The Inescapable Influence of Alcohol in the North

Last week, two NWT MLAs, Kevin Menicoche (Nahendeh) and Frederick Blake Jr. (Mackenzie Delta) missed committee meetings due to “excessive drinking”. Initially when I read about this I was outraged, but beyond that, I was disappointed. When I moved north, my grandfather was concerned that I would become jaded, his exact choice of word. I wasn’t quite sure what he meant at the time but after two years here, I understand. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love the north. I mean, clearly. I write about it all the time, I want the rest of the world to be able to see us through webcams, and thinking about leaving Yellowknife just breaks my heart. But, you can’t have the sunshine without the rain, and in this case, the rain is alcohol.

It’s everywhere through the north, and it’s a problem so huge that no one knows what to do about it. I see it day to day, people on the street intoxicated at 10am. I see it at work, victims of severe frostbite from wandering outside in -30°C while drunk. Worse though is hearing the stories of the children. These kids in all the smaller communities deal with alcohol every day of their lives. If it’s not their parents dropping them off at a neighbours place and disappearing, it’s their friends parents, or their relatives. It’s a “drink until the money’s gone” mentality, and it’s a horrible vicious cycle. Most of these children don’t stand a chance.

It kills you to even think about, and so with this news of our MLAs missing meetings because they were too drunk to show up, most of us shake our heads, say “that’s terrible”, and then what? What can we do?

Well, leave it to the internet. A man named Ollie Williams, a volunteer in Fort Liard who works with youth, wrote an open letter to Menicoche that was so beautifully written and profound, I had to share it. He captures my feelings exactly: the hopelessness of these kids who looked up to these men and who are now disappointed by yet another irresponsible adult. Ollie writes about the impact this actions will have on future generations of kids, whose lives are surrounded and dictated by alcohol. Please read his letter, and please share it.


Ice Road Repairs

Happy spring!


Wherever you are, I’m sure it’s more like spring there than it is here. But that said, it’s only been minus-single-digits for the last few days and things are starting to melt! The snow on the roads is slowly disappearing, which I’m happy about except the fact that it’s muddy and messy and we have a white truck.. D’oh!

A week or so ago a friend of mine posted an epic picture to her Facebook of her sitting on an ice road on top of a huge crack in the ice. Naturally I immediately wanted to go see this cracked ice road (safe, right?) so Chris and I headed out to Prosperous Lake where she got the photo.

It’s easy to tell when the diamond mine ice roads open because the Ingraham Trail is suddenly extremely busy with enormous trucks just flying in and out of Yellowknife. There are two ice roads off the Ingraham Trail, the Tibbitt to Contwoyto winter road (way out at the end of the Ingraham Trail) and the Gibbs Lake to Prosperous Lake secondary road. The Tibbitt-Contwoyto winter road has 65 land portages and 85% of the road is built over frozen lakes. And thanks to this winter being the coldest in 20 years, the ice road opened at 34 inches thick, 6 inches more than what was expected. So, apparently there was one upside to this winter being so ridiculously freezing cold.

Ice Road Tanker

This year, according to Diavik, the goal of these ice roads was to “transport approximately 3,500 loads of fuel, cement, and other operations’ supplies”, mainly diesel fuel. The winter roads need to be 41 inches thick for the mines to use it at full tilt, which they say is four trucks dispatched at 20-minute intervals with a speed limit of 25km/hr, to keep the space between the trucks adequate to prevent scary things like, you know, trucks going through the ice. 

Tanker Down

This photo came from an article on the risks of “hard water highways”, found here.

The greatest thing about these winter roads which I just learned is that they employ around 800 people a season, 500 of those being drivers alone. Obviously building and maintaining a 400-km ice road is no easy task but I had no idea that it was THIS huge.

So while we were out on the Prosperous ice road, we found the epic fractures with ease. In fact, the road was covered in enormous cracks as wide and as deep as your arm, or bigger. I guess you could say the fear of standing on frozen water has worn off when you’re staring down a huge chasm in the ice you’re standing on.

Arm deep

FractureOnce we got over the initial shock of the cracks, we kept driving and saw a water truck in the middle of the road pouring water into the huge openings to seal them shut. Again, this is something I never really thought about, the fact that the roads must be maintained in good condition to be driveable. So this guy literally just aims the valve in the general area of the crack and dumps tons of water inside it.

Water TruckWe watched him for a little while, and then once he passed us, we hopped out and I got a short little video of the ice popping and snapping. At one point the ice settled with a huge pop, which you’ll notice when you hear us yelping! The ice roads are so cool. Despite the novelty wearing off a little, when you’re driving over them and start to think about the fact that you’re driving on ice, you can’t help but feel a little humbled.

