This blog is written in reverse order, with my first entry at the bottom. It really was a journey to make my way up to the top. As I stated below, I am hopeful that my visits to all the schools and children over the last ten days made a positive impact on some of them. It enchants me to know that about one tenth of the entire population of Makkovik (one quarter to one third of the households) now have one of my books, and that my stories have, therefore, become a part of their community. I am hopeful that even one or two (and hopefully more) of the children I presented to will, as I encouraged them, be inspired to write their own stories. I hope I changed some of them in a small but important way, because, unequivocally, they have changed me.
My last word for the Big Land is Nakummek / Thank You.
May 9, 2014 — Nain …
As a point of interest, or a bit of trivia, the hot and cold water taps are reversed at the Amaguk. That’s where that thought ends.
It takes time to select, crop, enhance and resize all the photos I feel compelled to take here in preparation for posting, so for the last two nights I’ve somehow not finished things until 2 or 3 a.m. Part of that is due to “pretty good” but not lightning internet. I frequently lost work last night and had to start again because the wifi weakened for a second. I was tired last night, and having made arrangements for a ski-doo to pick me up to take me to the airport for my flight to Nain, I was a bit dismayed that I’d only get 4 hours sleep … an hour less than the night before. It was, therefore, a lovely surprise in the middle of my internet struggles to get a notification just before 2am that Mrs. D’s Grade 3’s from Jens Haven School in Nain (where I was headed the next morning) had started following my tweets. That was kind of neat to have that hand extended to me in the small hours of the morning from 200 km away. It turns out that this friendliness was very indicative of what was to come.
There are two schools in Nain, elementary and high school. Jake Larkin, who is principal of both, kindly picked me up and we whisked across the bay to the school. What a welcome I received! As we pulled up to the front door in the skidoo, dozens of children descended on the sled, hugging me and calling me by name. They grabbed my bags like expert porters and, before I knew it, I was swept into the school (empty handed) amidst a sea of happy faces. I had no idea where my bags had been taken, but somehow that didn’t worry me as the kids seemed to have as much purpose as they did joy. Every single one of those kids was electric with energy and happiness, especially a young man named Caleb who was incredibly attentive (and very interested in my son, Tristan, who he’d read about on my website). How wonderful to be greeted in this way!
The grade 3’s were especially on me, wanting to know what happens at the end of Leon’s Song. Apparently my little YouTube recording didn’t work that well over the school internet, and they were only able to get part way through. I promised we’d read the end of it during our hour together.
The K-3’s piled into the gym (74 of them) and, on cue, proceeded to sing me their school song whose most frequently expressed word is “happy”. I was able to film part of it which you can look at here or by clicking the video screen below. What a treasure.
Nain is a bigger community than the previous three along the coast and is just as lovely as the others. It’s too bad I only had an hour to present to these beautiful children as we could certainly have chatted for much longer.
We skidoo-ed to Jake’s house (with Caleb hitching a ride part way) and had lunch and great conversation with Jake’s wife, Sarah Leo, who is President of the Nunatsiavut Government. After lunch, Jake took me to the local craft store where I was fortunate to find a small grass woven basket (I’d been looking for one unsuccessfully in each of the other towns), and several other items.
The high school students were having a Science Fair which we were able to squeeze in before my flight out. (I’m actually on the plane right now about to make our final landing of the day in Goose Bay where I’ll spend the night again … back at the Royal Inn.) Roaming around the interesting projects the students had created, we ran into the primaries again who had also come to take a look. More hugs and happy conversations. The kids I present to are always surprised when I show them photos of the real Hoogie, Pumpkin and Tweezle … especially when they see how tall, dark and handsome Tristan/Tweezle has grown. As we made a last farewell, the primaries left me with shouts of: “Say hi to Tristan for me!” “And me too!” “Tell Tristan I say hi!” and then also, “Tell all your kids hello from us.”
Nain was a wonderful place to conclude my trip. Like all of the towns I’ve visited, it’s very beautiful and I can easily see how people fall in love with these places and stay. It’s very interesting how each of the towns along the coast has a distinct personality. Each is warm and inviting (and, did I mention, beautiful?), but each is unique.
I can’t say enough good things about all the students I’ve met along the way. While my writing hasn’t made me rich and famous (!) , the fact that it gave me this incredible opportunity of a lifetime to visit this part of the country is something I’ll always be grateful for. Thank you a hundred times over to The Canadian Children’s Book Centre and the TD Bank. So many people have been impacted in such a positive way this week because of their generosity and vision … not only the students, but also the authors and illustrators fortunate enough to tour. All of this is priceless. What a gift I’ve been given.
My flight out of Nain on the way to Goose Bay has pit-stopped all along the coast going south: from Nain to Natuashish to Hopedale to Postville to Makkovik to Rigolet. On half of the stops, I’ve had to disembark to allow them to unload the cargo for each of the communities. In Hopedale this morning, the Amos Comenius School secretary Nancy Barfoot (who is also the Fire Captain) was there getting supplies for the school. Many people were there, in fact, either picking up or loading items … things we’d just drive to the nearest box store to get.
The way of life here is so different, and there is very much to admire. I will find it difficult on my flight tomorrow morning (from Happy Valley-Goose Bay to Halifax to Montreal to Toronto) to go back to all the waiting and line ups and airport security after the uncomplicated and relaxing travel I’ve experienced with Lab Air. When we left the hotel in Hopedale this morning (which seems like days ago now), it took a little longer for them to get the sled than anticipated as they had some other community affairs to attend to. There was only ten minutes to flight time by the time we got underway, but it didn’t worry me in the least. As one of the guys who took me over quipped, “They’ll see us scooting across the bay and wait for us”, and he’s right! Now that I was savvy enough to know that I had no seat number to check; that I could simply carry on my knapsack and sit it beside me during takeoff and landing; that I simply carried my bags to and from the cargo door without having to take off my boots and take out my lap top; that I could bring a water bottle with me, and that I could take as many photos as I liked without any security breach or threat … well, the entire experience (six flights in four days, not counting the ones that got me to Wabush what seems like years ago) was incredibly relaxing and exhilarating at the same time. I fully embrace the necessary precautions at the big airports, of course, but I have to say this was a nice way to travel. In Hopedale this morning, we all just hung around on the tarmac waiting for the plane to arrive while some of the guys tried to hit the box at the other side of the airfield with snowballs. One of them hopped the plane to Nain when I did, the only other passenger for that leg of my travels.
I should have tired of taking photos out the plane window but it never happened. There was always a new angle or a different curve of land. As we flew the last stretch into Goose Bay (I’m back in my room at the Royal Inn now), large tracks of ice had entirely melted and the brilliant sky mirrored itself in the dark water.
Exactly how big is this land I’ve been trying to describe? In numbers, you can try to get a grip on it this way:
- All of Canada has a population of roughly 35 Million and an area of roughly 10 Million square kilometers, meaning that, on average, there are 3.5 people per km in Canada, or that if you divided the land equally among us, each of us would get 0.3 square km.
- Ontario has a population of roughly 13 million and an area of approximately 1.1 million square km, meaning that, on average, there are 12 people per square km. If you divided the land equally among us, each of us would get 0.08 square km
- Labrador has a population of roughly 27,000 and an area of approximately 295,000 square km. Do you see the difference? The balance is entirely reversed. In Labrador, there are roughly 0.09 people per square km. If you divided Labrador equally among all who call it home, each would get about 11 km
That’s how big Labrador is. It’s really big.
