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Friday, 14 April 2017

FLIGHT MO563

The Hamlet of Arviat, the modern town hall
The morning has broken. The cycle of darkness into light continues this morning with a spectacular sunrise. With the temperature hovering around -26 and the winds being light, the swirling of the snow often seen here is non-existent this morning at sunrise. That may change later...as it often does in the Arctic.

Looking down the street, after the re-freeze on Saturday
It was just this past Tuesday, I was in Arviat, a traditional Inuit community just over 200 kilometers south of Rankin Inlet on the western coast of Hudson Bay. It's still part of the Kivalliq region of Nunavut. The morning had started fresh with clear blue skies, the crunch of snow under your feet as you walked in the -32C (with wind chill) temperatures, and a gorgeous day seemed ahead. By noon, a few clouds have drifted in and by four you couldn't see more than a 100 yards when the winds gusted at full strength. Wednesday, the skies had cleared and the weather had moved on. Sun shone down on us once again.
Wednesday message from the GN regarding tuesday's weather

That Wednesday morning when I signed into a terminal in the Arviat Health Centre, the GN (Government of Nunavut) Outlook page showed the results of the storm that had started Tuesday and had moved around. I didn't have to read each notice...as the topics were descriptive enough and we've been through more than a few of these notices, since my first arrival in January 2008.

Tuesday after heading home after work
That year, I learned some valuable northern traditions. These are non-Inuit but provide good advice for all travellers..in all countries. I was scheduled to fly out after lunch that Monday in January....it never happened...to quote the Rankin Inlet page on Wikipedia “Beginning on January 16, 2008, Rankin Inlet endured the longest recorded blizzard in Canada. Wind speed was 74 km/h (46 mph) or above, with gusts to 90 km/h (56 mph), and wind chill values were as low as -58C. The blizzard lasted 7 days 5 hours.” AND I was there.

Blue Jay Hot Dogs...season premonition??? We hope not!!!
Traditions are a large part of life and community in the north. The valuable lessons learned that day included don't expect your flight to go out, don't use up all your fresh clothes, AND don't give away all your food. That tradition continued this week when I returned from Arviat. In my bin, I still had some slices of cheese...some packets of dried soup, a package of mashed potatoes and the remnants of a pack of Schneiders All Beef Hotdogs...official snack food of the TORONTO BLUE JAYS...(currently 1-8...cue the tears...sob,sob).

The ATR 24 was sitting on the concrete pad awaiting crew and passengers. 
The Calm Air flight MO563 was scheduled for 0915. Boarding would begin at 0845, according to my boarding pass. No seats were assigned in this 22 passenger plane. I had arrived early to confirm, relax and look at the interesting signs posted inside the terminal. You can learn so much from a notice board any place you go.
Aerial view of ARVIAT...taken a few years ago


















On the walls of the freshly painted terminal, the old photos showing the Inuit traditions, the aerial map made years ago when this settlement was so much smaller...Old Town and New Town were terms I had heard, but this trip I didn't have the time or strength to explore due to workload...and the weather was certainly not cooperative, as well.

Overnight heated engine warmers in place on the Calm Air ATR
By 0810, I was already third in line. I was processed efficiently, got my boarding pass, my bin checked and my carry on weighed. I watched them prepare the plane that had sat on its concrete pad amid the gravelled runway overnight. The engine warmer covers were stripped away. The plugs blocking the engine exhaust and intake were removed. The props were rotated to ensure their smooth operation would occur. As they were rotated a visual inspection occurred. The steps were raised and lowered as the airplane crew arrived to begin their preflight.

Hunting is a tradition in this community. This house fairly successful !!!
Finally, the extension cord that ran from the terminal over to the ATR turbo prop was disconnected and dragged across the gravel to the back of a support vehicle. That cable had kept the plane partially heated overnight since its arrival the previous evening. The cargo was transferred and loaded.

Two things excite air travellers, in the north. The arrival of their aircraft, or the sight of it resting on the airfield when you drive up, brings joy since you've got a reasonable expectation of flight...of course, this is always subject to a mechanical postponement or a weather forecast at your destination.

The main mode of transport for many
The other thing that delights many is an increasing barometric pressure in the weather forecast. If the air pressure trend is rising, you are probably going to have clear skies and good weather. A falling barometer indicates a low pressure gradient will soon arrive and with it storms, clouds and who knows what.

