Category Archives: Iqaluit

Sylvia Grinnell, how does your garden grow?

Went on a hike in Sylvia Grinnell Territorial Park this weekend, but barely saw a sliver of it because I couldn’t stop taking pictures. Warrants some further exploring, for sure.

 

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Helicopter ride over Baffin Island (gallery + videos)

(scroll down for photo gallery + videos)

Aerial view of York Sound during Operation Nanook, Aug. 27, 2014. Photo: Thomas Rohner
Aerial view of York Sound during Operation Nanook, Aug. 27, 2014. Photo: Thomas Rohner

 

When the military invites the media for a tour, it’s safe to assume there’s nothing really worth seeing–at least not journalistically.

So when my colleague at Nunatsiaq News told me there was a seat available on a military-chartered helicopter to York Sound, about 175km outside Iqaluit, to visit an encampment set up as part of Operation Nanook–an annual military exercise–I didn’t really jump at the chance.

But I ended up going and it was worth the trip, even though it was excessive, pampered and, from a news perspective, sterile.

The Views, The Pilot

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Military-chartered helicopter lands at York Sound Aug. 27, 2014, for a tour of Op Nanook. Photo: Thomas Rohner

At an altitude of 3,000 feet, the bay sparkled beneath, every wave reflecting a shard of sunlight.

“Those waves are as tall as houses down there, don’t fool yourself,” the civilian pilot said over the headset.

Oblong isles of rock and the odd ice floe drifted by beneath.

Back in Iqaluit, before takeoff, the pilot had given us a stark and graphic safety briefing.

“If something horrible like a crash happens, please don’t leave me in the helicopter. Rescue me. Even if my legs are gone, I’m on fire or unconscious—whatever, please save me. I wouldn’t leave you in there. Nobody should be left in the helicopter if we crash, OK?”

He told us where to stand, and where not to stand when the chopper blades were turning, and what the consequences were if we erred.

“I’ve never heard of an injury. You die, that’s all.”

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The view from a helicopter en route to York Sound from Iqaluit, Aug. 27, 2014. Photo: Thomas Rohner

He was like a character out of an adventure novel: confident, outgoing, friendly, aggressive and a little lewd.

“They don’t send me places where there’s no mosquitoes, with lots of booze and hookers,” he said of his employers on the way up to York Sound. “They only send me places where there’s  lotsa bugs, no booze and no hookers.”

He was due for some time off, he told us. “I’m going to abuse my liver, that’s what I’m going to do.”

 

The Camp: bacon and cigarettes

Groups of soldiers loitered throughout the camp, most in groups, huddled together, talking, smoking cigarettes. Three rows of tent–dark green, white and bright orange–extended from where the helicopter landed. Backpacks were piled high in a few spots.

ATVs buzzed around the camp, and there was an almost constant coming-and-going of helicopters and twin otters.

I was surprised to smell bacon.

“They’re our rations,” a search and rescue technician wearing a neon orange jumper told me. “I had a sausage breakfast this morning,”

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Tent latrines at Op Nanook, York Sound, 2014: do your business in a bag, deposit bag in blue barrel. Photo: Thomas Rohner

The day before he had parachuted from a helicopter.

I was bored by the interviews and footage the other media personnel were obliged to record for their outlets. I didn’t have the same obligations, so I looked around.

On either side of the cluster of tents, standing 15-20 meters away, were a few booth-like structures, similar in material as the tents.

They looked like port-o-potties, and that’s exactly what they turned out to be. Beside the tent latrines were bright blue, plastic barrels. The latrines use a bag system. You go in a bag, and then put the bag in the barrel.

 

Rangers: polar bear, caribou, whales

Of the 32 rangers helping out at York Sound, around 30 are Inuit from the Baffin region, one ranger estimated.

Their main job is to carry out predator patrol along the perimeter.

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Members of the Baffin region rangers at York Sound, helping out with Op Nanook, Aug. 27, 2014. Photo: Thomas Rohner

They’ve seen a few polar bears so far, another ranger told me, including a mother and cub. The bears may have been attracted by the caribou the ranger shot and killed.

“We spread the meat out on the ground, covered it with a tarp so the ravens wouldn’t get it, and it’s still fresh,” he said. “I’ve fed all the rangers with the caribou,” he laughed. A few more caribou have been shot since, which has raised some questions considering there are apparently not that many left on the island.

The rangers drove us down to the beachside on their ATVs, where a tent and small encampment was set up as the command centre for the grounded cruise ship in Op Nanook’s mock emergency scenario, about a kilometer offshore.

The military rep told us that, if we were lucky, we’d see some of the 50 actors hired to feign injury brought back to shore from the cruise ship and up to the triage tents in the main camp. Some of them would even be transported back to the hospital in Iqaluit, she said.

