From the bustling, conservative streets of Edmonton and Alberta to one of the most northern communities in North America, this most recent part of the trip has been nothing short of surreal. I find myself at a cozy, rustic cafe on one of the main streets in downtown Whitehorse, Yukon Territory bursting with things I want to write about that I’ve seen over the past few days. The north is truly something that one will never be fully able to understand or appreciate until they visit it. And Whitehorse is by no means “north” in the sense of what I’m talking about. I mean north. I mean communities that are only accessible by plane. I mean places where spring means -21 degrees. I mean a whole different world.
We took off from the Edmonton International Airport and landed at night in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories. Though we didn’t see much that night, as it was dark and late, the next morning opened our eyes to the community. I can’t explain exactly what it was like except for the fact that the city itself wasn’t too different from towns in the southern parts of Canada. The difference, however, was the architecture, the much more prominent first-nations population, the types of vehicles most commonly found there, the food options, and, of course, the weather. It was anywhere between -10 and -20 during our three day stay in Yellowknife, and after talking to some locals, this temperature wasn’t too out of the ordinary for late April. In fact, the famed Ice Roads were still functioning, and were incredible to see. Trucks would, instead of driving around Great Slave Lake which Yellowknife is nestled beside, they would simply cross the large lake on these ice roads. Flying out of Yellowknife towards the Arctic, you look out the window and see more lakes than you will likely ever see at one point, and you can spot the endless amount of unpaved, often unkept ice roads that, instead of snaking around the endless amount of lakes, simply just cut right across whatever frozen bodies of water are in their way. It was unlike anything I’d ever seen before. I think I’m going to start watching that Ice Road Truckers show after I get home!
Due to a mix up in flight times, we missed our flight to Inuvik and had to stay an extra night in Yellowknife before flying out the following day, meaning we couldn’t stay overnight there. Instead, we would land there, transfer flights, and head to Whitehorse. However, our transfer allowed us a good amount of time to go outside and take some pictures. On our way to Inuvik, the small plane landed in Norman Wells, a small town which I can say, beyond any place I have ever been, was entirely and utterly out in the middle of nowhere. I’m pretty sure their airport was the size of a Starbucks and there was no security about checking bags or anything. I watched from the window of the plane as the main road into Norman Wells, the only paved road, ran out of the city and only a few kilometres later vanished into the woods. There was no way of accessing this town other than by flying in. Incredible. And to think there are countless other communities like Norman Wells in the north that are very similar, like Old Crow, Rankin Inlet, or Sachs Harbour (the most northern populated and functioning town in North America). It really made me realize just how remote so many parts of Canada truly are. Incredible.
We finally landed in Inuvik, the largest town in the Arctic, situated about 100 miles north of the Arctic Circle. Upon stepping out of the plane, the dry, bone-chilling -21 weather made you gasp and was a different type of cold than back home. Everything was frozen and the ground was crunchy and the air was a strange, heavy cold air. It’s a bit hard to explain, but was really something else. I talked to someone who had lived just south of Inuvik, and he said for several days in the heart of winter it was -49 degrees Celsius. I couldn’t even fathom how cold that would feel like. And that wasn’t even the record low for the region either!
We transferred planes and took the smallest and, frankly, scariest looking plane I’d ever been on back to Whitehorse. It was chipped and old and cramped. The pilots fuelled their own plane and the flight attendants, all male, looked like students working a summer job. It was a propeller plane and the nerve-racking sound of the propellers starting up were a bit unsettling. Nonetheless, the weather was clear and allowed for incredible views of the northern mountain ranges and the unbelievable amount of rivers and lakes that cover the area, all of them entirely frozen. It reminded me of what the most difficult golf course in the world might look like.
We stopped in Dawson, Yukon Territory for a brief moment, and stepped into the smallest airport I’ve ever seen! It was almost funny, and I had to take a picture of it. Stepping out of the plane, the weather was an incredible difference in temperature from Inuvik, despite being only a 100 miles south of the Arctic Circle. It was almost warm, and quite sunny.
Arriving in Whitehorse, the weather was beautiful, and likely similar to what I imagine London, ON to feel like this time of year. However, two airport security personnel approached Jannet and I and told us that our bags were not transferred from the flight to Inuvik to our flight to Whitehorse and were currently sitting in the Inuvik airport, way back in the Arctic. Oops. That means I currently have no clothes but the jeans and shirt I am wearing, no toiletries, no shoes (only boots), no books to read, no hard drive, and no tripod. Yep. But, we fly to Edmonton tomorrow and they said our luggage will be at the Edmonton airport (somehow) by tomorrow evening. It sets our drive back home back a bit, but I will be happy to change out of these socks and not have to wear these clunky boots in this beautiful weather. What an adventure.
Anyways, I am going to explore Whitehorse a bit more; it’s truly a very interesting city and, again, not that different from towns in southern Canada. There’s many fast-food restaurants, banks, grocery stores, even a Starbucks. But the difference is the western-style architecture and the beautiful old mountains that surround the city. Truly a very cool place that I would love to spend more time visiting.
Until next time, either when I arrive home, or from an unknown destination on our long drive back to Ontario!