The luggage "belt" in Arviat airport terminal
The terminal became congested as more arrived. It was the thursday before Good Friday. Families were heading off to visit families. People were heading to Winnipeg through Rankin's airport. Others were off to other destinations. They were heading to Repulse Bay to visit family, they were taking their dog to Whale Cove, their cat to Baker Lake and some (like me) were heading back to Rankin to continue their contract!

One of our fellow passengers dressed to visit her aunt in Repulse Bay.

All manner of cargo and baggage arrived. Gun cases, bins, cardboard boxes reinforced with tape...the addresses clearly visible for all to see. The dog and cat remained crated and were calm and quiet. The dog was a Cocker Spaniel/Golden Retriever mix. People were following the sign clearly above the luggage slide telling them the rules.

Cocker/Golden Mixed Cargo to Whale Cove
They announced the flight. I could hear the voice directly in the waiting room, the PA was silent throughout her talk even though her hand held the mike to her mouth. I stood up, got my gloves and hat in place for the march across the gravel as she counted heads. No photo ID needed here as the count was less than 15 and she had remembered everyone that had checked in. I showed my boarding pass, and was though the door down the metal steps.

People were embracing and probably shedding tears behind me as I strolled towards our plane. I turned and looked back as well walked single file towards the blue and cream coloured ATR. Explore the north was emblazened near the door to the left of the stairs. I climbed aboard tried to stow my carry on on above my head and sat down on the leather seats. They were cool but not cold. The heaters overnight had done their work.

The white frozen tundra with "open water" visible
The door was sealed, the engines warmed and soon after we were taxiing out, making the turn and lifting off. Below the arctic tundra...white...frozen...with a hand full of lakes that appeared open...possibly spring fed the passenger next to me stated. The ATR's don't fly as high as the jets so you can see the beauty beneath you.

In less than 90 minutes touched down in Whale Cove, exchanged passengers and cargo and continued on to Rankin Inlet. We were home. We were the second plane to land as another ATR was parked and the people were exiting when we approached the terminal building. As we exited towards that familiar green shelter, another ATR had landed and was approaching us. As I waited for my luggage bin to arrive on the luggage belt I noticed them towing out the stairs for the 737. Within moments it came into view and gracefully touched down...Four planes within a half hour.


“Welcome to Rankin Inlet” they had said a few moments before we had descended the steps of the ATR. Was only yesterday and I was home...for now!

Saturday, 8 April 2017

Arviat Arrival

Ground crew loading the ATR for 1215 Departure in Rankin Inlet
The water outside my window in Whale Cove
The plane was loaded on time and lifted off about five minutes late from Rankin Inlet.The engines fired up as we are rolled along the runway, sun streaming down and blue skies with streaky white clouds running through it. No cabin service was announced as it is only a twenty minute flight to Whale Cove, the first leg of the flight to Arviat, NUNAVUT. This trip, I took only one bin with 56 pounds in it...70 pounds are allowed here on Calm Air flights AND two bags are allowed plus carry on...but I am only travelling here for 7 days and six nights.

Above Whale Cove, we prep for our first attempt to land. The skies seem more cloudy here and we are in clouds as we descend. Flaps are settled eventually at 30 degrees and we are travel along. From my seat I can see the flaps angulator attached on the wing. Suddenly, flaps go back to zero...we level off and behind me is a lady travelling with two small kids and she says....shit. We both know we are not landing at the moment. From my radio control flying experience I can almost hear the guy beside me cry out...Going around again!

Whale Cove airport terminal
We do a couple of banks...appear to be climbing for a minute then the pilot comes on introducing himself and says that we're gonna try that once again as we had some fog roll in over the centre of the runway. We'll see if that clears and I'll keep you informed...a few more manoeuvres, the flaps go back where they need to be for landing and we get closer to the ground. The gravel runway is visible. The runways landing lights along the side become more visible and we touch down and roll towards the terminal clearly displaying some large letters spelling WHALE COVE.

Seating configuration on the ATR
The twenty two passenger seats in this dual prop ATR are over half full....An announcement is made. Welcome to Whale Cove. For those passengers travelling on to Arviat, please stay on board as we will be underway shortly. The ground crew service the plane and I ask the flight attendant if I can exit the plane to take a couple of distant shots of the terminal and some of the plane.

She agrees to my request and hands me a fluorescent yellow safety vest to wear, I don't even put my coat on while I'm outside...as the cargo is unloaded. No hat, no gloves, no coat...yellow vest...and I don't have a picture of me...but I'm sure someone else took one!