Be all you can be. Or something. York Sound, Operation Nanook, Aug. 27, 2014. Photo: Thomas Rohner
Be all you can be. Or something. York Sound, Operation Nanook, Aug. 27, 2014. Photo: Thomas Rohner

But we weren’t lucky. It was quiet down on the seashore, a handful of participants in Op Nanook—including a man with a “coroners” armband—mulling around a tent. After a few minutes we rode back up to the camp and piled into the chopper.

If only the media had been invited out to York Sound the previous day, when Stephen Harper visited the camp. We could’ve saved on jet fuel, maybe even asked the PM a question or two.

 

 

Harper’s in Iqaluit: so what?

Would it matter if, when Stephen Harper arrives in Iqaluit this week, we just didn’t show up to the photo-ops and PR stints so carefully planned and thoughtfully communicated to the media by his communications team? Would he smile to an empty room, shake hands with phantoms?

Most people know his annual trip to the North is a token gesture, a symbolic visit devoid of real significance. So why do we, especially in the media, still scurry to his events like lap dogs? An event needs an audience, and if the media deprived him of that, what would be left?

Photo by Remy Steinegger, courtesy wikicommons.
Photo by Remy Steinegger, courtesy wikicommons.

The media has grown too dependent on communication officials.

Noam Chomsky and Ed Herman published a propaganda model of media in 1988 predicting that, contrary to popular democratic belief, news media is not independent of power centres in society and actually “mobilize support for the special interests that dominate the state and private activity”. The model is, by now, one of the most well-tested and proven models in all of social science.

The model is set up as a series of filters which potential news has to pass through in order to reach the public. Filters like advertisers and capital investment to create news media. One of the filters is a “sourcing bias”.

The sourcing bias is pretty simple: media rely on communications from governments and companies as an authoritative source of news. The resources of governments and companies are far greater than the resources of the media. Media can save money and time by relying on official communications.

The disparity in resources ensures this is an imbalanced relationship. But the imbalance doesn’t end with a sourcing bias; it only begins to explain how the general public, and the media, are kept at an arm’s length—a long go-go-Gadget arm’s length—from meddling in governmental affairs.

A commentary in the Toronto Star by Gregory Thomas earlier this month revealed that the Conservatives are spending over $260-million on communications personnel this year—for core public services alone—which is $48-million more than when they first came into power. In comparison, that amounts to about 80% of the payroll for the House of Commons. And, as Thomas points out, it’s not like communicating with Parliament Hill has gotten any easier under the Conservatives.

Photo courtesy wikicommons. Graffiti in Toronto on Danforth Ave.
Photo courtesy wikicommons. Graffiti in Toronto on Danforth Ave.

“Canadians are seeing a quarter-billion dollars of their money used against them: not to provide them with information, but rather to delay, conceal and spin the information to enhance the image of the party in power,” Thomas wrote in the Star.

Sourcing bias. Excessive spin doctors. And then there’s that nagging accusation that the Conservatives are muzzling scientists.

An article published last week by Postmedia’s Margaret Munro revealed through an Access to Information request—one of the last tools available to journalists asking meaningful questions—that scientists from the Canadian Ice Service, an arm of Environment Canada, were denied their 2012 wish to hold a “strictly factual” media briefing to reveal how ice had disappeared from the Northwest Passage. Their request to have biannual “Media Tech Briefings” so that Canadian media wouldn’t have to rely on American data which were “missing the Canadian details” didn’t make it through the government’s nine-level approval process that ensures their “communication plan”.

“Communication plan.” How quaint.

A communication plan isn’t about communication at all, at least not in the sense of a dialogue. It means communicating with an agenda. There are no direct answers given, so why bother asking direct questions?

Harper doesn’t think an inquiry into the tragic number of missing and murdered Aboriginal women is necessary, for example, because it’s not a “sociological phenomenon”, he said last week while in Whitehorse. “It is crime against innocent people, and it needs to be viewed as such,” Yukon News quoted him as saying.

“No need to fret over the toxic brew that contributes to the many troubles faced by Canada’s aboriginal communities,” Yukon News editor John Thompson wrote in a scathing, impassioned editorial lambasting Harper’s “stupidity”. Thompson listed a few sociological

Photo courtesy wikicommons.
Photo courtesy wikicommons.

aspects that Harper glossed over: high unemployment, substance abuse, overcrowded housing, low education levels and “not to mention the terrible traumas inflicted during residential schools that continue to be passed from one generation to the next.”

More to the point, though, Harper’s not really answering the question: should we have an official inquiry? Instead he’s selling his tough-on-crime shtick. He’s shticking to a communication plan.

Sourcing bias. Excessive spin doctors. Muzzling scientists. Communication shtick.

Just for the exercise, what could Harper be addressing, instead of being wooshed from one venue to the next, handled by handlers whose soft hands see Jergens five times a day and cotton swabs for their cuticles? Just for the exercise…

John Bennett, executive director of the Sierra Club had some good suggestions in an editorial last week for Troy Media.

