Arctic Inuvik Sunrise Festival Begins

Festivities at the Inuvik Sunrise Festival in 2012. Inuvik Phil photo.

The sun will rise today in Inuvik, NWT for the first time since December 5th. The celebration will be rejoiced by the 3,300 townsfolk and hundreds of travelers during the weekend’s 31st Annual Inuvik Sunrise Festival to honor the return of light to the region.

An ice village in the Twin Lakes area has been constructed as the main attraction and will feature igloos,sculptures, a teepee and an expanded sliding hill for kids to enjoy. Three days of fun and celebration will occur mainly in the Midnight Sun and Twin Lakes districts.

“Hibernation time” is how Kylik Kisoun-Taylor, Owner of Tundra North Tours, describes the sun -lees period leading up to the reemergence. The continuous 24 – hour darkness is in stark contrast to the non-stop daylight in the summer.

“I feel like this town really shuts down. The restaurants aren’t as busy, everyone is really recuperating, and then once the sun comes out, everyone comes back alive.”, states Kisoun – Taylor.

Relatives of resident families and loved ones also return for visits at this uplifting time of year. It’s a celebration of life itself.

Sunrise in Inuvik. Town of Inuvik photo.

“It’s really nice to see because you want to show off where you live and what better time to show it off than when there is all of this great stuff to look, at a festival, bonfire and fireworks.” says Mackenzie Chauvin who  took advantage of an airline discount to visit his cousin.

“They started talking to us about the sunrise festival and the darkness and that it’s really just a good time to get an authentic visit to see what Inuvik’s about.”, states Chauvin.

Canadian North and Air North are both offering discounted tickets for  travelers jorneying to Inuvik for the festival.

Drum dancing at the Inuvik Sunrise Festival. Lu North photo.

Chris Sharpe, Inuvik’s marketing and communications coordinator, is enjoying his first northern winter. He is proud to announce some new activities this year, such as a concert by well-known Canadian musician and songwriter, Norman Foote, .as well as a dance party and DJ workshop. Drum dancing and vendors from local eateries will kick off the festival.

“I recommend it to everybody. If you live on this earth, you should try everything at least once. I’m really glad I experienced it, and I’m super excited the sun is coming back,” he laughed.

 

Churchill Winter Road Complete

Ice road to Churchill

The ice road to Churchill via Gillam is finished and ready for business. Polar Industries Ltd. photo.

Christmas is coming a little early to Churchill this year!

The winter “ice” road project initiated by Polar Industries, Fox Lake Cree Nation and Churchill’s Remote Area Services between Churchill and Gillam has been completed and supplies are scheduled to arrive in town by Wednesday.

“The guys finished up late [Thursday] night and they’re on their way back out to Gillam so we can start our actual journey with freight on Sunday,” explained Polar Industries president Mark Kohaykewych.

“We’re doing a spiritual, traditional ceremony since we are crossing Fox Lake traditional land. We’ve been accepting a lot of freight the last week and the trucks are leaving to head up to Gillam for Sunday afternoon.”

Kohaykewych set a tentative completion date of Christmas and thanks to weather conditions consisting of cold conditions and relatively little snowfall the artery is ready for shipping albeit not overly large loads.

“We’re just starting off with two, we don’t want to go too heavy on this first journey. We definitely want the ground to harden up and we don’t want to be busting through any rivers or damaging any ice bridges that we’ve created,” Kohaykewych said. “We’re splitting the load between three cat trains, 20,000 pounds apiece.”

Last May the tracks between Churchill and the south suffered extensive damage from melting snow and ice that had accumulated after major blizzards blanketed the region. The ice road became a reality after the realization the Hudson Bay Rail Line between Gillam and Churchill would not be repaired before Spring. With no projected repair timeline in sight, the winter road will help ease the financial hardship incurred by residents and businesses having to pay for air shipping costs nearly quadruple that of ground shipping.

“We’re cross-docking off of the transport trucks onto sleighs that we’ve manufactured and then pulling them with what the general public would know as dozers or cat trains,” Kohaykewych said. “I’m figuring we should be on the road between 30-36 hours.”

The road will allow Santa to drive his sleigh safely across the tundra and arrive in Churchill by Christmas Day!

 

Churchill Asking Santa for Ice Road

Santa Claus might just make it to the polar bear capital of the world via his sleigh this year! If all goes a planned, this coming Christmas Churchillians will have an “ice road” that will allow shipping of various goods and supplies, not to mention Christmas presents to the isolated town from the south.

The “road”, over frozen tundra and icy ponds, is being carved out between Gillam and Churchill and reports are that two-thirds of the passage is complete. Christmas is the projected finish date though the hope is that it will be functional before that.

“I kind of want to bring this as a Christmas Present to Churchill,” said Mark Kohaykewych of Polar Industries. “I want to roll in there before the 25th.”