But for all that sheer size, there is the incomparable warmth of smallness here. When I hopped the plane out of Nain this afternoon to head back here to Happy Valley-Goose Bay, the pilot said “Oh, you’re joining us again.” And when I got out of the plane in Hopedale so they could unload some cargo, the ticket agent said, “Oh, you again. We can’t get rid of you!” and the co-pilot asked if I got any good shots of them landing in Nain as he’d seen me on the tarmac clicking away. And when I walked into the Goose Bay airport, the same young man who’d called me a taxi eight days ago, when I landed here for the first time, came up to me and said, “Do you want me to call you a cab to the Royal again?”. There is a small bigness, or big smallness, here that simply cannot be duplicated in the places I normally go about my life. Which isn’t to say that one is better or worse than the other … but it is different, and I return home understanding that difference.
I am hopeful that my visits to all the schools and children over the last ten days made a positive impact on some of them. It enchants me to know that about one tenth of the entire population of Makkovik (one quarter to one third of the households) now have one of my books, and that my stories have, therefore, become a part of their community. I am hopeful that even one or two (and hopefully more) of the children I presented to will, as I encouraged them, be inspired to write their own stories. I hope I changed some of them in a small but important way, because, unequivocally, they have changed me. My last word for the Big Land is Nakummek / Thank You.
P.S. Did I mention that Jeff’s sewing kit saved me in Rigolet between presentations as I snagged my skirt on something which resulted in a very long, right-angled rip? Well, that kit … which, you’ll remember, also served to help me make coffee … will be put into service one more time before this journey concludes because my ridiculously big suitcase (the one my daughter, Eryn, brought back from Barbados the night before I left) has taken a beating over the last week and the zipper has pulled away from the closure at the bottom. I knew I could trust Lab Air to handle that without losing anything … but tomorrow I’m onto the big planes, so I’d better take care of this small detail.
May 8, 2014 — Hopedale …
Agvituk, the Inuktituk name for Hopedale means “place of the whales”. There are many things that strike you as you land here, but the biggest for me is the sense that I am among gifted artists; children and adults who express themselves with words and pictures that are poetic and majestic and that give an added dimension to the big feeling I’ve been trying to convey about this part of Canada.
As with all the towns along the coast that I’ve visited, Hopedale crouches around the opening to the Atlantic and creeps up the hills that surround it. The town is beautiful, a reality I haven’t even nearly captured in any of the photos I’ve taken here (most of which I’ll post of facebook). The Nunatsiavut Assembly Building (opened in September 2012) which borders the water as you skidoo into town is exquisite (more about this below); the Amaguk Inn (where I’m staying … Amaguk means wolf) perches picturesquely on the hill, and the school itself (Amos Comenius) wraps along the shore line, turquoise like the ocean, the aerial view of which looks like an ice flow. The school motto is “Together We Achieve”, and one manifestation of that is the communal artwork that makes the inside of the school so vibrant. I’ve posted some of this beautiful art on facebook, much of it silkscreen hangings created (remarkably) by the students. And most of the artwork was developed by groups of students working together to create a vision.
I had the opportunity to present to two groups of students here: the grades 4-6 in the morning, and grades K-3 after a lovely lunch I shared with the teachers (Valerie, Lindsay, Kayla and Brittney) and prepared by the Life Skills class. Within half an hour after I landed, after being transported by skidoo by Nancy (the school secretary), I was setting up in the library and greeted by first name by several of the primary students. It was very clear that this school had accessed the web page I’d built for them. Hoogie word searches and colouring sheets of The Chicken Cat and Leon’s Song were posted in the front entrance of the school. (Here’s an example of the school specific web page I created and shared with each school a few weeks before my visit – which I updated after each visit). Fortunately, they hadn’t yet read my donut jokes, so I was able to surprise them with the answers!
I’m including a few photos from my visit below, but it is definitely worth checking out the greater number on facebook so you can see the beautiful artwork I’ve referenced above … and lovely other evidence of their creativity, including a “Poetree” in the front lobby (i.e. a tree with leaves that are student poems.)
I’m here for too short a time to lay claim to any pretense that I know the students I’ve met, but I was fortunate to be able to glimpse more than I could see through some autobiographical poems that were posted on one of the bulletin boards. I’ve transcribed some of them here (apologies to the writers if I have some of it incorrect, but I believe I have most of it right):
Autobiographical Poems by some Amos Comenius students:
Honest, like game, helpful and fast.
Son of Lisatte and Darryl.
Lover of hunting, laughter and playing game.
Who feels fast and happy.
Who needs my game, family and hunting.
Who gives geese to other, happiness and smiles.
Who fears gunshot, sickness and ___.
Who would like to see Nunavut.
A resident of Hopedale, Labrador.
Honest, friendly, happy, funny.
Daughter of Rachel and Edmund Saunders.
Lover of gymnastics, Ipod, bike race.
Who feels happy when going to Goose Bay.
Who needs cousins and friends.
Who gives smiles, friendship and caring.
Who fears sickness, diving and bears.
Who would like to see my cousins Florida and Jemica.
Resident of Hopedale, Labrador.
Sad, fun, caring and sweet.
Daughter of Tamma.
Lover of friends and family.
Who feels sad, scared of people fighting.
Who needs friends and love.
Who fears of being bullied and afraid.
Would like to see my other friend.
Resident of Hopedale, Labrador.
Nicknames: Ali, Bebe, Alice.
Honest, caring, curious and bad.
Son of Martin and Tabea.
Lover of guns, ski-doos, and Montreal Canadiens.
Who feels happy shooting off a gun.
Who needs cousins and family.
Who gives love to my family.
Who fears getting stuck in slush.
Who would like to see Uncle Dick.
A resident of Hopedale, Labrador.
I have a feeling it might have been Martin who asked me the trick question during my presentation which was this: Are you a Maple Leafs fan? I have to admit I don’t really watch or follow much hockey, but in my heart, because I grew up in Montreal, if I had to pick I would say I’d be a Habs fan. I got the sense that this was the correct answer.
Some common themes I see in these poems are honesty, friendliness, caring, and a strong connection with family, friends and the land itself. This is what I felt from the students, and from the staff. It seems there is something mesmerizing about communities like the ones I’ve visited thus far (Hopedale, Makkovik and Rigolet). A story I heard over and over was people telling me they had come for a year and then decided to stay. Valerie has lived here 25 years now, and Lindsay 11. I do get it. The vastness and beauty of the land is a big part of that, but so too is that sense of honesty and community which just doesn’t exist in the same way in large, populated cities. There are no high school cliques here because there are so few students in each grade. The sprawling school is home to K-12 students with a population of about 150 students and 26 staff members. As you’ll see from the photos, there are only a handful of students in each grade, so instead of the often isolating cliques you find in our schools, you have a close community of students who are part of a whole together. It’s a very attractive model.
After meeting with the K-3’s, Lindsay (one of the teachers) offered to take me to see the Nunatsiavut Assembly building because I’d remarked how lovely it was. An information sheet in the front entrance informed me that the building is 10,000 square feet and includes the “Nunatsiavut Assembly Chambers, the Assembly Caucus Room, and provides offices for the Nunatsiavut Government staff and elected officials. It also includes a large common room which can be used by the community for the purpose of conducting events or public meetings, and is also rented by the provincial Department of Justice for the purpose of conducting court.”
“Nunatsiavut is an autonomous area claimed by the Inuit in Newfoundland and Labrador. The settlement area includes territory in Labrador extending to the Quebec border. In 2002, the Labrador Inuit Association submitted a proposal for limited autonomy to the government of Newfoundland and Labrador. The constitution was ratified on 1 December 2005, at which time the Labrador Inuit Association ceased to exist, and the new Government of Nunatsiavut was established, initially being responsible for health, education and cultural affairs. It is also responsible for setting and conducting elections, the first of which was executed in October 2006.” [Wikipedia] The most recent election for the Ordinary Members of the Nunatsiavut Assembly was held three days ago on May 6, 2014 (when I was in Rigolet).
