Canada 150, Northwest Territories

Roaming north to the territories again, here are some excerpts from the chapter, “North of Sixty”:

“So, what brings you to Yellowknife?” the CBC producer asks me on the phone…why are you coming in March. It’s still pretty cold here, you know…”

“We’re coming for the Caribou Carnival–to celebrate the end of winter.”

A faint laugh, maybe a snicker. Is it the carnival? Or the notion that the beginning of spring signals the end of snow and ice?

…our bed and breakfast (is) in Old Town on the shore of Yellowknife Bay, down by the float plane docks. We are on a narrow bay right across from the three-storey red and white box that is Air Tindi, and while we watch from the shore, men in heavy hooded jackets periodically walk onto the ice, remove covers from the wings and propellers of a small plane, and taxi out to Yellowknife Bay, blasting us with sprays of fast-flying snow. A line of what look like discarded Christmas trees shoved into banks of snow marks one side of the “runway,” warning cars, trucks, snowmobiles, skiers, and dogsled teams that this is one stretch of the bay they have to share with faster means of transport…

The Caribou Carnival turns out to be a very casual, low-key affair…Still, along with a hundred or so other souls and a half-dozen squawking ravens, we gather outside the Black Knight Pub on 49th Street for the official opening. The theme this year is Hawaiian, and someone in a grass skirt drapes us in leis as we watch the tug-of-war between the Yellowknife Fire Department and the RCMP detachment. On a table outside the pub there is a big anniversary cake with icing that depicts the blue Pacific, with a beach of yellow sand, umbrellas, and palm trees. There is also to be a Luau pig roast on nearby Frame Lake…we’re starting to get the picture. The carnival is not for tourists–indeed, apart from ourselves there don’t appear to be any around, except perhaps for two or three disgruntled Japanese, here principally to see the Northern Lights, which haven’t been putting on their usual show the last few evenings. No, the carnival is for the locals, a chance to forget about the cold and the lingering winter, to fantasize that they’re on vacation in an altogether different climate.

When the opening ceremonies are over there is an unorganized “parade”–a stroll really–down to Frame Lake, the centre for most of the activities. There a ring of army tents has been set up for adults’ and kids’ games, and to sell food and “Kar uh boo” T-shirts. In the centre of the ring there’s a performance stage…

The Diavik 150 Canadian Championship Dog Derby is held in conjunction with the Caribou Carnival, and it starts on Frame Lake on the first full day of the festival…

Hey, but wait a minute! These are not at all the solid, furry huskies we’ve always seen in pictures, pulling Inuit and RCMP officers through the woods and across the barrens. These are scrawny, short-haired mongrels, black, brown, white, and dappled, with awkward, spindly legs like the bandy pins of old men who are barely able to walk, let alone run. Their looks, however, are deceiving, for these are Siberian huskies crossed with German Short Haired Pointers, bred for speed, endurance, and especially the ability to handle the warmer conditions of today’s north…Today’s dogs can do fifty miles (80.5 kilometres) in under three and a half hours. And they repeat this distance on two successive days with little if any loss of speed. How the Mounties would have loved to have had them on the long, cold sled from Aklavik to Fort McPherson!…

That evening we get our own crack at dogsledding. From Beck’s Kennels, on the outskirts of Yellowknife, I drive a team of six across small lakes and through undulating scrub forest to a wilderness camp seven kilometres away. I have a foot firmly planted on each of the two runners that protrude from the back of the sled, and my hands grip a metal loop in front of me. Dot, decked out in a borrowed pale blue parka and wrapped in a blanket, sits on the toboggan looking like a pioneer settler making her first trip to the plot her husband has staked out deep in the bush…Ours is a quiet journey, broken only by the scrape of the wooden runners sliding across the snow, and the wind whistling past the sled. Sometimes, on curves, the sleigh tilts to a precarious angle and I lean hard the other way to right it. At other moments we bog down in heavy snow, and I jump off to push while one of my dogs dips his head and scoops up mouthfuls of white powder. Whenever there’s an apparent problem and we slow down, the lead dog turns and gives me what I take to be a disapproving look, as if he’s thinking, “Where the hell did they recruit this guy?” Never mind. Biting wind and tingling toes aside, I’m having the time of my life. I’m living a boyhood dream. I’m Constable King of the RCMP, and I’m hot on the trail of the Mad Trapper of Rat River.

 

The recipes in this chapter are for Caribou Stew and Bannock.

To take the full journey across the country, please order a copy of Roaming The Big Land: Flavours of Canada by going to http://www.penumbrapress.com. Autographed copies with a personal message are also available by contacting the author at: terdotcomm@sympatico.ca

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About t. a. keenleyside

author of travel/food books and popular fiction
This entry was posted in biography, books, Canada 150, Canadian travel, Caribou Carnival, contemporary culture, dogsledding, family literature, food literature, Northwest Territories, RCMP, recipes, travel books, Yellowknife and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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