A View From Nunavut. Day 6: Sharing Experiences

The beautiful, desolate Nunavut landscape. I spent the unusually long, cold and snowy Toronto winter bundling my two little kids


The beautiful, desolate Nunavut landscape.

I spent the unusually long, cold and snowy Toronto winter bundling my two little kids into snow gear; all week here in Nunavut, it’s been my turn to bundle up. As Joshna Maharaj, a chef on our EatFit posse, puts it, ‘Nunavut is colder than I ever imagined a place could be.’

Today, as we prepare to go ‘out on the land”which means we’re about to hop onto snowmobiles dragging qamattik (traditional wooden sleds, which of course have no suspension, or comfort) to ice fish and be one with nature‘it’s minus 45 with wind chill. Brrr. The locals look at our parkas and boots and say, ‘That isn’t enough.’ Extra clothing is loaned to us from locals’ closets and drawers, and scarves wrapped around heads. By the time I go outside I have three layers on my legs, four on top, two toques, a neck warmer and scarf. Thumbs up.

I luck out, riding on the back of a snowmobile where you can shelter from the wind somewhat. We traverse rock hills, and lakes, but after 20 minutes we hit a snowdrift and approaching storm, and have to turn around. When the weather turns here’and it can turn on a dime’your plans must change. You gain a deeper respect for nature in Nunavut. About to head back to town, school vice principal Andre asks me if I want to drive. I leap to the front of the snowmobile and rev the throttle.  Wow. What an incredible experience to fly across bright-white snow and fields of ice, past mountains reflecting light, and to feel so alive.

Erin driving a snowmobile! (Maybe it’s blurred due to a shivering hand?)

With the rest of the day open, I ask the arts and music teacher, Danick Clavel-Terio, if she’ll take me to buy a print from the world-renowned West Baffin Island Eskimo Co-op. One of my biggest connections this week has been with Danick. She is not your average teacher; in fact, she loathes the word ‘teach.’ ‘I try to connect with the kids, to share an experience, ‘ she tells me, as we walk past artists doing print work. ‘For many of them, home is not a great place. I want them to have the most positive experience they can at school. Life is a mosaic, and every day we add a little piece.’ I buy a beautiful print that will remind me of Cape Dorset.

We go to the grocery store for another look at prices. We check out the tiny produce department, whose rainbow of offerings comes at a price. At least there is quite a bit available today; chopped pineapple, berries, lettuce, even organic arugula. ‘This is a good day. We can go for weeks when this section is bare,’ says Danick, who is originally from Cape Breton. Besides teaching, she helps run the breakfast program and cooks at the elders’ feasts. ‘You have to do a lot with nothing up here,’ she tells me. She is working on a cookbook called Sweet Nothings. ‘I use everything that I’ve got. I’ve made thickener out of potato skins when we didn’t have flour.’

Food is so pricey up here.

Louis Charest, executive chef at Rideau Hall, and Joshna, will serve the meal of the week when we get back: suckling pig, carted in from Stratford, Ont., by Paul Finkelstein. Maharaj has made chana masala (spicy chick peas), carrot and paneer curry, while Charest barbequed the pork outside in the sub-zero. We share an incredible meal. Some local palates are being teased; spices aren’t big up here so many of the local kids have never had these flavours before. (And, boys will be boys; two of them discover Sriracha, a brand of hot chili sauce, and play a game of squirting it in their mouths.)

After dinner we sing Happy Birthday to Hannah, the daughter of Peter Neal (owner of Neal Brothers Foods, who is on the EatFit trip with us) who turned 16 today, and dive into something special: a rich chocolate cake covered in vanilla frosting. Empty plates, licked clean.

The local girls hatch a plan for a sleepover in the school gym and call their parents for permission; I ask them if they want to do a yoga class after soccer finished at 10 pm. As I open the door to the gym, I’m astonished to see 30 kids, all wanting to give it a go. We do sun salutations, triangle pose, seated spinal twists and happy baby. With Adele playing in the background, I get them on their backs for shivasana, and ask them to listen to the sound of their breathing.

The kids doing shivasana.

Tomorrow there will be a bit of cooking for a community feast and the kids are excited about the dance planned for us: one of the girls, who has been a fixture at the school, shows me the dress she plans to wear, a pretty black-sequined outfit.

Later, in the library, the kids watch a movie and paint nails. I bump into Tim, one of the Stratford students, roaming the halls. He has one hand painted bright pink. He rolls his eyes. ‘They asked me if they could do it, and then told me I was like their big brother,’ he tells me, with a shrug. How could he refuse?

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