In Inuttut, Nunatsiavut means “Our Beautiful Land”, and the communities of Rigolet, Makkovik, Postville, Hopedale and Nain (four of which I’m visiting on this tour) comprise the largest part of Nunatsiavut. A primary objective of autonomy for this region is for the preservation of the Inuit culture and language, as well as the environment through environmental stewardship.
As you will see from the photo above, the building is designed to evoke the image of an igloo, and the inside is as spectacular as the outside. Labradorite (a beautiful area mineral) is used extensively throughout (on the floor and decorating parts of the wall). The Assembly Chambers are really beautiful, with seal skin chairs (dyed blue). I’ve posted several photos on facebook.
The design for the building was solicited through a Labrador Inuit artist competition and the winner was Alfred (Sonny boy) Winters from Makkovik (who’s currently living in Nain). The name Winters segues into another story I wanted to relay here as shared with me early this morning by Lori Dyson who owns the
Advalik Inn where I stayed in Makkovik. Pinned up on the bulletin board in the Inn’s restaurant was a picture of a young boy, Burton Winters, who died in February 2012 at the age of 14. With the same last name as the Hopedale Assembly’s architect, surely the two must be related.
I asked Lori what happened and she told me the story of this young man which is now told in a newly released book called The Boy Who Walked by Michael Johansen (info here). This same story is chronicled in an edition of The Fifth Estate (which you can find here). The synopsis on the web page for the Fifth Estate coverage describes what happened:
“A 14-year-old boy on his snowmobile gets lost in a blinding blizzard on his way home in an isolated Labrador village. The local townspeople search into the night, and discover snowmobile tracks heading the wrong way — out toward the coastal ice and the open sea beyond. Searchers call on the military, asking for a rescue helicopter to be dispatched at first light. Their request is denied, and for two more days the people of Makkovik mount their own rescue operation and try to find the lost boy in some of the most inhospitable conditions imaginable.
“By the time Canada’s Search and Rescue service does send a military helicopter to help find the boy, he’s been missing for nearly 52 hours. Aerial spotters soon locate footprints not far from an abandoned snowmobile and follow the boy’s tracks hoping to find him still alive. But it wasn’t to be. Just over three days after he lost his way home, they found Burton Winters’ body near an open patch of water. His footprints show he’d walked 19 kilometers, through the storm, in a desperate bid to get home before he finally succumbed to hypothermia.”
As heart-wrenching as this story is, it was even more so in Lori’s words given that she knew him well. It was Lori’s husband who ended up finding Burton and bringing him back to the town. Knowing how strong and closely knit the community of Makkovik is, the tragedy of this young man’s death would have had an enormous impact, especially given that if Search and Rescue had come when called, Burton would likely still be alive. I certainly plan to order the book and watch the program when I get home. Such a loss. In a community of about 380, you can imagine how this must have devastated them.
How to segue back to something not so sad … I’m really not sure how to do that, so I won’t try, but I did want to talk a bit more about today. Again, this morning, I took off by skidoo to the airport in Makkovik and again was impressed with the flight up the coast to Hopedale. This trip was a scheduled 35 minutes, with a stop after the first 10 minutes in Postville to pick up a passenger. Every time I took a photo out the window, I told myself that was the last. I certainly had enough photos out the plane window … but then there would be another breathtaking view and I had to snap some more.
One thing I’ve enjoyed so much about this trip is getting to meet the people I’d been conversing with via email or phone during the month ahead. While I didn’t get a chance to meet principal Liz Evans-Mitchell yesterday at E. C. Erhardt, I did get to say hello this morning as she was getting off the plane I was boarding. It’s interesting how the names of people on my itinerary have one by one lifted off the page to become real people.
When I got back to the Inn after my presentations and my visit to the Assembly, I found an email from Ty Dunham, the reporter who attended my presentation at J. R. Smallwood in Wabush. As he promised, Ty sent along some photos of the event (below) along with a link to the article published in NL News Now which can be found HERE.
Next stop, Nain ….
May 7, 2014 – Makkovik …
You get a big feeling when the land is this big. It’s not that I don’t love the city, but it’s almost as if you make yourself small in the city so you can fit into it as one of the many marvelous moving pieces. That’s not a bad feeling, just a different one. Here, though, there’s a big feeling inside. When our kids were younger, we took them dogsledding in Temagami each January for a number of years. The first time was actually when Sarah was 7 and my husband Jeff took her dogsledding on Hudson Bay, but for 7 or 8 winters after that, we went to beautiful Temagami, which has a similar feel in ways to Labrador. It’s not on the ocean, but it does have big lakes. On our dogsled trips, contrary to what many think, you don’t spend much time riding in the sled. Instead, you’re running along behind, or standing on the rails. But when you’re going up the steep, winding hills throughout the forests, you run. One of you is connected to the sled with a harness and that person will hold onto the sled and run it up the hill behind the dogs. When I rode with Sarah, she was the one hitched to the sled and I was the second person … not connected. So I still ran, but more on my own. And sometimes, I just walked because I was surrounded by the huge original growth forest and so much snow. It was a very big feeling, and that’s very much how I feel here.
I don’t know if I mentioned how fortunate I feel to have been given the opportunity by TD Book Week and The Canadian Children’s Book Centre to visit this part of Canada. I certainly knew from pictures how beautiful Labrador was, but it really is something else to actually be here. A very big feeling indeed. I fell in love with Rigolet and thought nothing could be more beautiful, and then I landed in Makkovik which also takes your breath away.
My flight here out of Rigolet was at 7:25 this morning. Jeremy, the gym teacher from Northern Lights Academy, was kind enough to take me over, and I was the first one to the airport. We’re so used to the tight (and necessary) security around our big city airports, but I had the run of the place this morning and when I asked the woman who came in especially to check me in (since I was the only one boarding in Rigolet – there were only 7 of us on the plane, including the pilot and co-pilot) if I could take photos of the plane coming in, she warned me only that I should be a bit careful getting on the actual runway. Good point.
The scheduled flight time was 25 minutes. Someone mentioned after that it took a bit longer, but I didn’t notice as the flight was so smooth and so lovely. I was treated to some very beautiful sights out the window.
Jimmy picked me up in his snowmobile furnished with a sled in the back for my luggage. The bags are heavy as I’m carting around all my presentation materials. There are few cars in Makkovik as there’s not really much need of them, but pretty well everyone has a snowmobile. There are even little kids driving around on little snowmobiles. The population is similar to that of Rigolet (about 350-400), but Makkovik is much more spread out. It made sense to build up the town that way so each in the community had their space/territory and was only when school became mandatory that the community started knitting things closer together.
Like Northern Lights Academy in Rigolet, J. C. Erhardt school in Makkovik is beautiful and very warm and welcoming. I took photos of many of the signs they have posted throughout the school because it says a lot about their culture and sense of respect and community. Things like “101 Ways to Praise a Child” and several others of that nature. I loved the note written on the white board of the classroom I presented in which highlighted the news of the day. I’m not sure how clear the photo will be as it was facing a wind0w and thus was very bright from the glare, but here’s what the items of the day were (the first relating to the fact that there was an election last night to vote in the Ordinary Member of the Nunatsiavut Government):
- Kate Mitchell got in as Ordinary Member
- Miss Roxanne is due today and it’s Dylan Green’s birthday
- Kevin has his birthday present from Shayne yesterday
- Hannah’s Nan might be buying her a controller
- Lucas has a watch now
- Avril walked up The Bay and didn’t dress warmly, sneakers
- Garrett will be 10 years young in 2 more days
- Montreal beat Boston 4-3
- Kevin and Shayne went fishing, got a fish but had to put it back
- The author Stephanie McLellan is coming to our school today
- Hunter (Hannah’s nephew) fell and hit his head on the vent. There was a vent mark on his head.
