city.

 Most of Nunavut's government buildings and headquarters can be found in Iqaluit as well.  

Anyways, it a great place to visit! Lot to do and many friendly faces, cultural art and expensive groceries!! 

Until next time!