I scramble back inside and ask if coffee might be served on the next link. Here, coffee becomes my staple...NO DECAF here...only high test. She agrees again to my request saying that she'll have time as we only have 5 passengers to Arviat. Each person sits in their previous seat with two seats per row.

Thumbs up on my yellow vest excursion outside the ATR
I strike up a conversation the the mid forty aged guy ahead of me. He's in Arviat on business for a week. I 'm familiar with the company name and we discuss the north, growth, the mining industry and its impact on the economy...the number of vehicles that the mine imported last year is staggering...and a whole history of Arviat.

We talk about the high costs of construction, the lead time required for materiel to arrive from both Churchill AND Montreal, how its paid for and the need for qualified tradesmen...fascinating stuff. He tells me a hotel can cost $400 per square foot to build and we discuss the politics that have entered the “game”. We have strong opinions on many subjects, I hope to meet him in town later this week.

Some thirty five minutes later we begin our descent among clear blue skies and a strong brilliant sun. There's wet on the runway edges...it's melting. We exit the plane. I take my time marching to the terminal to take a photo of ARVIAT sign attached to the terminal wall. The sun is hot and bright. I could use my sunglasses as I walk across the water-logged gravel surface carrying rather than rolling my carry on. I set it and my camera bag down on the metal stairs so as not to get them muddy.

I've landed and am enjoying the flatness as everyone had described to me. Someone had told me It's just like Saskatchewan you can watch your dog run away from you for days. Truer words.
Now my bin is getting frequent flyer miles.
I climb the five steps to the terminal, hold the door for the ground crew following me and set my bags once again. Two people approach and ask...are you Bob? We exchange names and they offer to carry my bags. My bin hasn't arrived yet...I saw it loading in Rankin.

The service truck drives to the side door and mine is the last piece off sliding down the stainless hill that services as the luggage “belt”. I lift it and carry it to the door...as the other cases are already in hand and almost in the SUV. She moving it closer to load my bin when I get called ...by my new friend who has my hotel key.

The difference in weather in just a few hundred miles...I'm melting !!!
 “Didn't they tell you to pick your key up at the check in desk?”, he says. We go back inside and he shows me the box on the counter where the envelopes addressed to each guest are awaiting their arrival. That's where the rental car keys would be as well he says like I'm coming back soon and renting a vehicle. I thanks him as we part company...but before we leave I recognize a familiar face.

She was the manager of the Katimavik Suites, Rankin Inlet where I stayed two years ago for a couple of brief stints...ten or twelve days in total. Aren't you the photographer she says...I grin and say not really. She's leaving here and heading back to Rankin tomorrow so we'll drop in another time to see here there, as that hotel is directly across the street from The Kivalliq Regional Health Centre in Rankin Inlet. It was so handy when called in and the snow would be blowing across the parking lot.

I don't look at the envelope as he has already read off my name and the girls give me a quick tour from the airport as we head to the Beach House. Pointing out the hamlet office, the arena and community centre and various other spots we arrive, unload the luggage and they depart. I remember being told there are three keys to get into the Beach House. Neither key fits the lock...am I missing the third..is it in my pocket?

There's a yellow slip of paper inside the envelope accompanying the key...and it has a phone number...I'm enjoying the sunshine but the girls are coming back in half an hour to take me to meet the staff at the health centre, so I call the number. A familiar voice answers and tells me I'm at the wrong hotel. In disbelief I look at the front of the envelope now listing the room number and hotel name and I am!!!

Welcome to ARVIAT, NUNAVUT TERRITORY, CANADA
She's already driving down the street towards the shore and can see me from the driver's seat...We reload cargo and away we go back towards the airport. Ac ross from the new Hamlet office we pull into a parking lot. Unload and off she drives.

Now my key fits but won't rotate. A red pickup pulls up and the driver exits. I notice a toddler now standing working the steering wheel. He's eighteen months he replies to my question. Another guy approaches and says you'll have to play with the key and turn it hard..just what I needed confirmation...so we play and twist and. shortly thereafter, we are inside.



My room's not ready so make my way to the kitchen for some scissors to remove the zip ties holding the lid of my bin so I can store some frozen goods in the community fridge. Its so nice I leave my gloves and headgear there. The bin outside as she hasn't done the floors yet and head back to the health centre. I had called my pickup ladies and delayed the transport once, but with all the mix ups but wanted to get there and meet the staff...the centre would closing at five and I knew I had work ahead.

