And then they splashed fuel all over the large wooden structure, built to resemble what was called “The Wicker Dog.” Everyone was told to stand back. I watched them light something small on fire – a stick, an arrow?
Oh wait, I should probably provide some context. It was late May, maybe early June, of 2015. I’d only been in Iqaluit, Nunavut for a few weeks and this was my first real night out. I lived in a tiny townhouse in the centre of Iqaluit. I had two roommates, both having just arrived to Nunavut as well. We three girls were the newest employees to a tourism company based in Iqaluit.
There were five employees, plus the owner, though he was often travelling and attending to the guides in other parts of the arctic. I was the youngest; their ages ranged from 28 to 40-something, and I had just turned 20. We worked hard. We were preparing for the summer season and there was a lot to do. We didn’t really take days off, so my social life consisted of the occasional drink after a long day of work or making dinner with my co-workers.
Also it was cold. Very cold. Maybe it was -10 C in May, but man the wind made it frigid. It was cold enough that a few weeks in I was able to go to Yurt Fest, an all night party on the sea ice covering the ocean water of Frobisher Bay. We took snow mobiles from the mainland out to the middle of the bay where a large yurt stood. It had Christmas lights and there was a DJ playing music to a yurt-full of people dancing.
But again, I’m getting ahead of myself. It was cold and my entire life was centred on a job I wasn’t enjoying. This made the first few weeks in Nunavut incredibly lonely. Everyone always says how brave we are when we go to an unknown place without anyone we know, though none of us really acknowledge why it’s so brave. It gets really lonely not having anyone who knows you. Only 14 more weeks ’til home. Great attitude, I know.
Another guide came through Iqaluit on his way further up North, and he invited the new staff to this party. “Bring some drinks and a lot of warm clothing – it’s going to get cold” was essentially all he said. So that’s what I did. I had some gin and tonic water, and wore a thick coat, wool socks and Arctic boots (spoiler alert: I was still freezing). We drove out to the Causeway and hopped on snowmobiles.
I don’t think many people would describe me as being shy, but I was not doing a good job of mingling with the young adults of Iqaluit. Later on though, I started talking to someone. Maybe I should rename this article to “How a G&T and good looking guy gave me a social life.” I learned that he and his friends there had gone to a school very close to mine. He introduced me to them and their other friends living in the Arctic, and we all got along well.
This wasn’t the kind of city-bar interaction where you meet people and never contact them again. I heard from them the next day and from then on we were camping, hiking, getting drinks after work, and just spending time together in general. I ended up becoming very good friends with some of them. Though I still felt the loneliness when I saw photos of my friends together back home or received a letter from a friend, these times where few and far between. It’s amazing how a completely new place, even one north of the 60th parallel without trees or total darkness, can feel like home with the right people.
With bows in the sky and arrows pulled back, Inuit community members shot flaming arrows at The Wicker Dog which lit into a blaze of flames. It burned throughout the night, keeping everyone warm through Yurt Fest. And so began the story of my Arctic experience.