That list speaks volumes to me. It speaks of individuals who know and love each other. It is a world where both big and little things matter; where Lucas’ new watch is every bit as important as the election and the hockey game. It talks about things that happened and things that might happen, and just reading that list gave me a sense of what it would feel like to be part of such a close community. It gave me that really big feeling again.
I presented to 25-30 students in grades 1-6 … a pretty wide spread in age and I wondered how I’d do. But students in all grades engaged with me and it was lovely being with them. They are smart kids, and having some time to look around before they joined me, I don’t wonder why. Again, I took photos of many of the signs etc. on the walls because they’ll give you a sense (as they gave me a sense) of how much thought and care goes into teaching these kids. (I believe the classroom was Charlene’s who was kind enough to take photos for me). And think of the personal attention they receive from the wonderful teachers I met since there are only 64 students in the whole school (which goes up to grade 12).
Trevor, who was filling in for the principal (Liz Evans-Mitchell) who had to be away today, asked if I’d spend a few minutes speaking with the high school students, who were also an incredibly nice group of people. We talked about writing (at least one of them is an aspiring writing, with his first novel almost complete … he’s in the process of illustrating it as he also wants to make a fully animated version of it). I’m hoping they got something out of our short time together.
At 11:30 they set me up in the front entrance of the school to sell books. It was difficult to know how many books to bring since I’d be carting my luggage on so many planes … books are heavy! The school posted on facebook and called over to the radio station to have them announce the fact that I’d be there signing books at 11:30, and, to my amazement, they bought virtually everything I’d brought. I was down to four books and will be shipping up orders I couldn’t fulfill. About half an hour ago, a nice family knocked on my door at the Inn to ask if they could buy a book as their son, Troy, and his sister Kiera wanted to buy Hoogie in the Middle. I was so glad I had one left! Do you think that would happen in any other town? Again, it’s indicative of how close-knit and caring this wonderful town is.
The Adlavik Inn where I’m staying is very comfortable and equally welcoming. Bernice is here to prepare meals a la carte at certain times (very good food), but once the dinner window was closed (5-6), Bernice left and to tell you the truth, I think I’m the only one in the entire Inn now. No wonder Troy and Kiera’s family knew where to find me!
The school had arranged for Joan Andersen to take me (by skidoo, of course) to the local craft store and the museum. Joan is a retired teacher and is married to John Andersen, a descendent of Torsten Kverna Andersen who founded the town. As mentioned in my May 1 entry, Makkovik is of Norwegian and Inuit heritage. I found some perfect gifts at the craft shop, but have to say that Joan taking time out of her day was a gift in and of itself. She gave me a wonderful tour of the museum, where I took lots of photos, and she shared many stories with me. Like the fact that the museum is supposed to be haunted. When I asked by whom … i.e. one particular ghost or perhaps just ghosts in general, she suggested it could be the young woman who came in for surgery and died of an accidental ether overdose administered by the medical staff. I can’t remember the date, but I think it was perhaps 100 years ago or so. I’ll be posting some photos on facebook of many interesting items I saw there, including some hand-drawn and written books which record some of the local stories, including one told by Joan’s husband about his youngest brother (7th son) who fell in the water when the family was fishing one day and got rescued in a fish net!
The Museum is called The White Elephant Museum. Built in 1915, the White Elephant was once part of the Moravian Mission station which was established in Makkovik in 1896. The building was meant to serve as a boarding school. However, over the years it has been used for many purposes. The school and dormitory were soon moved to the manse (missionary’s house), which was very large. Then this smaller building became the nursing home but did not get a great deal of use as such. Since it was rarely used for its original intent, but still required maintenance, the building was often referred to as the “White Elephant” and the name has stuck.
Joan drove me back to the school where Jenny Price, the lovely kindergarten teacher, had offered to take me for a tour of the town on her skidoo. Jenny is from St. John’s but has taught here for 8 years, her first job out of teacher’s college. Falling in love with Makkovik, she and her husband are raising their family here – two sweet little girls aged 3 and 2. I met the youngest, beautiful Chelsea with incredible blue eyes. They’ve bought a gorgeous plot of land where they’ll build their house. I am with Jenny on this one. I can’t think of a more wonderful place to build your life and raise your kids. Incredibly generous with her time (and clothes! She lent me some snow pants), Jenny took me all over, including to the tent she and her husband own on the other side of the Bay … beautiful. I got a glimpse of the entire town from the perfect spot on the hill, toured the harbor, saw the dogsled team (some of the dogs are part wolf), and generally just enjoyed the beautiful day in such a beautiful space. I feel I missed this part of winter this year. It has been so cold and dreary for so long, I’d forgotten how lovely it is when the sun is so brilliant and the temperature is moderate even though there’s lots of snow.
I know I’m driveling on a bit long in my description of today, but it’s because of this big feeling I’ve been referencing. This trip … this opportunity to see this part of our country … is a wonderful gift. I hope the students I’m meeting get even half as much out of my visit as I’m getting by visiting them.
Far too many photos taken today to put on this page, so I’ll post a bunch on facebook.
Next stop, Hopedale …
P.S. I just got a facebook message from my son, Tristan (17) who has decided to call this blog The Wonderful Life of Stephanie Mitty. Ha ha! … I probably do sound a bit like Walter Mitty … but you should be here and you’d feel the same!
May 6, 2014 (Rigolet) …
8:00 p.m. AT – Last note for today. Just wanted to reflect on the fact that I don’t think you could meet nicer people than I’ve met in this part of the world. Garry Dove (Principal of Queen of Peace Middle School) and Sandra Broomfield (Principal of Peacock Primary) both took turns driving me yesterday. Today, Tom Mugford (Principal of Northern Lights here in Rigolet) has put me up for the night (no hotels here) and cooked me a wonderful roast beef dinner. He’s a very nice man and gracious host.
On top of that, I had a minor mixup with baggage with Labrador Air which Sandy rectified by speaking with Nadine from Lab Air. Not only did they immediately solve the problem, Nadine tweeted me her number in case of any future problems. Can’t think of another airline that would give that kind of service. Very impressed.
1:00 p.m. AT – What a truly special group of children I presented to this morning at Northern Lights All Grade Academy in Rigolet. I met with 14 Grade 4-6’s at 9:30 and 17 Grade 1-3’s after that. Several confessed to me that they had seen me arrive … they’d seen me outside (lugging my bags through the snow I guess). I had seen some of them arrive too, on skidoo. As you’ll see from my first post below, Rigolet is situated on Hamilton Inlet and on salt water.
The whole feel of the school is very welcoming and I felt comfortable right away. The Grade 4-6’s became very involved with the presentation and it felt more like having a conversation with friends than presenting. They hugged me as if I was an old friend when I finished, and the next group were just as lovely. Here are some photos of this lovely school and of the beautiful town and surroundings. I made sure to get Peacock Primary’s “Buddy” in a couple of shots.
I’ve posted many more photos on facebook that I took on my walk to the local craft store (which stayed open when they heard I wanted to visit. It’s a brilliant day here … incredibly beautiful. As you’ll see from my photos on facebook, this is a lovely place I’m so glad I got a chance to visit.
