A View From Nunavut. Day 5: Dreams Come True

Matthew Jaw building an igloo. I watched an igloo get built today. The EatFit team along with the Stratford kids


Matthew Jaw building an igloo.

I watched an igloo get built today. The EatFit team along with the Stratford kids drove 5 minutes out of town into the stunning scenery’the air makes the skies so crisp and clear’to where Matthew Jaw, a local artist and jack-of-all-trades, was working on the igloo, and was beautiful to see come together. With saw in hand, Matthew carved into the dense snow, stacking block upon block, disappearing into the dome as he built it.

When Matthew was done, we all got to go inside; the kids packed in for a 10-person selfie. What you’ve heard is true: an igloo really is warm. We were invited to sleep in it, with the caveat that someone would be on guard with a shotgun in the event that a polar bear appeared. I opted not to sleep in the igloo.

But my belly was full: Rideau Hall executive chef Louis Charest had taken a group of Inuit students to the Northern grocery store to buy ‘rations’ for lunch. Those ‘rations’ were turned into fishcakes over salad, pot au feu with beef brisket, and crepes stuffed with pears and apple and sautéed in cinnamon and brown sugar. It was amazing to watch four teams of kids chopping, frying, whisking and just learning to get it done. ‘This is what EatFit is all about,’ said Paul Finkelstein. ‘School can be a negative experience for some of these kids. To see them working together as a team is incredible.’

Rideau Hall Executive Chef cooking with the kids.

Charest didn’t know what to expect coming North. ‘I’ve cooked Arctic food for many years, and now actually being here has been an adventure,’ says Charest, who wanted to lend support to Paul, his longtime friend. ‘Going through a child’s stomach is a great way to get their attention.’

The kids were definitely hungry after spending an hour that morning in the fitness class I led in the gym. They ran, did squats, played clothespin tag and did push-ups. After four rounds of games, just when I thought of winding things down, the teachers told us to keep going ‘ the kids were enjoying themselves too much. So with Eminem’s Lose Yourself playing in the background, I stretched them out, thinking about how this was the northernmost fitness class I’d ever led, and also the most memorable.

The kids having fun getting fit!

The kids spent that night watching hockey at the local arena. ‘It was intense,’ Stratford student Stephanie Roth told me when they got back. ‘I took a video of the last 30 seconds, and there was so much noise. They were so enthusiastic they were kicking at the arena’s tin walls, making dents.’ And as with all through this week, the kids from the South were treated like minor celebrities. ‘It has been weird,’ admits Stephanie. ‘It is sort of cute that they like us so much, but it is unnatural; I’m not a big deal.’

I’ve had the same thing happen. Walking through town after playing fitness games at the elementary school, at least five kids along the way said, ‘Hi Erin.’ It is impossible to know everyone’s names, but it is sweet that everyone knows mine. You can’t fade into the background here.

Tomorrow we’ll get to ‘out on the land,’ we’re told. Snowmobiling is something I’ve always dreamed of doing.

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