Thursday, 6 April 2017

BTW...how's your week going?

This week has been a whirlwind. A couple of months ago, my life took a little detour once again. A call and an email...that's all it takes these days and our lives change...some good things result and, at other times, there's news of tragedy. Fate decides...we don't.

The Inukshuk welcomes visitors and stands tall for residents
in Rankin Inlet, NUNAVUT.
The news was from the North...a calling perhaps, since I've been privileged...yes, privileged to have been to the Arctic a few times now. Not very many Canadians can say that...so yes I am privileged. The call was from the Health Center in Rankin Inlet. What about another "tour" ... later this time..in April?

Street signs in Rankin Inlet
There's a bit of history in this that may take a few moments to explain. It was ten years ago and I was in a grocery store in St. Catharines...looking for something at the Fairview Mall. I met a nurse who had retired from the St. Catharines General Hospital there, a few years earlier. We had worked together for my entire career. She in Emerg and, I, in Xray.

We chatted about all the “old timers”...names and staff we knew and what they were doing...and eventually we asked each other what were we doing these days. I was in year 2 of a “sales career” (who knew) as an associate of the Henrys location at the Grantham Plaza. She was still working as a nurse...having established a new career path working in the north at the Health Centre in Rankin Inlet, Kivalliq Region, Nunavut Territory...the Arctic. These were short tours lasting up to six weeks...several times a year.

Just awaiting pickup in the driveway, first time up
January 2008 
“...And you'll never guess” she said, “who's currently acting as the Nurse in Charge?” Another common name from our past...and then those words I spoke...“well if you guys ever need an xray tech” just call. Who knew? The phone rang that September...It was 2007, almost ten year ago, and my first trip to NUNAVUT was being planned.

Boots....you need good boots. Where to get them? What to take..what to wear in Arctic winters...what are my accommodations? There were literally more questions than I care to remember...and Christmas came and went at the store AND with family...New Years Day arrived and then it was here. Tears were shed, as I moved my luggage out onto the front porch. A couple of inches (several centimeters) of fresh light snow...were on the porch and steps...which I cleared.

Richardson International in Winnipeg last year
“BOB's ARCTIC ADVENTURE” started with an early morning transfer (and I mean early). Around three, I think, I could see headlights, piercing the darkness as the snow continued to fall. Coming down the street...moving slowly, the driver attempted to glimpse the correct four digit address on his manifest. Further down the street, he noticed our front lights on, sped up...did the circle and pulled to a stop. When we arrived at YYZ Toronto, I checked in...got my luggage tagged and checked and was off to the ARRIVALS level.

My brother and I had prearranged a “send off” breakfast reunion. He was living about 20 minutes from the airport at the time and so he picked me up at Arrivals (where there was no traffic) and we went to a “breakfast spot”. I remember having eggs, toast, bacon, sausages, ham and hash browns washed down with a couple of cups of coffee...probably was under 9 bucks at the time...two weeks later that same meal would cost me $30 with tip in Rankin Inlet on a saturday morning.

Luggage arrived in Winnpeg 2008
Arriving in Winnipeg, I went to the one luggage belt and waited. My suitcase bounced down, circled and was received. My blue Rubbermaid bin was not there...never showed. Panic started to set in as I weighed my options. Where were my food stuffs? Who to contact? Where in this building? Then, across in the distance, a cart was being pushed by a woman in uniform. The airline representative obviously on a mission and riding atop her cart my blue Rubbermaid, clearly marked with a huge label on its side.

I called across the hall...getting her attention, she stopped. After a few seconds of conversation her mission was accomplished...and my blue bin was now on MY luggage cart. As I transferred the cargo, I asked... “Do I have to go up or down to get to departures?” I can still hear her response...“This is Winnipeg...we're all on one level.” Boy, has that changed now with the new Richardson International few years back...BIG, very modern...a big change.
Following the crowd boarding
the Calm Air twin prop, Winnipeg 2008

So around three p.m., as we were loading to board the CALM AIR flight to Rankin Inlet my cell phone rang. I had failed to put it into Airplane Mode on the flight from Toronto. I answered and it was my sister law looking for Grace, my wife. After we chatted for a few seconds she asked aren't you leaving today...I answered already “in Winnipeg and in line to board Gotta go.” I exchanged the boarding slip and followed the herd to the plane.

