Editors note: After six and a half years with Columbia Valley RCMP, Constable Tim Harper left last July with his wife Ali and their two dogs for a three-year posting in Kugluktuk, Nunavut. The Pioneer recently caught up with Const. Harper (a.k.a. Kuntapu Timati HAAPA, his name in the traditional Inuinnaqtun language). Here is his account of life so far in the Great North.
By Tim Harper
Special to The Pioneer
Kugluktuk is a town of 1,450 and primarily Inuit.It is located at approximately the 68th parallel on the Coronation Gulf of the Arctic Ocean.It is situated right at the mouth of the Coppermine River.
The surrounding landscape is wide open tundra and rocky cliffs of the Canadian Shield. Plant growth includes small shrubs, grass, moss, lichens, blueberries, various flowers and dwarfed pine and birch trees (I have yet to see any form of a tree).I have been out on the land, weather permitting, and the scenery is amazing, especially in the early fall where as far as the eye can see, everything turns into a red/orange array of colours.We get the opportunity to be out there on ATVs and snowmobiles.
The Inuit in Kugluktuk still practise some of their traditional culture and it is seen more in the older generations rather than the younger ones.
The cultural clothing is seen more often in the winter than the summer since they wear their colorful handsewn winter clothing.Sewing and carvings are a source of income for some people.Sewing classes are held every week where you can attend and learn how to make traditional clothing and apparel.The majority of the people wear seal skin gloves and mitts, moose and seal boots known as kamiks (same as mukluks), and the women wear the traditional amautis (winter parka) where their young are carried on their backs.
I arrived at the end of July so I was able to enjoy some of the summer and 24 hours of daylight. However, we had our first frost around mid-August, which was welcomed as it took care of the majority of the relentless mosquitos.
Adjusting to the abrupt end of summer was a bit of a challenge when youre used to warm weather late into fall.The first snowfall was roughly at the beginning of September and it progressively became colder.The days became shorter and shorter and then the blizzards came in some blizzards with winds hitting 106 kilometres per hour.Complete whiteouts that prevent planes from arriving and the town gets shut down. The RCMP are the only ones that still work during the massive storms so navigating to calls for service is a task of driving by feel.
The winds are so high and continuousthat we have to replace our Canadian flag every few months due to it being shredded in the wind.We have a stack of them. Learning to work in the harsh elements has proved quite challenging and hazardous. Temperatures have been in the -50s C and clothing you are used to wearing down south simply doesnt work.Work clothesconsist of lots of snow gear. I mightve worn layers under my uniforms once in Invermere, whereas its a necessity here.Average temperatures hovered in the -30s C to -40s C for the majority of the winter and it doesnt really warm up.Chinooks definitely do not exist.The cold is incredible and dealing with people out in those conditions takes its toll on you.Frostbite and injuries due to the cold have already been experienced,taking some members out of service.
The detachment is a stones throw away from the shores of theCoronation Gulf so our view is of the ocean and we watch fishing float planes arrive everymorning in the summer/fall with paying guests from nearby fishing lodges.
We are supposed to be at five members but have been at three working members since I have been here so, unfortunately, work is busy here witheach RCMP member having an above average criminal case load.
In comparison to Invermere, we have a lower call volume, however the criminal code offences and the level of violence is muchhigher than that in Invermere.The community suffers from social issuesand, with itbeing a larger community than other communities in Nunavut, they are much more apparent.Poverty is present, which has led to the bootleggingof alcohol and smuggling of drugs.Domestic violence and mental health issues are high and the violence is fuelled by the alcohol.Kugluktuk is a restricted community meaning that alcohol can be brought in with a permit and only if an individual hasnt had any alcohol incidents in the previous three months.
Unfortunately the permit system is not completely effective and we deal a lot with bootlegged alcohol being brought into the community.The calls can keep us awake for many hours a night, causing us to lose precious hours of sleep.
The wildlife in and around town consist of caribou, muskox, barren ground grizzly, wolverines, arctic hares and foxes, moose, seals, and arctic char fish.
I have tried my hand at fishing and so far I am the only one who hasnt been able to catch a fish. I think the locals are withholding their secrets from me.I have had calls about the bears and wolves in town, but in reality, those calls are best left for the locals than a non-hunter from the south.
Hunting is a huge part of their lifestyle and it is not uncommon to see the older generation leaving early in the morning on their snowmobiles and qamutiks (sled styled trailers) loaded up with supplies to be out on the land for a few days.They will return with their caribou and muskox usually and will hand out food to other families.
People speak the traditional language of Inuinnaqtun and it is only really heard amongst the elders; however, even the younger generations still communicate with facial expressions that take time to get used to.
I took a statement from someone and they didnt answer any questions verbally and, being new here I didnt pick up on their facial expressions of yes, no, surprise, getting closer to the facts, etc.I walked out and said the person didnt talk and everyone laughed, asking if their face moved.Now I know how to read the faces (i.e. yes = wide-eyed, no = squinting eyes, element of surprise = pursed lips with inhale).
The accent of the Inuit is thick and trying to understand them when they call in has proven to be quite a difficult task.They speak from the throat for pronunciations and often their names do not spell out the way they sound.I have found myself writing them out how they sound phonetically then asking the other members who they are. Street names have been challenging so when they call to report something, hopefully you can at least get the house number since the numbers are not repeated and you cant find the house on a map.The majority of the people do not have their own house phones so when someone is in need, they will run to another house to use a phone, say the house number the RCMP are needed at, then hang up. Many calls we go to are unknown since information isnt provided so we always have to have a heightened situational awareness. Therefore, we do not go to calls with only one member.As each day goes by, I am getting used to learning how to spell and understand everyones names and streets.
The community is a very pro-police community and the majority of the people are very friendly and everyone waves to everyone.
The teenagers can be seen outside all hours of the night hanging out and playing street hockey on the icy roads. In the summer, kids will ride their bikes everywhere 24 hours a day.
Hockey is their life here and I play three nights a week with Fridays being Hockey Night in Kugluktuk and the rink gets filled up with spectators. I still havent scored a goal and I am a terrible hockey player. Being a former ref, I have no concept of how to use a hockey stick. If you play hockey, you are generally liked by the people in town and all issues are put to the side for the two-hour games.
Ali has settled in well.She is the Youth Centre Co-ordinator and has been able to see the positive sides of the community and get involved with a lot of the community events that take place.It has been challenging at times and she has learned a lot. She enjoys her time working with the local children.
Our dogs (Oakley and Lucy) loved the summer/early fall (they are not too fond of the heat down south) and they get to run on the shores of the Coronation Gulf while we mountain bike.What they dont like is that, when in town, they are always having to be on a leash and are not allowed to play with the dogs in the community because those dogs are not friendly and have been known to attack dogs and people. They also hate the bittercold.Their paws have really suffered despite booties and other methods of protecting their paws.The locals are very scared of dogs, especially black dogs, so if they are outside on our little fenced deck, the locals selling carvings and sewings or country food (arctic char and caribou) wont come to our house.
The fat-tire mountain bikes have proven to be amazing here.Weather dependant, Ali rides to work every day (providing its not -30 C to -55 C) and since they are the only two fat-tire bikesin town,they are a huge hit with the kids.Ali gets delayed trying to leave work everyday with kids surrounding her, wanting to see the bike.They have never seen anything like those bikes.We ride on the sandy beaches of the ocean and out to other lakes even onto the ocean ice and touring around. We purchased studded tires for them which was a solid investment.
The posting is a three-year post so I should be out of here in the summer of 2017. We are not sure where things will take us after that, but Invermere is still a huge interest to return to. Never know!