A View From Nunavut. Day 3: Now, That’s a Blizzard

A boat frozen in Cape Dorset Bay (Image: Jenny Hueston) Today, while much of southern Canada is finally welcoming spring,


A boat frozen in Cape Dorset Bay (Image: Jenny Hueston)

Today, while much of southern Canada is finally welcoming spring, I took a walk in an Arctic blizzard. When 80 mph gusts of wind and snow hit you in the face for the first time, you get a closer view of the Nunavut elements.

This was meant to be day one of our Eat Fit Challenge. Cooking classes! Exercise! More cooking! Games! Shop class! Trips to the elementary school! But on a Cape Dorset snow day when only eight girls show up for school, Stratford schoolteacher and chef de mission Paul Finkelstein isn’t deterred: he knows that the girls, aged between 7 and 14, who beat through the snow to get to school, are a captive audience. He sets them up in the kitchen and, under the guidance of his Stratford high school student Stephanie Roth, together they make potato latkes from scratch.

Next, in the gym, we decide to forge ahead with an exercise class, mainly for the benefit of the Stratford kids (though two Inuit kids take part)’and me. We blare Pharrell Williams’ Happy from the loudspeakers and I lead them in lunges, squats, push-ups and functional movements. By the end everyone is sweaty and invigorated, and decide to take a walk in the blizzard, which the Inuit girls clarify is ‘just wind and snow.’

Blogger and Best Health freelancer Erin Phelan leads a fitness class in the gym of Peter Pitseolak high school (Image: Peter Neal)

Cape Dorset is small: a few roads run up and down hills, and there is a beautiful gazebo that overlooks the bay with several canoes frozen in the middle, looking like they have been abandoned mid-paddle stroke. We are blown up one side of a hill and down the other. I will say one thing: it is invigorating.

The storm builds throughout the day, and the whipping wind against the school (where we are based all day, and sleep in at night) is so strong it sounds as though the building might rip apart. That doesn’t deter the locals from coming for a raffle to raise money for the minor hockey team. It isn’t like anything I’ve ever seen in the south: donated televisions, artisan carvings made of serpentine, unworn oversized jeans, dollar-store toys, and a bag of flour that would retail for about $75. Peter Neal, a Toronto businessman who has fundraised for this trip, buys a carving and locals joke that four more carvers will be along to sell him more tomorrow. Cape Dorset is considered the Inuit Art Capital of the world and the carvings are beautiful.

Stratford student Kaitlynn Hawkins models an Inuit-crafted coat (and a local baby even helped demonstrate for this photograph how the coat is traditionally used!)

At the event, it is sweet to see the Stratford kids interacting with the local students, and it looks to me as though some of the local girls have crushes on the boys as they pose for pictures together.

The kids watch a movie and the grown-ups’photographer Jenny Hueston, Neal, food activist Joshna Maharaj, carpenter Jules Meaney, Fink and I’retire to the kitchen for hot chocolate. It’s late, around midnight, and Fink decides we should go outside, into the blizzard. ‘When else are you ever going to experience a Nunavut blizzard at night?’ It was one thing when we were out in the daylight, but it’s dark now. Still, we took the dare, as did some of Paul’s students, and went out into the lashing snow and beating wind. It is minus 35 degrees, the winds are nearing 100mph. It’s surreal. This will be something we will remember for the rest of our lives.

As we go to sleep in the English teacher’s classroom, I note that she is teaching Jack London’s Call of the Wild. She has written on the board, ‘THEME: Survival of the Fittest.’ I might have to reread that book.

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Erin Phelan is a fitness trainer and mom of two. She’s a regular contributor to Best Health.