“Everyone is looking to Canada’s north except Canadians.”
This is the title of the article I read from the window seat of the Air North flight from Whitehorse to Yellowknife – 400 km south of the arctic circle. I feel Yellowknife, though pointed out on a map to me in grade school geography, isn’t a city that has come up too much in conversation, and to give the headline some truth I know only one Canadian here.
Jess picks me up from the airport, and drives me through the maze of subdivisions on our way to her house. It is – 7 today and the sun is out, the wind has died, and extremely white people are walking around without coats on squinting into the sun like they have never seen it before. The streets are full and Jess is laughing because everyone looks like a dazed zombie – surprised to find themselves alive after the dead of winter.
Jess and I are friend’s from childhood and she has been living just outside of town, in a double wide trailer for two years. Most people here live in trailers if they don’t live in “Old Town.” – the permafrost makes building foundations almost impossible and the transport cost of supplies this far north is exorbitant. Actually, everything seems priced exorbitant to me. Her utilities are more expensive than my rent in Vancouver, and a beer is $10.25. The trailers seem out of place with expensive cars and obviously heated seats parked out front, but that is the way it is here.
We drive past the Snowking’s ice castle, which we end up returning to the next night for the Dead North’s horror movie festival. Local filmmakers of all ages make short films to contribute, and they gave a little glimpse into the darkness that eats away at most people when it is dark all day. Hunting and guns, repeatedly made appearances in the films all evening, and though I shouldn’t be so shocked to see teenagers nonchalantly going out with rifle into the winter, I am. That night I learned that watching movies in an ice cave at -16degrees for two hours is finger numbing. It was amazing to see the community here come out and support all the films, but I am not cut out for the cold.
At home Jess and I binge drink tea to warm up, and for a week I feel like a local. I can see the northern lights from my bedroom window at night, and during the day I watch the frozen cattails dance on the ice. We snowmobiled and helicoptered over the landscape and fought off the cold with an outdoor fire. I heard about the Arctic Games and ice roads, and places like Hay River and Nahanni National Park which have never been on my radar before.
Canadians who aren’t looking north are missing out. Yellowknife is quirky and dark, and has a dress code of Canada Goose jackets and muck luck boots. It is remote and isolated and in that embodies the idea of “northernness” as a part of our Canadian identity in the most honest way that I have experienced.