Last week I made my way to a small Cree community on Hudson Bay that borders Quebec and Nunavut. I landed on the Nunavut side in the Inuit town of Kuujjuarapik, just a few hundred meters from the school I’m now working at in Whapmagoostui, QB. The whole trip involved two planes and 5 landings, spanning nearly 1500km! Although I’ll be here for a month or more, I wanted to give you an idea of my first impressions before the snow barricades me indoors. 🙂
A Scenic Journey to Great Whale, QB
Even though the flight to Whapmagoostui was mostly cloudy and the plane windows were caked in mud from the gravel landings, I was able to peek out the window from time to time and enjoy some unique views. It was captivating to see how, as we flew farther north, the deciduous trees were completely replaced by conifers until they too became sparse. It was also incredible to see the patchy lakes of northern Quebec from a birds eye view.
Trees in the Tundra
The area I’m housed in, located about 1 km from the Hudson Bay shoreline, is very sandy and has little to no trees throughout the town area. I was surprised at first to see that the community hadn’t adorned their houses with trees on their front yard as I’m used to. After walking across the sandy roads and ATV trails, I now realize why. There’s too much sand! However, off the main town roads there are still plenty of smaller coniferous trees growing beside and through the rocky terrain.
The Great Whale region is classified as sub-arctic, reaching highs of 16 degrees Celsius in August and lows of -16 in December (record: -46 Celsius). The region is greatly influenced by the “Hudson Bay effect” which refers to the precipitation and temperature changes that change most notably after the Hudson bay has thawed or frozen over.
The Hudson bay is still wide open and this past week’s weather has been a mix of clouds and within a few degrees of -2 Celcius! I imagine that in the next few weeks as the Hudson Bay freezes over this will change significantly… I’m interested to see and feel these temperatures in the next few weeks but I’m in no hurry to get there!
The Most Lively Town Ever?
The sub-arctic towns of Whapmagoostui and Kuujjuarapik are incredibly lively, something I didn’t imagine given their relatively small combined population of around 1500. As soon as I arrived I realized that this community, though remote, is buzzing with activity! In fact, this past week a group from the community set up a huge haunted house in the local arena which was incredibly busy up until midnight. I know this, of course, because I was walking back from the west side of the region on the Hudson Bay shore at around 11:30. Even at that hour, there were plenty of kids walking through the haunted house and scaring each other. At their age I’m pretty sure I would’ve been scared to go to a haunted house let alone walk there in the dark!
Another thing I didn’t expect when I arrived is the amount of walking I’d have to do. Walking from the house to the school is about 8 minutes, walking to the grocery store is about 25. So, on a normal day at the school I’ll be walking for 32 minutes through sandy terrain and on a grocery shopping day I’ll be walking for about an hour. Arguably, this should be nothing to me as I enjoy long hiking, cycling, kayak trips… But it is! And I’ll tell you why.
- Cold Wind – Even with thermal underwear and a warm jacket, the wind has a funny way of attacking me whenever I am far from the house. The worst incident so far was when a freak snow flurry pelted my face with hard ice. Not ideal.
- Everyone else has an ATV! – It wouldn’t be as difficult if I didn’t have to see everyone else in the community zipping around in their 4 wheelers every day!
- Sand here, there and everywhere! – There’s a reason why the school has a no-outside shoes rule, sand gets everywhere. It’s also harder to walk through.
Food Prices in Northern Canada
I’ve heard tales of the exorbitant prices of food in northern regions of Canada, but I wasn’t expecting some of the prices I had to shell out. Below is a receipt from Northern, the local grocery store in town. For a 500 ml jar of Kraft Raspberry Jam I paid $10 and for a six pack of tuna cans I paid $20, just over $3 a can. Even though most prices are subsidized, my grocery bill for the first week cost over $200. In comparison, my normal weekly grocery bill (when I’m paying 😉 ) is around $60. This makes sense when you figure that the food has to be flown in every week as there are no roads or year-round ship routes to follow.
Views of the Hudson Bay and Area
On Friday I was able to get out and take some better shots the region. I walked east to get a view of the bay overlooking the town. A few points of interest included the wild wheat on the shore and a jellyfish that got caught out of the tide. After that excursion I headed back to the house to make some Kraft Dinner before heading out again at night. This time I headed west to get a decent view of the Inukshuk over the bay.
Next few weeks in Whapmagoostui, QB
So far, my experience in Whapmagoostui has been a good one. Although it is lonely at times, I am comforted to know I have a strong support network back home that haven’t abandoned me. I always find the first few days or even the first week are the toughest as I have to curb some strong relocation anxiety, but being able to communicate back home is helpful. The students I’ve been working with are also hilarious, so that has eased the transitioning moments.
The next few weeks, as I continue my work with students in the community, I have a few places I’d like to explore a little more. The east and west shore are interesting, but I’d also like to get some photos of planes landing during snowy weather. I’ll have to see how the weather proceeds, as I don’t have any snow shoes to tackle the deep snow! If I can, I’ll also get some shots of the Hudson Bay starting to freeze (if it hasn’t started already).