He wants to know why the National Energy Board is considering relaxing safety measures it adopted after the Verizon catastrophe in applications it’s currently reviewing from Chevron and Imperial Oil. “Will the PM be talking about drilling safety on this trip through the North?” Bennett asked.

He also wants to know why the scientists from Canadian Ice Service aren’t allowed, as scientists, to inform the public of scientific facts, as scientists.

I’m new to the North and have much to learn about reality and complexity of life up here. There’s a million real questions I imagine people would love to put to Mr. Harper that I don’t know about yet. But Harper’s shtick—shucks, that I’ve seen since I was knee-high to a grasshopper.

If only, Kids in the Hall.

 

 

Prominent architecture in Iqaluit

scroll down for picture gallery

The architecture in Iqaluit leaves two distinct impressions on my mind: the town’s military history and the harsh arctic environment.

Many of the bigger buildings are box-shaped with minimal geometric variations and sparse porthole windows. There’s a simplistic aesthetic which immediately speaks to function and weathering the blistering winds.

But it doesn’t seem there are many admirers of Iqaluit architecture.

A letter to the editor of the local newspaper in 2002 described the town’s architecture as one of fear: fear of the elements, fear of costs, fear of a unique identity and fear of imagination.

“Buildings still do not engage the landscape as they should, striding over it with complete abandon,” the letter said. “There is little attention to the streetscape…to lighting, to the human experience of the building.”

And a former reporter at the local paper described the architecture, simply, as goofy.

But there are signs that architectural designs are becoming more ambitious, if even goofier.

One architect from Toronto designed skyscrapers, made of local rocks, to sit atop glaciers and move with ocean currents. Nothing came of those designs.

And some design students, also from Ontario, pitched giant floating balls of light to Nunavut communities as a way to see them through the long, dark winters.

Much of the push for more colourful, unique buildings comes, sadly, in the form of government, especially federal, buildings, as you’ll see below. The Territorial legislative assembly, built in 1999, was seen by many as the first building to attempt creativity. And an aquatic centre slated to begin construction next summer would certainly add some colour and flare.

A project headed by a Toronto firm, called Arctic Adaptations, tried to address what many see as the abysmal state of architecture in the North earlier this year by designing buildings with five themes in mind: health, housing, education, arts and recreation.

The project was one of the top exhibits at this year’s Venice Biennale—an internationally renowned architectural fair.

“Maybe we haven’t been as intelligent as the Inuit have been in adapting to place [in the North],” the lead architect said.

This post only deals with prominent architecture of public buildings in the town; a post on housing and infrastructure will follow at a later date.


Iqaluit Airport

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Inuksuk High School

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Nakasuk Elementary School

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Baffin Correctional Centre and the territorial court house

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Legislative assembly and  RCMP office

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St. Jude Anglican Church

 

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The Arctic Hotel, The Frobisher Inn and the Legion

 

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Misc

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Building houses municipal council chambers.
This building houses the municipal council chambers.
Qikiqtani General Hospital
Qikiqtani General Hospital
CBC building.
CBC building.

Iqaluit groceries, sculptures

 

Grocery Bill, North Mart

*salt and pepper shakers (mini): $6.99

*sugar, bulk (0.465kg): $2.28

*canola oil (475mL): $3.99

*coffee, ground (925g): $19.99

water enhancer, squirt (48mL): $4.35

*pasta, rotini, 1 bag (900g): $5.49

*sandwich bags, 100: $1.99

*soap, bars (2): $4.19

*toothpaste (100mL): $4.29

*crackers, 1 box (225g): $3.99

*candy, 1 box (450g): $6.19

milk (4L): $10.45

frozen veg, corn (750g): $4.79

frozen juice concentrate: $1.35 x 4

ground beef (0.5kg): $5.95

pork loin (0.42kg): $6.76

chicken breast, boneless/skinless (1.1kg/5 pieces): $32.03

bag charge: $0.72

subtotal: $136.83

gst: $1.15

total: $137.98

*= discount brands

 

Things I can’t afford until I get paid

laundry detergent, Tide 5L: $48.89

toilet paper, Charmin 12 rolls: $19.99

garbage bags, Glad 20 large: $14.39

Hello Iqaluit

 

Grocery Bill
Cereal, Special K (565g): $11.39

Potato Chips (270g): $4.89

Loaf of Bread, 7-grain: $3.25

Onions, yellow (2lb): $3.49

Peppers, red (1): $2.33

Potatoes (5lbs): $5.45

Eggs (1 dozen): $3.95

Milk (2L): $6.19

Cheddar, Cracker Barrel Old (200g): $6.45

Butter (1lb): $7.99

Pork chops, loin (0.32kg): $4.89

subtotal: $60.37
gst: $0.21

Total: $60.58