Posts Tagged ‘arctic canada’
One thing I liked about The Idea of North was the inclusion, mostly towards the end, of works which inspired Harris or which were inspired by Harris. His aesthetic lives on.
Rockwell Kent‘s Icebergs, Greenland, also painted in the 1930s, looks at the same Arctic territory Harris explored.
A triptych of works by Nina Bunjevac, The Observer, reflected nicely Harris’ earlier urbanism. Sunny Days, below, looks at City Hall.
Scott Gilmore of MacLean’s wrote in the atmospheric Abandoned Churchill” about the distress of people in the northern Manitoba port of Churchill, a perpetually promising port on Hudson’s Bay, that their port is being shut down.
I flew up to Churchill in a small private plane, with a map in my lap so I could trace our progress north.
This is a good way to appreciate how vast and empty this country is. Churchill is as far from Winnipeg as Toronto is from Nashville. From the cockpit, on a clear August day, the pilot and I could see for more than 100 km in every direction. It was simply forest, muskeg and hundreds of lakes, most left nameless on my map. But it did show the occasional mine, fishing camp or radio tower, and each of these was marked with the same bracketed annotation: (Abandoned).
We began our descent just as Hudson Bay appeared on the horizon. The town sits on a narrow point of land bounded by the sea to the north and the Churchill River to the south and west. The first visible landmarks were the grey stone walls of Fort Prince of Wales (abandoned 1782) and the white grain elevators of the Port of Churchill (abandoned 2016).
The massive superstructure of the port is visible from everywhere, and the main street ends right at its gates. When I pulled up in my rental pickup, these were open—the guard shack empty.
Other than the concrete elevators and the loading gantries there was not much to see. A rusting tugboat sits on blocks. There are no train cars waiting to be unloaded, and no ships to take on cargo. Other than seagulls and the wind, it was quiet.
At 4:30 p.m., though, a few people began to emerge and walk toward their cars. This was the last shift, leaving for the last time.
In the National Post, Brian Hutchinson’s “Port in a storm” also looks at length at the dire situation for the town. Without the port–something that might well be useful in time of global warning–what point is there to keep Churchill, isolated in the far north, functioning as a community?
Bobby deMeulles sits at his usual perch, next to a window at the Reef coffee shop, keeping an eye on Churchill’s main drag, and beyond that, the town’s old train station and the tracks.
This time of year, railway cars filled with prairie wheat should be rolling past the station for the port of Churchill, 500 metres down the line on Hudson Bay. There are no grain cars today.
There haven’t been any all summer, because Canada’s only deep-water Arctic port — the only port of consequence along 162,000 kilometres of northern coastline — has suspended all grain shipments, a decision made by its Denver-based owner, OmniTRAX Inc.
DeMeulles figured something was up, long before the company announced last month it was halting port operations, save for the movement of local freight to small communities further along the Hudson Bay coastline, mostly in Nunavut.
A private transportation company with most of its holdings in American short-line railways, OmniTRAX Inc. claims none of its regular grain suppliers wanted to do business at Churchill this year. “The grain season for 2016 has passed the solutions stage,” it says. Townsfolk wonder if it ever really tried to salvage the season.
DeMeulles understands how things are done in Churchill. He spent 60 years working at the port, receiving grain, cleaning it, running the elevator. He retired just four years ago, when he turned 75. “I worked until I couldn’t work no more,” he says. “I was well looked after.”
But things looked bleak, well before OmniTRAX pulled the plug on the current shipping season.
“We’d always know how many ships were nominated (coming to the port) well ahead of summer,” deMeulles explains. “We’d first start to hear about the nominations in March. Grain would starting coming up in railcars around the June 15. If you don’t hear nothing, and you don’t see nothing, and there’s no grain coming, you know something’s wrong.”
He shakes his head. “It’s a terrible thing, for a small town.”
Dave Bidini’s ode in The Globe and Mail to Yellowknife is a lovely read.
Yellowknife is small and openhearted, but it’s also hard to find. You think you know what it is, but then it moves – from the darkness of a tavern teeming with North and South Slavey, Cape Bretoners, Métis, Saskatchewanians and old men from the Dehcho to the cool shadow of a Twin Otter cruising low enough above your dockside rock that you could poke it with a fork. Here’s a fun game: When visiting, try to describe Yellowknife to your friends on a postcard (hint: buy a lot of postcards).
Yellowknife has a main street, but no one calls it that. In fact, they call it two things: 50th Avenue and Franklin Avenue, depending on how you feel about the former British explorer and northern colonialism (spoiler alert: The Dene don’t feel good, while most non-indigenous shrug as if not quite understanding the question). The main street – or 50th or he-who-will-not-be-named – has its own naked charm, including the denizens outside the main Post Office, most of them undomiciled.
If you spend any time with them, it isn’t hard to walk into a story. One afternoon at the main post office, I met two men the size of compact cars – Bear and James Thrasher, both from Tuktoyaktuk – who, like many of the city’s homeless, had come to Yellowknife because of greater access to services, housing and alcohol (Tuktoyaktuk is a dry community on the shores of the Western Arctic, which I visited during my eight-week stay in the Northwest Territories).
When they found out I was going to their hamlet, Bear asked for my book so he could write down the Inuvialuktun word for “white person.” I handed it to him – the hardbound writing book looked like a church pamphlet in his great hands – and his tongue curved around his lip while engraving the word on the page: kabloonak. He told me in a voice like a hammer on a drum: “Now, listen, you might hear this word, but it’s not necessarily bad. It depends on how someone uses it. You got that?” I told him I did.