Also, a piece of the Prosperous ice road has made its way onto our patio. Makes for a great deck ornament! And now I can say I have lakefront property. :)

Lakefront Property

A week with my sister in Yellowknife

I’ve been busy the for the last week! My sister was here and we had such a great time with her. She lives back home in NS and was so excited to come here and experience our winter. She loves winter anyway and LOVES snow so she was beside herself in the days and weeks leading up to her trip. She arrived late at night and we took her straight to the ice road, and pretty much never stopped from there!

The day she left we were laughing because we can’t even remember everything we did with her; it was a total whirlwind. We took her to the galleries and shops around town. We introduced her to Dave Brosha at his studio, as this was an absolute must for her to do because she’s a huge fan of his. She also met Tara, who made her a print of one of Dave’s photos. We went to Buffalo Airways and managed to get a little tour of their hangar. We drove the ice road to Dettah and back along the highway, and we drove to Whati in the middle of a blizzard. We hiked Cameron Falls and cross country skied at the Ski Club. We squeezed in three sled trips (she was a natural!). She patiently sat through the Blue Jays first spring training game, and then we went to a pub and out dancing. She was here for my interview on CBC. We went dogsledding. And with a stroke of luck and some clear skies, she saw a stellar demonstration of the northern lights. While standing on an ice road. During a -30°C night. Doesn’t get much more northern than that!


One of Jaime’s shots of the aurora

My two favourite things that we did together were ice fishing and a workshop at Old Town Glassworks, because I had never done either before. My coworker Dan invited us out to his tent on Walsh Lake while Jaime was here to show her what ice fishing was like. I was excited about it too since I had never been, and it was a blast. He and his wife have an amazing setup with a big tent with a woodstove and everything. Jaime took his sled for a little rip, she and his wife went cross country skiing across the lake, had a beer, drilled some holes, and caught a trout!




Then on Jaime’s last day here we went to Old Town Glassworks for a workshop on how to make your own piece of art! Matthew, the owner, goes through the process with you and shows you how he selects his bottle, cleans it, scores it and breaks it to the height he wants. Then he grinds it down and softens the edges, chooses a stencil, sandblasts it, and it’s done! Then he lets you loose to make your own, from a piece he’s already pre-cut and sanded down. We both chose a short dark blue tumbler and had a time making our glasses. If you’re ever in Yellowknife (or if you live here) I seriously recommend doing this workshop! It was so great, inexpensive, and you walk away with a piece that you made yourself. Very cool!

My Glass

My glass!

So Jaime left yesterday and everything reminds me of her now. It’s not quite the same without her here, but she helped me see Yellowknife through new eyes and I so appreciate her taking the time and effort to make it up here to see us.

So the question remains… Who’s next?! :)

A few photos from her trip:

Yellowknife from Pilot’s Monument

Sledding on the ice road

Snowmobile master!!

Jaime collapsing into the fluffy powder at Cameron Falls

Wall of icicles we found while sledding!

We need your help! Where would you want to see a YK webcam?

Before I get to the question at hand, I have news: The Yellowknifer published the article about me in Friday’s paper! I was going to link to the online article but it’s hard to say how long that would stay online for, so I scanned the print article. Hopefully it works out that you can actually read it.

Yellowknifer Article

Okay, now onto more pressing matters!

Today I sat down with the mayor and the owner of the long-lost Old Town webcam, and the three of us chatted for over an hour about the possibilities, costs, benefits, etc of starting up a live-streaming webcam. The impression I got from this meeting was that the mayor thinks this is a great idea and would like to see it happen. The webcam owner is so fluent in his knowledge of streaming feeds and bandwidth issues that it made me excited to have him on board wit this idea as well.

One thing we discussed was placement of the webcams. Indoor vs. outdoor, Old Town vs. downtown… The possibilities are endless really, and we’ve decided to get some feedback on where people would like to see these cameras placed. For us living here, it’s easy to think of a few off the bat (Pilots Monument of course, maybe one looking onto Frame Lake, maybe one showing downtown from the tallest building). But we were thinking that those who don’t live here and want to see Yellowknife might have some different ideas. Proposals with any level of government take time, but this week the idea will be introduced so things are happening!

So! If you have any ideas for where the webcam(s) should go, leave me a comment! We’re listening :)

An Update to My Plea

After my post last week pleading the city of Yellowknife to initiate live webcams, I received an enormous response that I completely wasn’t expecting. What I thought would happen was maybe get a few comments on the post, a few likes on Facebook, and a few supporters.

What I got, instead, was this:

Screen Shot 2013-02-13 at 3.36.18 PM Screen Shot 2013-02-13 at 3.39.41 PM Screen Shot 2013-02-13 at 3.39.03 PM Screen Shot 2013-02-13 at 3.38.43 PM Screen Shot 2013-02-13 at 3.36.37 PMScreen Shot 2013-02-13 at 3.37.37 PM Screen Shot 2013-02-13 at 3.40.05 PMCJCD talked about it on the radio. (I missed it, sadly.) A writer from the Yellowknifer interviewed me and took photos. Still waiting for that story to be published, stay tuned. From all the talking, sharing and discussing, my blog got over 1,400 blog views in two days; the power of social media is incredible.

