Touring the Subarctic is amazing, though not for the faint-hearted! It’s nerve wracking, sitting in folding canvas seats in tiny planes tossed about in bad weather. But the people of NWT are warm and friendly, the children delightful and the communities fascinating.
I was escorted along the great Mackenzie River, (the Sahtu area), by Janine Hoff and Adam Hill from Hay River Library system. Both know the north and were prepared for all variables—and variables we had. The B&B booked in Fort Good Hope had run out of fuel, so we couldn’t stay there. Strong winds and a blizzard grounded us in Tulita, so we never made it to Deline. Traveling to tiny settlements without restaurants or stores meant we hauled in our own food, so Adam and Janine cooked for me. They also propped me up on ice and sold books. Janine also cheerfully reorganized flights and accommodations—not easy in communities where often there is only one place to stay!
My presentations were well received by both children and adults. The Elders who attended were sometimes illiterate but told stories themselves and encouraged their grandchildren to read. They were fascinated by my stories.
The books and presentations were front and centre, and I was delighted to hear I had “fantastic turnouts.” The communities are tiny, and when 30 people attend, that’s 10 percent of the population. If only we could get that attention in Vancouver or Toronto!
My head is full of memories—sparkling snowdrifts and 18 hours sunshine. Whiteouts. The woman who came back to a second presentation and gave me beaded earrings she’d made as a thank you. The boy who attended three presentations in Tulita, and kept buying “another book please.” The intrepid pilots of the tiny planes, who also handled our luggage and coolers of food in icy conditions. Two little girls dancing in a mud puddle in Fort Good Hope. The beautiful “Painted Church” on the bluff overlooking the Mackenzie. The smell of traditionally tanned moose hide. The short-eared owl that flew towards us on the riverbank, and skeins of snow geese travelling up the great Mackenzie.
Above all I will never forget the beautifully painted “Welcome Andrea Spalding” banners in the school entrance halls heralding the bright-eyed children sitting before me. Yes, the people of the North captured my heart, and the landscape stirred my soul. I felt honoured to visit this part of Canada so few are privileged to see.
Thanks to the Book Centre for sending me on such a splendid adventure. My special thanks go to Janine and Adam for sharing their beloved Subarctic with me–and especially for producing sushi and buffalo lasagna within an hour’s reach of the Arctic Circle. That took some foresight!