One of the things I was scouting at the craft store was grass-weaving which local artist do here. I had an interesting coincidence a couple of months back regarding just this thing. I was reading Erin Bow’s beautiful book Sorrow’s Knot and read a part this particular morning which talked about how the women in the community (a wonder as they are with rope) could weave grass so fine that their baskets could hold water. That afternoon, Sandy called me and told me that when I was in Rigolet, I’d have to make sure I checked out the local artisans who could weave grass baskets so fine that they could hold water. The universe was surely trying to tell me something. A second coincidence I had about this place was in February of this year when I was at my local Chapters buying The Chrysalids. I struck up a conversation with the young woman at the cash who asked me about the book and I told her that I was buying it because it took place in Labrador and I was going to Labrador. “You’re kidding,” she said. “I’m moving to Rigolet in March.” Like I said, Big Land, small world. She was an archeology major and was going to be working on something here. It’s not a big place … who knows, I may still bump into her her!
Tomorrow morning I’m off to Makkovik. I will be prepared to pick my seat this time.
8:30 a.m. AT – Well, here’s how to call yourself out as a “newb”. My Air Labrador flight took off at 7:25 this morning. I’m walking across the tarmac and as I reach the plane (which I thought looked pretty much like the one I flew in to Wabush), I get to the stairway up to the plane and pull out my boarding pass to see what seat number I’m in. The co-pilot sees me studying it and says, “Any seat your want darlin'”. And when I get to the top of the steps I see why … there are only five full rows of seats (one seat on the left and two on the right), and then two extra double seats and a back row that you could fit three on. Ahhh … so this is a Twin Otter. Now I know why the girl made me check my portfolio and gave me a funny smile when I asked her if I could carry it on. The safety message basically says put your seatbelts on and points out the two doors at the front and the two at the back. No oxygen masks in hiding because I guess we’re not flying high enough. The double seats are more like a bench. The inside feels more like a school bus than a plane.
Turns out it was a mistake not to take gravol. Which is not to say there was anything wrong with the way these guys flew the plane. To the contrary, the take off and landing were incredibly smooth (even though the landing looked very much like we were flying into a forest until, at the last minute, I saw the short landing strip which the pilot expertly navigated, swinging around corners much the way a car would to pull up to the terminal). My stomach did complain a bit though in flight as such a little plane is bound to get buffeted by the wind somewhat. I had a good bracing walk through the snow with my bags, though, after being driven as close to the school as we could get, and that fresh air made me feel much better.
The guys behind me were quite chatty and colourful. One of them recounted to the other a recent trip he took and when they landed, the pilot told him he’d have to jump to the tarmac because he didn’t want to stop the plane for fear he wouldn’t get her started again. I’m pretty sure this wasn’t Labrador Air he was talking about, and likely a much smaller plane, but I was glad to have the benefit of a stairway down. The co-pilot pushed and prodded to move around the jammed in luggage to extract mine and then I was on my way, picked up by a nice friend of the principal’s here.
May 5, 2014 …
6:00 p.m. AT – Just got a link to the CBC Labrador Morning podcast posted by CBC report Mike Power about my visit. You can listen HERE, or click on the image below:
4:40 p.m. AT – The Peacock Primaries are a fun bunch! Polite, respectful, funny, enthusiastic … I have lots of fun photos to share that will give you a sense of the time we had. “Word Search Guy” sat in the front row … this guy is a whizz at word searches and poured over the poster I created for the school to show them how to navigate the special school web page I created for each of the schools I’m visiting. The little reproduction of Hoogie’s word search on that page is pretty tiny, but he found dozens of words … some of which I didn’t even know were there! I also had the pleasure of meeting Brandon, the son of the man who gave me a cab ride from the airport on Saturday morning. You’ll see from the photos below what fun these kids are. Their school mascot is Buddy (a huskie) who instills in them all the great qualities of respect (appropriateness), safety and kindness … and as you’ll see in one of the photos, they gave me my very own Buddy to take home. Buddy is going to Rigolet in the morning with me … I’ll have to take a photo of him at each stop. I’m not entirely sure I’ll have access to internet there … we’ll see. I’m sure it will be beautiful though.
11:20 a.m. AT – Some quick photos of my visit at Our Lady Queen of Peace Middle School in Happy Valley-Goose Bay where I presented this morning. This was my 5th presentation on the tour and I met with a great group of Grade 4 students who were really on the ball. They came up with some great similes, and one little girl’s idea for my fictional character “Joe” was that he’d be scared as a chicken, which allowed me to seamlessly segue into The Chicken Cat. These kids were also right on the money for my frog facts quiz and I got the sense that many of them had first hand experience with the things I talk about.
You’ll be able to see on the wall behind me in some of these photos that the grade 7’s created some excellent biographies of notable people ranging from Nelson Mandela and Steve Jobs to Walt Disney and Skrillex. I was really impressed with the quality of these bios, both layout and content.
I’m off to present to the grade 2’s at Peacock Primary this afternoon and will be on the lookout for my taxi driver’s son!
I was admiring Marsha Skrypuch’s photos of the lovely Auberge she’s staying at for her tour of Quebec schools, including the exquisite 5-course meal she was treated to. I thought I’d share some of the sites along my walk to my dinner venue while here (Tim Horton’s) where I treat myself to a one-course meal. It is a big land!
May 4, 2014 …
8:00 a.m. AT – I had hoped to sleep longer than this given that I was up till nearly 3 and was already feeling somewhat sleep deprived before I started. I set the alarm for 9 (as I intend to get to the complimentary breakfast in the front lobby vs. trekking 20 minutes along the highway to Tim Hortons … I’ll save Tims for dinner again). But my body clock is used to waking at 5:30, as it did this morning. Thankfully I talked my body clock out of that and grabbed a couple more hours.
I was up late because I was wrestling with something I’ve been working on for the last several weeks. I had it perhaps 30-40% done before I left Toronto and did a little scribbling in my notebook between Wabush and Happy Valley, but it wasn’t really progressing. I rewrote the same line several dozen ways and it appeared things weren’t going to come together. I did a fair amount of procrastinating yesterday (just look at the posts from yesterday for proof of that). The seed of this particular story was planted by Gail Winskill, Publisher of Pajama Press (who published Hoogie in the Middle and Tweezle into Everything, and who also shepherded through my other two books when she headed Fitzhenry & Whiteside. You might say I owe Gail a thing or two.) It took a long time before I could find an idea that seemed right. I had the “theme”, if you will, but not the “idea”, and then that came to me in the middle of one night.
This story I’m working on is very representative of something I talked about yesterday in reference to a quote by Sandy Chilcote … the fact that sometimes stories or poems sort of make themselves. This is certainly the case with this story which, once I got my “idea”, I sketched out in framework so I’d know where I was going. But it didn’t happen that way.
About ten days ago, and against my will, the fish turned into cats. I had really wanted them to be fish because fish fit on so many levels. I’d imagined them as colourful and planned to use the way they slipped through the water as an apt metaphor for what I was writing about. But the fish got away, and I was left with cats. A lot of cats.
Some time after that, the one book turned into two. I was about half way through the original story idea when a whole other one wedged its way in and forced me to stop what I was doing. It became imperative that I write this second story first because the first depended on it.
There are very few pockets of time when I can simply sit and write. I work my day job from 9-7 most days and want to actually live my life with my family in the evenings. So I’ve taken to getting up early to get a couple of hours in before the regular day starts. For Christmas, my family converted Sarah’s old bedroom into a writing room for me – the greatest gift ever. I now have a pristine space uncluttered by all that’s waiting for me in my regular job. At my regular desk, there is always something waiting for me that needs doing. With this new room, I can simply leave it all behind for a bit, walk across the hall and shut the door. They even built a little “the writer is in-the writer is out” sign for the door so it would stare at me when I go out into the hallway. I owe the idea for this room to Kathy Stinson and Peter Carver, whose incomparable writing retreat in Nova Scotia I attended last fall. Besides all the constructive writing exercises and critiques, and the stimulating company of others who love writing as much as I do (a fond hello to Carolyn Mallory, Jacquie Pearce, Douglas Davey, Maryann Martin , Barbara Nickel, and Kathy and Peter themselves, of course), an incredible takeaway from that time was … well, time. Each of us staked out a private writing place where we could disappear for hours and I took full advantage. My place was a wonderful little bunkie facing the ocean which I’d walk ten minutes to as the sun was rising, and stay at until I was worried they’d send search parties. When I described the gift of this bunkie to my husband Jeff, he immediately rallied our kids and furnished me with that kind of place for Christmas. That’s where I go very early in the morning now, but found it tough to keep that regime as this trip got closer since I had to do all my day job work for the next ten days before I left.
