Four Years and Counting: My Life in Iqaluit, Part 1 (Getting There)


Monday, October 31st, 2016 will mark the official four-year anniversary of my move to Iqaluit, Nunavut (Nunaversary, if you will). Now, I’m not really one to attach significance to dates and days; I don’t even really celebrate my birthday, or holidays with any gusto (unless they involve costumes). But for some reason, Halloween 2012 stands out as a red-letter day for me, worthy of note and commemoration.

To do this, I will be publishing a series of mini-memoirs this October leading up to the anniversary date, touching on some of the major moments from my first four years in Iqaluit, starting with stories from year one in week one, year two in week two, and so on. Compiled from the scraps of my memory, with help from emails, text messages, diary entries, and a healthy dose of imagination, these little reflective essays are the most personal pieces I have created since Finding True North started (and perhaps the most narcissistic; but I guess having your own blog is the ultimate symbol of millennial narcissism, isn’t it?). I hope they fairly represent a place that has absolutely given me the most formative experiences of my life to date.

Much love in advance to the cast of characters who sparkle in these stories as they have in my life; I endeavour to do you justice most of all.

*****

Year One, Chapter One: Getting There

I’ve previously written about why and how I moved to Nunavut, but I’ve never really touched on the experience of those final moments before I left. I split my passage to Iqaluit from Toronto over two days, and I think about them often and fondly, for how much I understood about what I was about to do, and what I was willing to leave to chance.

My journey began on Tuesday, October 30th, 2012 in Toronto. I remember it as being just the perfect autumn day, a crisp 12 degrees and sunny. I hadn’t lived in Toronto for an extended period of time since early 2009, and so I packed the few worldly possessions I had left, in with brand-new base layers, wool socks, and puffy mitts. I hoped my eight-year-old Canada Goose parka would suffice in actual Arctic conditions, and not merely the simpering cold of Toronto winters (as an aside, I had skipped winter for the last three years, spending Canada’s cold months in places like Europe and Asia; and here I was, flying straight into nine months of below-zero climes).

I was to take the train to Montreal and catch my flight to Iqaluit the next morning. On the day I left Toronto, my entire family came with me to the VIA station. I remember jokingly saying goodbye to my iPhone; I couldn’t say goodbye to my dog. I can’t remember if we took a cab or walked to Union Station, but I am sure I made my brother do all the heavy lifting.

And heavy it was. Once at the train station, I was informed that my overweight bags were truly over in weight. VIA Rail trains won’t accept any bags over 70 pounds, even if you pay, even if you tell them that you’re going to the Arctic forever and you absolutely need everything you packed because where will you get suede stilettos in Iqaluit? (Real question: when will you need suede stilettos in Iqaluit? Answer: all the time.) In the end, the blender and a few articles of clothing were abandoned, haphazardly, to the care of my mother. I never again saw the blender’s lid.

Once checked-in, I turned to the tear-stained faces of my family, which is very, very small and very, very close. Not once did they fear for me in Iqaluit, this unfamiliar destination of unknown safety or comforts. No, their disquietude came from a nagging feeling that I would find something there that would keep me, away from them. I’ve always thought I was spellbound to seek home in places of which I am not from; they’ve always thought that, too.

Boarding the train, my greatest concerns did not centre on the journey north, but east. You see, I had to change trains in Dorval, and I was trying to figure out how exactly I would get two very heavy suitcases off the train and onto the platform during the cruelly short time allotted to make the transfer. Years (and dozens of oversized luggage transfers) later, I can’t help but smile at this baggage-based trepidation; it was the start of the standard love-hate relationship every Nunavummiut has with checked bags.

Seated next to my cumbersome cases, I watched Eastern Ontario and Southern Quebec whiz past my windows. Again, it was an exemplary fall day: colourful leaves still clinging to trees, bodies of water dark blue in anticipation of the coming cold. The bittersweetness of farewells was wearing off, leaving only delicious anticipation. I think I texted Justin the entire train ride with minute-by-minute updates of my emotional surges. This included a very pragmatic text which read, “There are no trolleys at the Dorval Station.” (You’ll be happy to know that the transfer at Dorval went smoothly, thanks to the help of a fellow passenger who was not going to Iqaluit and so had reasonably-sized bags with her.)

That night in Montreal, I met with friends and gorged myself on gourmet pizza, crispy pig parts, chocolate in hot and truffled forms, and whatever fresh fruit we had on hand. I wore no jacket (it was 19 degrees in Montreal!) and stayed out much later than I should have, considering the impending day’s significance. But I don’t remember feeling daunted. I woke early the next morning to a very pink sky, boarded a bus to the airport, and sent a stream of excited texts to Justin, ending with, simply, “Turning phone off! See you in Iqaluit!”

*****

Sometimes when the strain of adulthood sneaks up on me, I like to remember myself as the young woman who dragged two 70-pound suitcases across train tracks and tarmac to a place that couldn’t be further from where she started, incited only by love, of a man, of adventure, and of self