February 6, 2016
The New Year has started off with a bang, literally. As mentioned in my last letter I was present for the New Year’s celebration in Tuktoyaktuk which brought in the new with fireworks and shotguns blasting into the air. A week later, in Inuvik, a second celebration took place. This time it was to welcome back the sun after its one month hiatus. The Inuvik Sunrise Festival is an annual three day event which brings out the spirit and joy of the whole community. Each day there were pancake breakfasts, craft shows, sporting events and art displays throughout the community. Near the beginning of the ice road to Tuk a small “Ice Road Village” was created out of snow and ice and included igloos, castles, sculptures and snow playgrounds for young and old. Also in the village were a row of canvas wall tents with roaring fires inside so people could go in and warm up with a mug of hot coffee and a bowl of chilli among other tasty fare.
The high point of the festival was the night of the bonfire and fireworks. The bonfire, presided over by the local fire department, began with close to one thousand wooden forklift pallets neatly stacked on an island in the lake. Set afire the pallets burned intensely for several hours with flames reaching forty feet into the air all the while providing a warm glow to the hundreds of onlookers circling the blaze as close as the heat would allow. After the fire came the fireworks with an amazing display of color and light filling the inky black sky and illuminating the snow-covered forest below. The show lasted for more than 20 minutes and at last came to thundering finale. As the grateful applause faded the crowd slowly dispersed only to regather at the Igloo Church for a music concert headlining Leela Gilday, a Juno Award winning songstress who filled our ears and hearts with her beautiful music. Inuvik really knows how to throw a party.
Part of the month of January was dedicated to connecting with my brother Redemptorists. The Provincial Council of the Edmonton-Toronto province convened in Toronto for three days and I joined them from Inuvik by SKYPE. The following week I flew to Toronto where the local Redemptorist superiors from across the country gathered at Manresa, a Jesuit retreat house, in order to discuss issues of leadership related to our roles. We poured over our Pastoral Guide for Superiors, our Policies and Procedures Manual and covered such topics as; how to have good community meetings, making a plan for community life and, finally, how to deal with conflict and difficult confreres. Not that we have any of those but you always want to be prepared just in case.
I had an interesting experience while back in the big city as I was sitting in the common room looking out at the wooded ravine behind the retreat house. A large canine walked by the window and my first thought was, “That’s a wolf”. I realized immediately what a crazy idea that was and was sure that it had been many years (generations) since a wolf had been spotted in the metropolis of the Greater Toronto Area. Sure enough the dog’s owner soon appeared with leash in hand. It was only a week later, after a funeral in Tuktoyaktuk, as I drove down the ice road back to Inuvik I spotted another couple of canines off to the side of the ice road. “Someone’s dogs out playing”, was the first thought that came to mind. “Wrong again”, I realized, as they turned and I recognized two large, one black and the other grey, northern timber wolves standing nearly three feet high at the shoulders. My two worlds are getting confused.
January culminated with a wonderful trip down the Dempster and Klondike highways with Sr. Fay Tromblay from Tuktoyaktuk and Carmelle St Vincent who is from Winnipeg but has been helping Sr. Fay in Tuk for the past month. The journey, which brought us as far south as Whitehorse, YT, had several motivating factors; It was a post-Christmas getaway, a team building experience, a chance to meet with the wonderful volunteers who had restored the Church in Tuk over the period of four summers and finally an opportunity to stock up on much needed supplies for the St. Vincent de Paul Food Pantry in Tuk at a more reasonable price then can be found north of the Arctic Circle.
I reflected a little on the experience of the Dempster highway shortly after I arrived last August, but in winter it takes on a very different character. The weather cooperated and a brilliant sun reflected off of vast expanses of virgin snow fields as we passed through not one but two mountain ranges. The views across the many valleys were spectacular and where there were trees, at lower elevations, they were encased like mummies in thick garments of glistening white. Carmelle commented that, bent over from the weight, the trees look looked like dinosaurs ready to pounce as we passed by. Carmelle has a wonderful imagination. The road was very easy to drive, even better than summer, as there was no dust or mud and the snowpack smoothed out much of the roughness. We were reminded however by one incident that, as beautiful as it is, the Dempster is still very unforgiving. As I made room for an oncoming trailer truck I eased over onto what seemed to be a smooth, freshly graded shoulder. I had forgotten that there are no shoulders on the Dempster highway and we found ourselves instantly pulled into a freshly graded, snow-filled ditch with the vehicle tilted at 45 degrees. Besides a bruised ego and losing an hour of time while we waited for a pull from the next truck that passed by we were unhurt and used the delay and good weather to take pictures and enjoy the magnificent view.
Along the way we experienced the wonderful hospitality of the Catholic community both in Dawson City, YT, where we stayed overnight each way, and in Whitehorse where we met the local priests and staff of the both the English and French communities as well as members of the Madonna House community who hosted us for Mass and Dinner. There we delighted in conversation, each of us sharing stories of our various apostolates. Keep the folks of the Whitehorse diocese in your prayers as they prepare to welcome their new Bishop elect Hector who will be ordained for the diocese on Sunday, February 7th. It was unfortunate but our trip had to be cut short by one day as a funeral was being prepared back in Inuvik a reminder that our call to the mission in the north is not just about the wonderful adventures but about the needs of the people which we try to place first and foremost. In that, I ask for your constant prayers to help me remain faithful.
Until next time, Peace