However, even though I wasn’t able to visit the room, this manuscript wouldn’t leave me alone. Even when I didn’t think I was thinking about it, a sentence would form in my head that I had to write down. Many nights I was forced to get up in the middle of the night to scribble down fully formed passages I was afraid I’d forget. It is the oddest thing to have all this happening at a sub-conscious level, but it’s the way it happens. I may not have had time to work on this story, but it worked on me nonetheless, and I stayed up til nearly 3 last night because everything started to come together. There’s tweaking to do, of course, but most of it fell in place last night.
Now, with all that said, perhaps I’ll be the only one who thinks it’s anything, and it may very well end up gathering dust in some corner. It will be in good company there, I can assure you. But one way or another, this story will always now be part of my trip to Labrador because it was here that I wrestled all those thoughts into something close to final, and in that way, the words I’ve written here have become, in Sandy’s words, an event in and of themselves.
On another note, one image I forgot from yesterday was at baggage claim. Once we’d made our smooth landing, the co-pilot turned around in his seat to talk to us and let us know that anyone headed to Gander should stay seated, the few who were going on to Halifax should follow the man on the tarmac, and the one whose final destination was Goose Bay should head down to the far door. That would be me. Now it wasn’t difficult to figure out where to claim my bags as there was only one carousel, although it sat idle with no nearby signs of life. I waited around a bit, wondering if I should ask someone when I saw two guys pushing the baggage holder across the tarmac with two bags on it which happily were mine. I could easily have walked out the door and snagged them at that point, but decided I shouldn’t interfere with the way of things. After a couple of bumps and thumps and a great whirring, the carousel groaned to life. Sure enough, first one and then two of my bags pushed their way through the flaps. The carousel ground to a halt. I had officially arrived.
May 3, 2014 ….
4:30 p.m. AT – Procrastinating for just a minute as some research for something I’m working on somehow served up this ridiculously adorable picture of a baby chick and a kitten (on the left). This definitely is one of the highlights of my presentation to schools … when they all concur with snorts and laughter (deliberately goaded on by me) that the notion of a chicken raising a cat (which is what happens in my book The Chicken Cat) is preposterous … until I show them the photos in the center and far right!
3:30 p.m. AT – The last couple of days caught up with me, and after talking with home and with Sandy, and managing email, I found myself with a pretty good headache. While my cell phone is useless for communication here (only Bell service in Labrador and I’m on the Rogers network), that one little 2”x4” device has so many other uses – most importantly for the moment was its alarm clock function. Between my cell phone and the amazing little dollar store sewing kit my husband, Jeff, picked up for me for the tour, I think I could survive just about anything my travels could throw at me. I have already used the sewing kit twice. Once for a minor clothes repair, and once to help furnish the amazing cup of coffee I’m now enjoying.
Knowing that coffee is a VERY important part of my day, and surmising that there wouldn’t be a coffee shop on every (or any) corner, I packed some ground coffee with the idea that I’d just brew my own. After all, even though the places I’m staying are small inns/motels, I was pretty sure each of them would have a little coffee maker. I was right about that, but failed to account for the fact that they don’t come with filters. One pre-packed pillow of ground coffee is supplied (not nearly enough, I’m afraid), but it’s a pre-sealed filter, of course. And I should have known that. I considered fashioning a filter out of something I could scrounge, but none of the ideas that surfaced seemed either appetizing or plausible, so I asked Monica (the nice woman who runs the Royal Inn) if I could take a filter from the breakfast area with a plan to hit the Ultramar Gas Station (i.e. the area’s convenience store) up the road later to buy some more. Monica kindly insisted I take a package of many filters that she said were too small for their machine, so with the assistance of some scissors from my little sewing kit, I tailored a filter to the little coffee machine in my room and am now gratefully enjoying a great cup of coffee in the beautiful coffee mug Hoogie (my daughter, Eryn), just brought me back from Barbados. She vacationed there for ten days after her exams finished with her two roommates, one of whom lives there. In fact, one of the suitcases I’m lugging around came back from Barbados on Wednesday night, just in time for me to take it with me on Thursday morning. (I was actually able to pack everything in this boat of a suitcase, including presentation materials … and was feeling pretty organized about that until we tried to lift it into the car. That was a no go.)
I’m going to head out in a couple of hours in search of dinner. It looks like there’s a Tim Hortons about a 15-20 minute walk from here, and that should do just fine.
11:30 a.m. AT – I left the Two Seasons Inn in Wabush (not to be confused with the Four Seasons) early this morning and have arrived in Happy Valley-Goose Bay at the Royal Inn. My book week coordinator, Sandy Chilcote (manager of the Western Newfoundland and Labrador Division of the Newfoundland and Labrador Public Libraries) has had everything exceptionally well organized for me, right down to staking claim for me in room 28 here, a nice quiet room tucked up a stairwell. I plan to use the next two days for some coveted writing time.
Receiving my boarding pass at the Wabush airport, I noted that I had a window seat. There weren’t many passengers in the waiting room so I conjectured I’d have the luxury of spreading out without someone sitting beside me. Well, it turns out we all had window seats and all had single seats. Someone had mentioned to me that we’d be on something like the Dash 8, but the plane was much smaller than that – a 19 seater Beech 1900D. From the open cockpit, the co-pilot warned that it might be a bit bumpy on take off and landing, but it was one of the smoothest flights I’ve taken. I heard they know how to fly in this part of the world, and my experience so far confirms that.
It turns out the taxi-driver who took me from the airport to the Royal Inn has a son in grade 2 at Peacock Primary where I’ll be presenting Monday afternoon. Big Land, small world. He said he reads a story to his son each night before bed, a favourite being Jillian Jiggs. That’s a good favourite.
While I’ve never met my coordinator Sandy Chilcote, I feel I know him a little as we’ve been in voice and email communication since last fall in planning this trip. He is a man of words himself, a poet, and I love something I read about him in an article in the Western Star. He said, “poems happen to me more than I make poems happen. They sort of make themselves.” You can read the article about Sandy here.
While I believe in planning, mapping, outlining a manuscript, at least for myself, I also know well the feeling of the story taking over on its own. It’s the place I strive to get to. All the planning and strategizing are simply to get the engine started, but the best part happens when the story is delivered to you and you have the feeling that you’re just transcribing something fully formed.
Another line of Sandy’s that I loved was, “words can make things happen and be an event in and of themselves”. I believe that too. With respect to children’s books, the words and stories we shared time and again with our children (Pumpkin, Hoogie and Tweezle; aka Sarah, Eryn and Tristan), became part of our family history in and of themselves. The thought is not entirely the same, but a cousin of Sandy’s thought for sure. When the little second grader from Peacock Primary grows up, Jillian Jiggs’ messy room and wild antics will be all jumbled up with the memory of his father making that time for them each evening before bed. The memory will be about Jillian and the father and the son wrapped up together into something no one else can touch or take away, and it is the words that did that. The words created and became the event.
P.S. I inadvertently stole my room key (key not card) from the Two Seasons. As soon as I find a post office, I will mail it back….