To my astonishment, we climbed down stairs, then went out a side door. I was expecting a jetway and the cold -20C Winnipeg winds and weather caught me unprepared. Quickly donning my gloves I followed the others to the twin prop navy and beige plane sitting a hundred yards (90 meters) away. I could see the cargo hatch open at the back...and my blue bin with side label visible aboard. WE were heading to Rankin.

I learned a few valuable lessons that day...prepare for the unexpected AND a direct flight does not mean NON-STOP. So I had the delight in stopping in Churchill, exiting the plane while they refueled, and spending a few precious minutes in their airport (which I am told is currently under construction). The three p.m. Dusk departure from Winnipeg meant a night take off in Churchill...followed by a landing in the next leg of our trip in Arviat.

We didn't exit the plane this time...only those souls needing to depart climbed down the built in stairs as the heavy snow blew horizontally visible against the orange of the sodium vapour lamps. New passengers arrived and climbed on board. I was concerned with the heavy snowfall, we might be staying. But no, we flew on that day to Rankin Inlet...and my time there was so rewarding.
Water in the airport waiting room in '08

We won't talk about the sprinkler head that burst my first Tuesday at 3 p.m. in my xray room. Or the other sprinkler head that burst in the entrance way about tens days later. WE arrived to find about three inches of water from the back entrance to past the main entrance and into the nurses offices and exam rooms. They say that things come in threes. The third sprinkler head let go on the day of my departure in the airport waiting area on the day of my departure that January. We had just finished an eight day blizzard (at the time the longest recorded in Canadian History).

I never saw a ground crew work so hard to attend to the 4 or 5 737's that had landed within a two hour window to restock the town with much needed supplies. I was a symphony and dance. To service the planes, load and unload and get them back into the air all the time watching through the windows as people with mops attempted to dry the floors. The computers weren't working since no one wanted to short them out in all the water...so hand written boarding passes were issued.
A symphony as the ground crews worked to clear backlog.

I held my pass tightly. I wanted to get back. This jet was a DIRECT flight to Winnipeg. The year was 2008. Who knew I might get back to Arviat at a later date. It's taken almost ten years, but..fate knew. In fact, he's got me headed there tomorrow. The Calm Air ATR turbo prop will lift off just after noon, touch down in Whale Cove and then travel on to Arviat. This time, I'll see more than just the outside of an airport terminal.

Monday, 3 April 2017

Above the Ice

North of the Arctic Circle
sits the community of  Cambridge Bay
Less that a thousand kilometers to the Northwest of Rankin Inlet, outside the Nunavut community of Cambridge Bay, rests a legend. As our nation reaches the ripe old age of 150...she will turn 100. This winter she is free...free from the salty brine that has been her home since her birth in Norway all those years before.

It's been a battle. No, its been a series of battles...not really a war, as such, but skirmishes along her coloured past. And soon, like many old soldiers...she's going home....returning to her birthplace and her final resting site. There will be celebrations, no doubt, marking this great event in Norway, mostly because the hands of their countrymen, created her. Their hands also steered her for a few years until, eventually, she became a fixture for a small village in Arctic Canada.

Those celebrations abroad...the handshaking and those tears of joy will not be matched in Nunavut. Once the ice clears the harbour of Cambridge Bay, probably by late June or early July, she will be gone forever. A memory for those who know her and a historical fact for future generations. In her place...a large stone cairn, marks her resting place for so many years...as she was submerged beneath the surface of Cambridge Bay.

Residents of CamBay grew up with her and have never known anything but her presence. All know her name...but few really know her history. There may be witnesses who watched her sails blow in the wind. But those, if they exist, are few and far between as the years have passed. Time marches on and eventually memories fade.

Maud completing her oufittng in Norway
Her name is MAUD. She is built of oak and was named after a queen. She became a fixture of the arctic, visiting ports in her commercial days. Her original skipper was Roald Amundsen, the Norwegian explorer, and she was constructed to withstand the pressures of winter ice in Canada's north for his second Arctic expedition. She did so admirably, for two winters, while those aboard performed experiments, logged weather and other data using celestial navigation, and made observations while mapping our far north during the dark days of both winters.

She was 119 feet (36.5m) in length with a beam of 40 feet (12.3m) and her 240 hp semi diesel motor was used when necessary to propel her but the wind provided the bulk of her propulsion. Designed specifically for his second Arctic expedition, she was launched in 1916. Her hull was christened by Amundsen who used a chunk of ice rather that the traditional champagne saying to the ship and those dignitaries gathered “It is not my intention to dishonour the glorious grape, but already now you shall get the taste of your real environment. For the ice you have been built, and in the ice you shall stay most of your life, and in the ice you shall solve your tasks. With the permission of our Queen, I christen you Maud”.

