So near, yet so far away

The Igloo Church is a major landmark in Inuvik.
Photos: Anant Nagpur
A sculpture depicting life in the north

by Anant Nagpur

After watching the news about the Dempster Highway and reading about it in 2017, I was eager to travel from Inuvik, Northwest Territories, to Tuktoyaktuk, nicknamed Tuk, since it is very close to the Arctic Ocean. I had this dream to dip my feet into the Arctic Ocean at some point. That point came a bit early, but with a little disappointment.

I left Ottawa on June 21, 2018, for Yellowknife and from there I would go to Inuvik the following day. I was delighted to be in Yellowknife on the first day of summer with almost 20 hours of daylight – imagine that! Yellowknife is a nice town with a population of almost 20,000. In the taxi from the airport I engaged in a little conversation with the driver, Mr. Khalifa from Sudan, and I was very impressed. He said he been there a little over four years. His family lives in Calgary and he goes there for two months’ vacation. Another taxi driver, Mr. Ali from Somalia, had been there 20 years – this is his home and he likes it. “I don’t like Ottawa’s winter, it is very cold and it gets into your bones,” he said, but for him, Yellowknife was a dry cold and therefore tolerable. He drove me around the city, a good introduction, and I learned that taxi drivers are your best guides.

Friday I flew to Inuvik. Excitement was building within me, knowing that I would be heading to Tuk to dip my feet in the Arctic Ocean, and I could not help but smile.

Once again I chatted with a taxi driver called Hippi – a nickname. He said to me, “You are from India, right?” He told me about an Indian husband-and-wife team of much-needed doctors who had stayed 10 years in Inuvik but had moved to Alberta. “We miss them very dearly.”

When I told him that I wanted to go to Tuk right away, before I could complete my sentence, he said, “You want to dip your feet in the Arctic Ocean, right?” What could I say?

But the organized tour disappointed me badly. Due to heavy rain and thunder, the Dempster Highway was very muddy and buses and cars could get stuck. So close, yet so far away.

At my hotel, I was pleasantly surprised to be greeted by staffer Vinod from India, a civil engineer whose wife is a registered practical nurse. They had been there a little over a year. The town is badly in need of doctors and nurses.

Given the circumstances I decided to take a four-hour boat ride on the Mackenzie River. Our guide was a native gentleman, Noel, and with two ladies from Prince Rupert, we enjoyed our ride with plenty of history. I told Noel how disappointed I was to miss the Arctic Ocean and he said that in a way I had not because the Arctic Ocean and the Beaufort Sea are about 100 km from where we were, and the Mackenzie River joins them, so, from a certain angle and philosophy, I had experienced both. I decided to collect some rocks. Noel showed us baby bear paw prints and fox tracks. I guess at some point I may really get to the Arctic Ocean – so near yet so far away.

Inuvik has a population of roughly 3,500. The Mackenzie Road is the main artery going through downtown, starting at the airport road and the Dempster Highway and ending at the Mackenzie River. The major landmark of the town is the very beautiful “Igloo Church.” Inuvik has 50+ days of 24-hour daylight and 30 days with no sun at all.

The next day in the taxi to the airport, I chatted with Mr. Anwar from Bangladesh. His family lives in Vancouver and he showed me a photo of his daughter, who had graduated from UBC in biology in the spring – a very proud father.

I learned many things on this trip – how we all go through a lot in life and we do not necessarily end up where we want to be, but the job takes us where we are going to be, and that is a reality. Just ask Khalifa, Ali, Anwar and Vinod – it is their story as much as mine. They all made huge adjustments to live in places like Inuvik and Yellowknife. When news media make headlines that immigrants take jobs away, look no further than these four – they did not take anybody’s job, they made a choice to live in these places, which takes a lot out of you. They did not complain but took the jobs they could get. My mother used to say that God has given us all a stomach and to fill it we have to work at whatever we can.

As for me, as the song goes, “And the beat goes on.” I hope to dip my feet in the Arctic Ocean at some point. But certainly this trip was an experience to cherish and share.

Anant Nagpur is an Old Ottawa South resident who loves to travel and share his experiences with readers.

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