May 2, 2014 …
This morning I met with some lovely and very enthusiastic grade 1 and 2 students from A. P. Low Elementary school in Labrador City. As excited as I am to see the beautiful landscape of Labrador, this is the best part for me … presenting to all these open, curious, genuine little people. They laughed in all the right places, and even though I read and talked to each of the two groups for an hour, they remained attentive and engaged. They invented some similes with me, shared their own stories, and were suitably shocked and amazed both at how big “Tweezle” really grew up to be, and at the strange but true frog facts I shared with them.
I was very happy to have met librarian Teena Spurrell as we’d engaged in much back and forth via email leading up to today’s presentations. Before my visit, I created individual school web pages or “dashboards” where students can go to easily access a whole range of activities related to my books. Since an hour isn’t long enough to read all four books (since much of my presentation is leading kids through discussion and discovery related to the stories), I posted a video of me reading Leon’s Song that they are able to (and did) access ahead of time. Other activities posted on these school dashboards are word searches, colouring pages, recipes (for home made jelly worms and “Mud Bucket Parfait”), a Baby Bird Rescue Kit, a Ponds in Winter teaching unit, donut jokes and much more. Bridging off some of these ideas, Teena engaged the students in several activites of her own invention, including a tally sheet and bar chart identifying the number of Hoogies, Tweezles and Pumpkins in each class, and original Hoogie in the Middle and Tweezle into Everything illustrations by the students (watch your back Dean Griffiths).
I also had the pleasure of speaking with Mike Power of CBC Labrador Morning who attended the presentation and interviewed both me and some students. Multi-multi-lingual, Mike is very well traveled and was very interesting to talk to. His bio on the CBC sites states that “Mike Power started with CBC when he was really really really really really really really young. He has been working with CBC for a long long long long long long long long long time.” Ha! The interview will air on Monday, May 5, and I’ll provide a link to it once the podcast is posted.
The school provided me with a lovely gift … a wildflower seed packet which I intend to plant in our front garden after the tour. Thank you!
This afternoon I presented to two grade 4 classes at J. R. Smallwood in Wabush. It always amazes me how two years can make such a difference. I had to work a little harder for their laughs, but they were very attentive and asked great questions. When we discussed writing, it was clear that there were several budding authors in the group who had manuscripts in various stages of completion. I love hearing this, and this whole focus is a key takeaway I strive for. A deliberate thread in my presentation is to reveal to the students where my story ideas come from and help them make connections to their own lives to encourage them to turn their own experiences into stories.
Another favourite part of these presentations is the little side conversations with students one-on-one after the group splits up. Several of the children had brought money to buy books and while I signed as fast as I could, the bus driver still had to come in to the presentation room to give me the evil eye (jk) and fetch the students who should have been on his bus. It all worked out in the end … all children made it home! Some with signatures they insisted I write on their hands.
I found the nice package the school gave me with note paper and a pen with the motto “Together We Shape the Minds of Tomorrow” particularly interesting given that the book I referenced yesterday (The Chrysalids by John Wyndham … which is set in Wabush) puts forward the idea that thinking together and sharing ideas is vital to our future. The book specifically puts this forward vis a vis the telepathy the more gifted residents are capable of, but at its root is the concept that thinking together and sharing ideas yields a much better result. I thought it was fitting that the concepts of togetherness and shaping minds was delivered to me by the Wabush school.
Ty Dunham, reporter for the The Aurora (Lab City’s newspaper) also attended the event as did Nadia (and Cory) who sits on the Library Board. It was a really good group of people. Ty took lots of photos that he’s going to send me and will be posting the interview online over the next few days.
Thank you to Trudy Andrews (Librarian, The Labrador City Library) and Kelly Roberts (Librarian, Wabush Public Library) for all their help getting me to and from. Trudy picked me up at the airport last night and got me to A.P. Low this morning. She’s also picking me up bright and early tomorrow morning (6:30 … which is 5:30 for my body clock) for my flight to Happy Valley-Goose Bay. Kelly taxied me to and from J. R. Smallwood and graciously sat through my presentation twice. I’ve appreciated the kindness and generosity of these people.
Next stop … Happy Valley-Goose Bay …
May 1, 2014 ….
I landed in Wabush (via Montreal and Sept Isles) a few hours ago and am settling in. No cell service here, but internet works just fine. The last leg of the journey was on a Dash 8 (which seats around 40). I was very impressed by the pilot who came over the PA system shortly after we took off from Sept Isles to let us know that the vibration of the plane was completely normal and was simply caused by the propeller unevenly shedding ice. Truthfully, I wasn’t really even aware of the noise and vibration as I was engrossed in a book, but her voice caught my attention because it was so incredibly calming, comforting and credible. She reassured us that the Dash 8 was an excellent plane in the ice and that the vibration was absolutely nothing to worry about and we couldn’t be in safer hands. If I am ever in a true emergency, I would like to have this pilot narrate me through it because her ultra calm and reassuring manner got my attention (even though the original buzzing vibration didn’t)!
Knowing I’d be in transit for some time, I brought along a book I’d hoped to have a chance to read before I landed here. The Chrysalids by John Wyndham is based in Labrador, and specifically in Wabush (called Waknuk in the book). Rigolet, where I’ll be on Tuesday, is called Rigo in the book. Written in 1955, it’s a dystopian novel set in a post apocalyptic future thousands of years from now where much of the earth has become uninhabitable because of what we assume has been a nuclear disaster, but which the people know as the “Tribulation”. The Tribulation is understood by the inhabitants of Labrador to have been God’s destruction of the earth to punish the sins of the “Old People” (a technologically advanced civilization that existed long ago).
The citizens of Waknuk believe that to prevent another Tribulation, they must vigilantly preserve “purity” and punish differences. Practicing a form of fundamentalist Christianity, genetic purity is strictly enforced, and humans with even minor mutations are considered “Blasphemies” and the work of the Devil. Animals born with any nature of mutation are slaughtered; entire fields of crops with any deviation from the norm are burned; children born with any mutation are sterilized and left to fend for themselves in the “Fringes” (the edges of society).
The protagonist, 10 year old David Strorm, is the son of Waknuk’s zealous, religious patriarch. David discovers early that he and a small number of other children have a hidden mutation: they are telepathic. When their secret is discovered, the full fear and wrath of the society pursues them, for the only thing more dangerous than a difference you can see is one you can’t, especially when that difference gives you the ability to think and understand each other outside the rigid confines of the narrow-minded society.
It’s an engrossing read, compelling enough to drown out the uneven icing and de-icing of a Dash 8’s propellers. Come to think of it, the Dash 8’s pilot sounded very like the calm, confidence-inspiring “Sealand” woman from the book. That’s a strange coincidence. I landed in Wabush with 15 pages to go … so that’s what I’ll be doing before I turn in.
Tue, Apr 29/14 …..
My journey to “The Big Land” is about to begin. I have a 9am meeting for my day job on Thursday morning, but then I’m off to the airport to take a couple of planes that will land me in Wabush (via Montreal) around 9:30 that evening. I’ll miss the shmoozing in Toronto to kick off TD Canadian Children’s Book Week on Thursday evening, but am excited to be visiting two schools in Labrador City and Wabush (four presentations) the next morning.
While we’ve all had more than enough of winter, I will be journeying back in time for this ten days in May. Taking a quick scan of weather in the places I’ll be visiting reveals some singularly single digit weather days! That’s a small price to pay for the great adventure I know is waiting for me. I’ve never been to Labrador before, one of the last untamed, unspoiled places left on earth. It stretches from the Strait of Belle Isle in the south, to Cape Chidley in the far north, boasting towering mountains, massive rock faces and an infinite supply of lakes and rivers. I’ll be on the lookout for whales and icebergs, moose and caribou … not to mention some of the very special Inuit crafts (such as grass weaving) made in the remote places on the tour.