So since then, I’ve been informed of two webcams in Yellowknife. Both are considered weather stations, and neither are live-streamed nor high-definition. Just yesterday I got a comment from the owner of the original Pilot’s Monument webcam, Chris. (I’m glad I know his name now so I can stop calling him “THE guy”!) Here is a snippet of his comment.

I received a link to this Blog via Skype this morning. I am “the guy” who hosted the Webcam on Pilots Monument. The camera had been up for many years (almost 10 years) and last fall I took it down. [...] Being a live HD camera I had issues with bandwidth since so many people were hitting it (over 10,000 a year) I was going over my monthly bandwidth usage limit (an extra $700 bill one month!). So for now the camera link is still images every 10 min and lower resolution. [...] As for other webcams in Yellowknife, there have been a few over the years but most have not lasted long. [...]
You mentioned Mayor Mark Heyck. I will also get in touch with him as well to support getting a few more webcams in Yellowknife.

I was pretty excited to have heard from THE webcam guy himself, and more excited that he supports the idea of a city-run webcam. First of all, props to Chris for running that webcam for 10 years and paying dearly for it (an extra $700 one month!). Secondly, pulling in 10,000 views a year is pretty remarkable. Similarly, I tweeted AuroraMax, a high-def live-feed of the aurora borealis streamed from Yellowknife.

Screen Shot 2013-02-13 at 3.40.30 PM4,000 per DAY! Keep in mind that this camera is only active at night, which means it’s off completely during the summertime and half the day in the wintertime. With this in mind, imagine the number of views a live-feed of Yellowknife could pull in.

Is it a big job? Yes. Is it impossible? Absolutely not. Even if the city starts with a pilot project, with one webcam streaming from City Hall overlooking Frame Lake, I’d wager it would be a huge success and would prove the viewers are there and waiting.

Thank you all again for your support of this project that started out as nothing more than an idea and has turned into a grassroots campaign. I’m meeting with mayor Mark Heyck on February 19 to discuss this with him personally. If anyone has any feedback, ideas, suggestions or general support, please leave me some comments!

Somba K'e

Somba K’e park, with City Hall just to the left outside the photo.


A Plea to the City of Yellowknife

Dear Yellowknife,

I love you. And guess what? Other people do too, people far and wide, who’ve visited and who’ve only dreamed of visiting. I moved here two years ago (technically February 25 is my anniversary date), and I started this blog as a way to show my family and friends back home what Yellowknife was all about.

One of my first posts, and the one that’s single-handedly garnered me the most views, was one about webcams in Yellowknife. There was a live feed set up in Old Town, I think by a citizen, which looked out onto Great Slave Lake and the downtown area. I thought it was perfect, so I linked to it, and other people did too: to date, 8,867 people have viewed that post alone.

Then in January I received a comment that the webcam wasn’t working anymore. Sure enough, unbeknownst to me, the webcam had been taken down. Disappointed, I looked around for other webcams to replace it, since many people came to my blog for this reason. There wasn’t a single other webcam to link to, so I edited my post to let people know, and I gave up.

That is, until I got this comment.


My emotional reaction was something along the lines of “screw you, Yellowknife isn’t backwater!” Initially, I was mad. How dare “Don” make negative judgments on my beautiful town? What nerve! And then, I realized he was right.

I’ve been dwelling on this for a couple days and I’ve come to the conclusion that the city needs to fire up some live-feed webcams for the world to see. So many of us would love to set one up ourselves, but with caps on internet usage, it’s completely out of the question. Our hands are tied, and yet we yearn for our families back home to see what beautiful weather we’re having, or how cold it looks, or how much snow we have in October. We want to show off this unique city to the world, but we can’t!

With NWT Tourism’s Spectacular NWT, the popular reality TV shows Ice Road Truckers and Ice Pilots NWT, CBC’s Arctic Air, and the viral YouTube video Evaporating Water in -30°C (which, by the way, currently has 8.7 million views), it’s clear that people want to see the north. No matter where they live, they want to be able to experience Yellowknife.

Today I tweeted the mayor of Yellowknife Mark Heyck, asking if there were any city-run webcams that I wasn’t aware of. I had a response in minutes, which was essentially “not that I’m aware of”, followed by “what did you have in mind?” His response was promising and basically prompted me to start ruffling feathers to get this done.


I’m calling on the City of Yellowknife to step up to the plate and start up a few live-feed webcams! If you live here and you want to show Yellowknife to your friends and family back home, or if you don’t live here but you want to be able to see Yellowknife for yourself, please share this post! Comment and let me know what it would mean for you to have webcams in Yellowknife! We have such a unique environment and culture here, and it’s fine time we start showing it off. Who’s with me?