 

Fox Lake Cree Nation and Churchill’s Remote Area Services have been working with Polar Industries, the main contractor, for weeks constructing a 300-kilometre “ice road” between Churchill and Gillam. With the Hudson Bay Line, as the stretch is referred to, washed out, the town has become isolated by no land accessibility. Cargo shipped by air has become prohibitively costly for businesses and residents. Line and port owner Omnitrax continues to battle with the Federal government over who’s responsible for the track repairs. In the meantime, and basically out of desperation, the three groups launched a plan to bring perishable food and supplies and fuel to Churchill.

Progress over the rough terrain has been unexpectantly faster than anticipated.Check out this video link of the work taking place in the north:

“We went up on Friday just to see the progress of what my crew was doing and I was pleasantly surprised,” he said. “We’ve probably got about 110 kilometres left to go.”

Work crews have faced one major barrier despite the unseasonal frigid temperatures in November…waiting for freeze-up of some of the deeper thermokarsts or tundra ponds and connecting creeks that are scattered all across the tundra.

Ice road to Churchill

Ice road construction between Gillam and Churchill. Mark Kohaykewych photo.

“You’re pushing snow over it, then you’ve got to let it freeze, flood, create ice. For my crew up there and myself, we’re not very patient up there, let me tell you that. Trying to wait for the ice to freeze up properly is like watching paint dry for most folks.”

While on site, work crews are utilizing old trappers cabins to sleep and get out of the cold after long, extended shifts in efforts to finish before Christmas.

“I think at the start, a lot of people were skeptical about this and as we get closer and closer and sharing our progress, the response is overwhelming. I didn’t realize how much of an effect we’d actually have on the town.” stated Kohaykewych.

While major efforts are enduring and progress has been dramatic, Kohaykewych is appealing to the Canadian government for some funding to help with the meager budget Polar Industries has for the project.

“So, if anybody out there can assist us to put pressure on some government agencies to get some funding and assistance here, and get this done on a non-shoe-strong budget, we’d greatly appreciate it.”

The project comes on the heels of the polar bear season in Churchill, a much needed economic boost to the community!

New Player May Facilitate Port and Rail Sale

With little time to waste a new player has surfaced in the crucial sale of the Port of Churchill to two independent First Nations groups in the north. Investment firm Fairfax Financial Holdings from Toronto hopes to partner with One North and Missinippi Rail LP to wrest ownership from Denver, Colorado-based Omnitrax and set forth in motion the extensive repairs to the Hudson Bay Line damaged by severe flooding last May.

Port of Churchill

The Port of Churchill may be under new ownership soon. CBC News photo.

The new prospective partner will also bring a financially sound backing and a strong business base to the deal that Churchill officials and residents hope will secure access to the south and free them from isolation.

According to reliable sources, a negotiator for the federal government, former clerk of the Privy Council Wayne Wouters, has brokered a deal with the two potential owners.

“This development has the potential to contribute to an arrangement supported by First Nations and communities in northern Manitoba,” Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr said in a statement released Thursday.

“This would enable a sustainable business approach that results in a safe and reliable rail line.”

Paul Rivett, president of Fairfax Financial Holdings, said “we are optimistic about the prospects of northern gateways.” stated in a press release.

“The Churchill rail corridor and the Port of Churchill are important pieces of infrastructure for northern communities and to the economy of Canada. Partnering with First Nations and communities is the right model for this investment,” Rivett said.

He said Fairfax will rely on a company it has invested in, AGT Foods, to develop a plan that is “viable and profitable in the long term as a business.”

Earlier this week, Ottawa responded with an $18-million lawsuit against Omnitrax after it filed filed a claim for damages against the federal government under the rules of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

The head of the Fairfax, V. Prem Watsa, has been characterized as the “Warren Buffet of Canada” often investing in troubled companies and turning them into a positive entity. Watsa invested in BlackBerry and Fairfax has significant holdings in several other companies.

V. Prem

Fairfax Financial CEO and chair V. Prem Watsa.CBC News photo.

Omnitrax signed a memorandum of understanding with First Nations Consortium Missinippi Rail in June and then joined forces with One North to strengthen interests in purchasing Omnitrax’s Manitoba assets.

Churchill Mayor Mike Spence, in a written statement to CBC News, said transferring the port and rail line to a stable, strong northern regional ownership group is the highest priority. He is behind the efforts to find a partner to purchase the assets one hundred per cent.

“I am pleased that there are outstanding companies that also share this vision. We now need the negotiations expedited and [to] ensure our preparations for repairs to the rail line and port are ready for the 2018 season,” wrote Spence.

Polar Bears Swarming Around Churchill

polar bear stats for Churchill

Polar bear stats for Churchill over the last week. Town of Churchill image.

 

Churchill this year begins to resemble an outdoor zoo with the residents of the town living within the polar bear exhibit. However, this is the wilds of the sub – Arctic region where polar bears are king and people reside in their natural habitat. The warning to be extra vigilant when walking and leaving your home is real and serious. Please be careful out there all times of day but especially at night and early morning! Polar bears are extremely hungry this time of year.

 

Churchill polar bear near mile 5

Another great close up of a polar bear near mile 5 in Churchill. Jodi Grosbrink photo.

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