The map on the right traces the journey I’ll be taking … from Labrador City/Wabush to Happy Valley-Goose Bay to Rigolet to Makkovik, Hopedale, Nain and then back to Happy Valley-Goose Bay. Following is a little information about each of these destinations. I’m very much looking forward to sharing my stories with the students at each of the schools, and to sharing stories of these places on my site.
Labrador City (population 9,354) – Labrador City is a town in western Labrador near the Quebec border and neighboured by Wabush, a smaller town. Together, the “twin towns” are known as Labrador West. Labrador City was founded in the 1960s to accommodate employees of the Iron Ore Company of Canada, and iron ore mining continues to be the primary industry in the town. Its motto is “Land of the hard-working people.” The Labrador City town crest features a Snowy Owl holding a scroll perched atop a black spade on a mound of red earth, symbolizing iron ore mining. The spade is flanked by two caribou. Both Snowy Owls and caribou are native to the Labrador City area. The town is serviced by the Wabush Airport. The airlines flying out of the airport are Air Canada Jazz, Provincial Airlines, Air Inuit and Pascan Aviation. Additionally, the Quebec North Shore and Labrador Railway provides freight rail transportation to and from Sept-Îles.
Wabush (population 2,011) – Wabush is a small town in the western tip of Labrador, known for transportation and iron ore operations for 40 years (1967 to 2007). Wabush is the twin community of Labrador City. At its peak population in the late 1970s, the region had a population of just over 22,000 but is less than a tenth of that today. Most residents continue to work in the nearby mines: Wabush Mines and Iron Ore Company of Canada, now a unit of Rio Tinto Mines. While remote, the town does contain modern amenities. There is a shopping centre, recreational centre, ice arena, library, a legion building, a school, a church, two corner stores, and a hotel. Like most of Labrador, Wabush has a subarctic climate with precipitation much higher than usual for this type of climate due to the persistent Icelandic Low, which give the region some of the rainiest and snowiest weather in all of Canada. Especially in summer, cloudiness is very high due to the lakes nearby and the unstable northerly airstreams that prevail, but because the town is relatively far from the open sea, sunshine is higher than even in St. John’s due to the absence of fog from the Labrador Current. Snow usually melts off in May.
Happy Valley-Goose Bay (population 7,552 ) – Happy Valley-Goose Bay lies at the southwest end of Lake Melville near the mouth of the Churchill River. The town is located on the southern shore of a peninsula created by Terrington Basin to the north and Goose Bay at the south. The town is the largest population centre in that region. Incorporated in 1973, the town comprises the former town of Happy Valley and the Local Improvement District of Goose Bay. Built on a large sandy plateau in 1941, the town is home to the largest military air base in northeastern North America, CFB Goose Bay.
Rigolet (population 310) – Rigolet is a remote, coastal Labrador Inuit community established in 1735 by French-Canadian trader Louis Fornel. Located on Hamilton Inlet, which is at the entrance to fresh water Lake Melville; Rigolet is on salt water and is accessible to navigation during the winter. Although there is no road access, the community is accessible by snowmobile trail, Rigolet Airport, or seasonally via a coastal ferry from Happy Valley-Goose Bay. Although there are still coniferous trees surrounding the village, a few kilometers northeast into Hamilton Inlet, the terrain changes drastically to a sub-arctic tundra. Minke and Humpback whales are commonly observed in nearby waters. Rigolet is part of the Labrador Inuit Land Claims area and is overseen by the Nunatsiavut government. Approximately 5% of Rigolet’s population is non Inuit. The town is the most southern, officially recognized Inuit community. It appears as the town of Rigo in John Wyndham’s novel The Chrysalids.
Makkovik (population 384)- Makkovik lies at the end of a peninsula in northern Labrador about 215 kilometres northeast of Happy Valley-Goose Bay. The main industry is fishing (snow crab) and there is a fishing cooperative. The population is mainly composed of residents of mixed Norwegian and Inuit heritage. Settled by Torsten Kverna Andersen and his wife Mary Ann Thomas who set up a trading post there in 1860, the population gradually increased over the next three decades as European settlers and Inuit established roots in the community, (though this territory, since time immemorial, was used by Inuit). Colonization was assured in 1896 when the Moravian Church established a mission station and residential school there. Both the mission and school were destroyed by a fire in 1948 but the economy was instilled in the 1950s by two notable events. First was the forceful resettlement to Makkovik of 150 Inuit residents of the northern communities of Nutak and Hebron. Second was the establishment nearby of a radar warning station by the United States government. Travel is by air year round (served by Makkovik Airport) and by boat in summer. Winter travel is by snowmobile. The community is situated on a sheltered bay in a saddle between two hills. In the lee of the northernmost hill is a large copse of tall spruce trees, which is remarkable given the paucity of tree cover for miles around. Now known as the Moravian Wood, there is a small cemetery in the centre. For three years in the late 1950s the United States Air Force encroached in a remote radar base about 15 kilometres north of the settlement. Called Cape Makkovik, it was constructed between 1955 and 1957 and operated until 1961 and was dismantled later in the decade. It was a so-called “gap-filler” in the Pinetree Line set up to monitor the skies for foreign invaders from the north.
Hopedale (population 530)- Hopedale is a town located in the North of Labrador, and is the legislative capital of the Inuit Land Claims Area Nunatsiavut, and where the Nunatsiavut Assembly meets. Hopedale was founded as an Inuit settlement named Agvituk, Inuktitut for “place of the whales”. In 1782, Moravian missionaries from Germany arrived in the area to convert the population. They renamed the settlement Hopedale (Hoffental in German) shortly afterward. The Hopedale Mission is still standing and is thought to be the oldest wooden-frame building in Canada standing east of Quebec. As such, it was named a National Historic Site of Canada. It is currently run by the Agvituk Historical Society as a part of a museum on the history of missionaries in the area. The majority of people in Hopedale (79%) speak English as a first language, but a significant minority (21%) speak Inuktitut. About 93% of the population identify themselves as Inuit, 5% are of mainly European decent, and 2% are of Punjabi origin. Many of the Inuit in the town are mixed Inuit and White.
Nain (population 1,034) -Nain or Naina is the northernmost town of any significant size in the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador, located about 370 kilometres by air from Happy Valley-Goose Bay. The town was established as a Moravian mission in 1771 by Jens Haven and other missionaries. The current population is predominantly Inuit and mixed Inuit-European. On December 1, 2005, Nain became the administrative capital of the autonomous region of Nunatsiavut which is the name chosen by the Labrador Inuit when the Labrador Inuit Land Claims Agreement Act was successfully ratified by the Canadian Government and the Inuit of Labrador. Hopedale, further south, is the legislative capital. Nain is located on the north side of Unity Bay, a small inlet. The bay is open to the Atlantic Ocean but Nain’s harbour is protected by numerous islands, the largest of which is Paul’s Island. From Nain to the open Labrador Sea is approximately 50 km east through Strathcona Run. Nain is inaccessible by road and may be reached only by air or sea. Although located at the same latitude as Ketchikan on North America’s west coast or Moscow in Europe, the influence of the Labrador Current gives Nain a marginal subarctic climate that is very close to a polar climate, which creates the southernmost tree line in the northern hemisphere on the adjacent coast. The southernmost tundra is actually still in a zone of discontinuous permafrost rather than the much more typical continuous zone. The almost constant presence of the Icelandic Low means that precipitation, both as rain and snow, is exceptionally heavy for so consistently cold a climate in a low-lying area, with five metres of snow falling each winter and not melting until July. The actual depth of snow on the ground averages 1.13 metres (44 in) at the end of March.