Built outside of Olso, in the suburb of Asker, she had sailed out of Oslo and the year was 1917. Across the Atlantic...around Greenland and into Canadian waters she sailed. Her Canadian adventure barely begun. Long before GPS, when maps were sparse, let us remember that these were the explorers making the maps.

The MAUD stranded in icefield.
She was a heavy craft weighing in at 292 tons and had a depth of some 16 feet (4.85m). He knew that he would need all the strength the steel reinforced oak beams could muster to protect the crew from the shifting ice floes and crushing hull pressures as each winter season came and went. She did not disappoint.

For two dark winters, the crew were stranded in solid icefields as they navigated when they could towards the west. Eventually free of the ice after that second winter, they sailed her south into Washington state where a whole new task would soon become the Maud's legacy.

For the time spent in the ice had created some financial problems for the consortium affiliated with Amundsen's project....and funds hadn't fully paid all the overdue accounts. The sheriff seized the vessel for past debts...and someone discovered that the Maud, built for Arctic waters, was for sale. There was interest for sure....and that interest stemmed from the Hudson's Bay Company.

The Hudson Bay trading post in Repulse Bay.
HBC had interest since they were (and still are) active in the north of Canada. They were looking for a vessel to travel between the communities of the north. The purpose, of course, was still one that they had started with....the fur trade. Collecting pelts and trading those pelts for goods among the Intuit and others in the Arctic was still in demand. Although, the open water season was short this vessel could manoeuvre but if it did get trapped in the ice it could survive....it was a proven success.

The deal was struck and in 1925 after acquisition by the Hudson Bay Company, she was renamed Baymaud, a variation of her original name with a corporate identity.


Our story continues. “From then til now” is the basis for our next segment.

Saturday, 5 March 2016

Ice Breakers

Researcher and Explorer Roald Amundsen
dressed in skins
The Norwegian born, arctic explorer, Roald Amundsen has quite the Canadian connection. He is recognized in many ways. One of the current Canadian Coast Guard Ice Breakers is named in his honour. AMUNDSEN is a medium class T-1200 size design built in North Vancouver and was originally commissioned in 1979 as the Sir John Franklin, the famous Arctic explorer lost in the Cambridge Bay area of the Arctic.

Sir John's namesake was assigned to clear ice in the St. Lawrence and along eastern shores of Canada...being based in both Quebec City and Dartmouth. In summers, she was used as backup for the Arctic sea lift resupply missions until 1995. The Canadian Coast Guard, under the management of the Department of Transport, was transferred to the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans. Shortly thereafter she was moth-balled as surplus.
Canadian Coast Guard Ship "AMUNDSEN"

The next summer season she was used as an accommodations vessel under private contract for mining explorations at Voisey Bay in Labrador. “Sir John Franklin” was decommissioned from the Canadian Coast Guard in 2000.

For her, the phoenix rose again in 2003 when a consortium of universities partnered with the Department of Fisheries & Oceans to replace her cargo holds with an intricate selection of research laboratories to enable continuous research with international partners. Now renamed “Amundsen” after the famous Norwegian Arctic researcher, she was scheduled for upgrades.
The AMUNDSEN performing research in the Arctic

In order to become an Arctic Ocean research vessel, the shipyard in Les Mechins, Quebec added a “moon pool” during the retrofit. This innovation allowed scientists access to the ocean through the hull of the vessel eliminating the boring of holes through the ice for the lowering of scientific research equipment.

As part of the agreement with the consortium, the ship is crewed by the Canadian Coast Guard and is used for Ice Breaking duties in the St. Lawrence and Eastern Canada. This allows her to be used for Arctic research assignments from May-December by the ArcticNet group.

When the Canadian High Arctic Research Station, currently under construction, in Cambridge Bay opens next year, the international cooperation of all Arctic countries will no doubt involve the data collected these past years onboard the Amundsen.

The AMUNDSEN in May 2013 at Port Weller Dry Docks, St. Catharines
In December 2011, during a preliminary ice breaking inspection, her duties were suspended immediately for a year when 4 of her 6 engines were discovered to be cracked. Immediate repairs brought her to the Port Weller Dry Dock shipyards in St. Catharines...another heavy industry in Niagara that exists no more.

