Northern Intelligence

The Great White North

Last year, my husband came back from his tour of duty overseas and told me that he had received a screening message for Yellowknife, NT.

A screening message is a three month long process that covers everything from your physical and emotional well-being to your financial competence, in order to clear you for an isolated posting. You have to prove to the military that you are a fine, upstanding family with good credit and healthy gums, capable of surviving three or more years in an isolated environment. Basically, they want to make sure you aren’t going to freak out because you’re 2000 kms away from the nearest Ikea.

Since my husband joined the military, we had only been posted within Ontario. Don’t get me wrong, Ikea is awesome, but it wasn’t exactly the new and exciting locations we had originally envisioned. Ben’s six month tour of duty had cranked up his adventurous side. I had never lived anywhere else except Nova Scotia.

We were both ready for a change. (And, yes, Ice Pilots NWT did play a big role in my level of enthusiasm. Stick me in any town that films a reality show and I will convince myself that I’m going to be on television. Despite the fact that I am in no way qualified to work for Buffalo Joe.)

Because we both grew up in towns with populations of less than five thousand, we felt we could handle the move, easy-peasy. I was so determined to make sure that we were the family picked; I quit smoking, paid off all the credit cards, and even pestered Ben to try and find out who our competition was. We must have done something right, because we got the posting message in May. (So all my fantasy plans of “taking out the competition” weren’t really necessary.)

Finally, this past September, we loaded our two dogs into our Jeep and drove to the Northwest Territories. I thought because I grew up in Small Town, Nova Scotia, Yellowknife wouldn’t be all that different. I was already familiar with small town clichés, rival bingo gangs, and a lack of social entertainment. “Hey, if I could survive high school in a small town, I can survive a place that has a Wal-Mart.” (And, yes, I Googled that before we moved.)
“I don’t know, Leslie,” my husband said. “You can be kind of a princess about this kind of stuff. I mean, you got upset the last time we moved because you couldn’t buy your hair conditioner anymore. And you complain when it’s -12 outside.”
“Pfft. I repeat: they have a Wal-Mart. How bad can it be?”

Do you know how much prices go up when the ferry breaks down? Before the ice road is open?? This was the first Christmas where I ever asked my husband for gasoline and toilet paper.
But it’s the little things that I’m still adjusting to. Like, having to drive with my headlights on all the time because it gets dark at three in the afternoon during the winter. When I go downtown, I have to be mindful of foxes darting across the road.

There’s no blissful, unconcerned stroll to get the mail, or else I might step on the ptarmigan, a white artic bird whose genius plan of defense is to squat down in the snow whenever it sees a threat approaching. And we have to watch out for the ravens, who like to strip the rubber off car windshield wipers for their nests. Some days it can feel a little like Life After People here, like the animals are reclaiming the city.

However, the people here are nice, even if they do jaywalk like it’s their job. (Which I’m sure I won’t mind as much in the summer. But in the icy winter? It’s terrifying. The last thing I want to do, when I’m driving, is stop and pry your mukluks off my bumper.) This city has an incredible artistic community and there are always live bands playing every weekend.

They have fantastic galleries and art shows. Even the buildings here have the most amazing Aboriginal art painted on them. It’s a city with a lot of history and I’m excited to learn more. This is why I’m planning a trip to the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Center.

As soon as the temperature goes back above -25.

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