Ironically I found a photo of her sitting on the east side of the Welland Ship canal near the dry docks facilities from May of 2013 as she went back into service having missed the entire 2012 navigational season.

In July she was again on the water performing her role as the floating research link. On September 9, the helicopter from the Amundsen while on a scouting mission ahead of the ship, crashed killing all three aboard. Clear skies and good visibility prevailed but disaster had struck.

Searching through the ice for the best route
The Commander of the Amundsen, Marc Thibault was aboard the helicopter along with a University of Manitoba arctic researcher, Klaus Hochheim. The craft was piloted by Daniel Dube. All three bodies were recovered in their orange survival suits and the Messerschmidt S105 helicopter was located in 450 meters of water and was recovered later.

It's a sad reminder that even today this is a most-challenging and harsh environment that must be respected at all times...a reason I have always carried a plasticized business card under the insert soles in each of my boots. Preparedness...you are better with it...than without.
The new polymer $50 Canadian depicts the Amundsen -- front & centre

While the Amundsen continues as a highly visible symbol of Canadian sovereignty, the CCGS “Amundsen” has another important role in the economy of Canada that you may not realize. She graces the obverse side of the new polymer $50 bill....front and centre. 

A Quirk of Fate

The setting sun yesterday
looking east over the frozen waters of Rankin Inlet
Who knew? Less than a month after arriving home in Niagara...that my Arctic winter gear would be pulled from storage and I would be back to the Arctic once again...my fourth trip in eight years...all occurring in the months of January through March...and all relatively short term.

Roald Amundsen, the great Norwegian explorer made four arctic expeditions...but his adventures lasted 3 to four years each time...and were well planned in advance to accomplish scientific discoveries. He also beat Scott to the South Pole by a month!

Winterized site of Amundsen's "Maud" in Cambridge Bay in January
While I'm not planning any excursions to the Antarctic, my discoveries have been mostly medical (with some beautiful sceneries along the way). Those arctic adventures have lasted anywhere from 3 to seven weeks...all in the dead of winter....with snow, ice and blizzards at no extra charge!

Amundsen's Maud built for Arctic exploration pictured at anchor in 1918
It's probably time to relate the past month and more specifically the past two weeks...and update you on my current life here in Rankin Inlet near the Arctic Circle as you are, no doubt, surprised by this news. The west coast of Hudson's Bay may be frozen, but the staff here at Kivalliq Regional Health Centre are as warm and friendly as ever...and my welcome back on Tuesday was not what I had expected...it was heart warming!!!

Kivalliq Health Centre waited and the staff welcomed me back
Since I returned home in February from Cambridge Bay, the blog postings had decreased BUT THE RESEARCH HAD CONTINUED. I am currently putting the final touches on articles about Amundsen's adventures (which took my research to the South Pole for a while)....and the connection of his 3rd famous ship, The Maud, which is currently in 30 feet of ice and water...resting on the bottom of Cambridge Bay.  Also, I've been busy with research on the RCMP vessel, St. Roche...its Canadian connection to Niagara and what I discovered about it, while in Cambridge Bay as well...so stay tuned.

Prepping the planes at CYRT Rankin Inlet
Two weeks ago, I got a call...sort of an SOS...from the Technical Services Manager at Rankin Inlet. Matt was surprised that I was thawed out....so to speak and wondered if I could help out for a short three week stint. A whole range of questions ensued....valid police check from past six months etc., but to complicate things further...he was heading out on his annual leave with his family for a month and would be gone by the time I was onsite.

On the left, a new 3 story building in Rankin Inlet since last April
One of many new structures since last year
Things move slowly in the north...approvals take time...and, even with the instant communications available on the internet, one has to be patient. Dates were arranged, clearances approved...and then I came down with the current “Malady de Jour” that is sweeping Niagara...the head cold...sore throat combination...it lasted more than a week. This caused me to miss shifts at the store...the staff even sent me home one day!

No roads interconnect the 26 Hamlets in Nunavut...only Water & Air
Thank goodness we had an extra day in February this year...and the staff at the Kivalliq Health Centre and the local GN (Government of Nunavut) offices were able to start the process. Then the local GN offices were closed due to a flooding issue...so everything had to be handled across the Bay in Iqaluit...oh and did I mention that there are three time zones across Nunavut. To further complicate things. All internet traffic and cell service is handled through satellite.

So by the 23rd of February, after a three day blizzard over the weekend and Monday here in Rankin Inlet the wheels were turning...slowly...but turning, just the same. I was scheduled to fly out on Sunday...the 28th. More complications were thrown into the mix...Matt and his family decided to leave a day earlier since another blizzard storm low pressure area was expected to hit here on Friday the 26th.
First Air, Calm Air, Canadian North, and Bearskin Airlines are vital 

By now you are starting to get the picture...everyone was reassuring, but the results were still a vapour trail. During my store shift on the 26th, I kept checking my emails for my confirmation. In the afternoon, around three, I got an email from the new director of the Health Centre telling me “we are working on it!” Still no Air tickets or itinerary. Nothing had showed, when I left the store at 5 on Friday. Knowing Rankin Inlet was an hour behind, we still had some time....but the windows were closing rapidly.

The First Air 737 arriving at CYRT last night
I got home and checked...still nothing. I was starting to accept maybe a Tuesday flight possibility when the magic of the internet chimed...It was a “You've got Mail “ moment without the voice. I looked at the dates and discovered I was flying on Monday now, a leap year flight....but my bookings on Air Canada and Calm Air fights were solid...Monday would be the day.

The luggage arriving for the luggage belt in Rankin Inlet
I checked weather reports for Winnipeg and Toronto and made the necessary bookings for the Airbus to get to the airport. It would be a 6 a.m. pickup for the 11 a.m. flight to Winnipeg this time...a much more civilized booking than the 3 a.m. pickup of  a few weeks before.

I had a three hour layover in Winterpeg (-27C this day) to get my Air Canada baggage and then check in at Calm Air...time for a light lunch...then off to Rankin. All was proceeding as scheduled....that is until check in at the Calm Air counter.

My home and vehicle this trip
Regional carriers are smaller operations...and combine that with the weather of the north and the temperatures in which they operate...things happen. My three hour layover was  extended...the two hour jet ride north, previously scheduled for 3:15 was now 4 p.m. This trend continued until we departed at 6:15 under the cover of darkness. It was a “waiting for equipment to return from a previous flight” problem.

All the comforts of "home"
We touched down at CYRT  Rankin Inlet at 8:30...after a delicious Pasta with Vegetables entre preceded by a salad topped with Kraft sundried tomato dressing. The first glass of Red was free...the second cost $5 cash...the currency of the north! Even 2 glasses of wine could not help improve the lima beans...I kept saying to myself “fresh” vegetables...you won't have any for three weeks.....while the voice on the other shoulder said “What are you doing? Have you tasted these things? The voice on the shoulder won out!

The luggage box attached to the first front end loader arrived at the window outside the luggage belt. A couple of beeps later it started to move and a couple of pet cages move into the terminal followed by a myriad of crates, boxes, hockey bags and then other more usual pieces of luggage. Another front end loader replaced the first allowing it a return trip to the 737.

On top of the plywood crate was my suitcase...and close behind on the belt, the rubbermaid crate emerged...I looked around and spotted Nancy from the Health Centre there to pick me up. It had been her third trip to the airport for me based on the delays. A big smile and a hug, we were loaded and off to the apartment.

2 Bedrooms, Washer and Dryer and TV
It's located in the new Section 6 of Rankin Inlet and my room mate in the 1000 square foot transient apartment is my room mate from last year, Les. After, a quick discussion, we found out we are on the same plane exiting the same day to Winnipeg. The irony is for the second year in a row we are celebrating St. Patty's Day here in Rankin Inlet...and he is a psychiatric nurse....so my sessions are free!!!!!

The sun setting over the new section of town all set for housing
I'm due back in Niagara, the week before Easter...and like any good resident here..my blogging will be caught up quickly if we have another 3 or 4 day blizzard. The staff are hoping as next week the kids are on spring break...and next weekend is a major hockey tourney so I'll be in all weekend for the shoulders, ankles, hands and hips.
The morning sun rose bright today...the air is crisp at -36C with sunny blue skies...and winds around the 20 KPH speed range...Up here, you dress for the weather...HEY...It's Canada...It's Winter...Embrace It !!!  It's also the Arctic in early March...spring is coming!

NOTE with Thanks!:
I can only thank the manager and staff at Henry's in St. Catharines for helping me get away on such short notice. Also to my wife and partner...who had not quite completed my re-training once I had arrived home in early February...and now has to have me trained in time for the Easter Bunny!