The Dempster Part 2

After hanging out at the spit for a short time after dipping our toes in the Beaufort Sea (Arctic Ocean) we headed back into town, past the end marker for The TransCanada Trail


We noticed 4 churches closely clustered together, which seemed a lot for such a small community. We walked past the cemetery, which is always a must for Catherine, noticing an extremely high number of young deaths about ten years prior, very sad to see and hard on such a small community.

We walked past what would appear to be community housing, getting a new coat of paint, toward the school and arena. We heard there was going to be Music Festival over the weekend. Had we known, we would have made arrangements to stay and partake in the festival. Upon arrival to the community hall and arena, we discovered some ladies preparing for summer camp with the local youth. A nun from Yellowknife and a university student from Edmonton had been brought to the community for this summer project. We learned the Nun had organized a food bank and clothing exchange while there.
We made our way into the arena, to find the most magnificent banner depicting the North; on a black backdrop with northern lights dancing, a dog sled and Pingos. Yes Pingos, as this was the Land of The Pingos Music Festival, check them out on Facebook.

Being we were busy snapping pictures, we attracted the attention of one of the organizers, Edwin. Edwin was more than happy to spend time with us and personally invite us to stay for the weekend at the festival, sadly we had no idea and had a booked return flight to Inuvik later in the day. The arena was buzzing with activity, people setting up lights, a dance floor, setting up food stations, decorating and just being happy and excited for the festival. Edwin shared much information with us and when I told him we had a tour booked for 1pm with Eileen, he laughed, it was his aunt…….seems everybody in town is related. I called Eileen to let her know we were at the arena so she headed over to pick us up, she had been at home making Eskimo donuts for the festival.
We hopped into Eileen’s van and started to make our way back through town, Eileen filling in many of the blanks and answering questions we had from our earlier walk.


Our first stop of interest was the local swimming pool, seems it had just opened, as there were many bikes littering the entrance. The swimming pool is housed in a Quonset style tent and is free for all to use. With 56 days of the 24hr sunshine, you can imagine it is a busy place.
Next the school, Kindergarten through 12, the class of 2017 having one graduating student. We learned the quality of the education is below average than what is offered in bigger centres, leaving the young people at a disadvantage for post-secondary education and employment opportunities.
Eileen took us to her home where she had a small display of animal skins, carcasses, native clothing and hunting tools. The skins were from Ermine, Fox, Wolf, Wolverine, Muskox and Polar Bear to name a few. These skins were used to make gloves (mittens), shoes (Mukluks) and various clothing parts.

Inuit eye protectors used in the sun/snow made from Whale Bone, these were used long before sunglasses were invented.

Then we went to her smoke hut, located on the outskirts of town. The hut was the size of a small room and had a wood burning stove, outside the hut was a wired enclosure where fish were hanging to dry after being smoked. There were sled dogs tethered up in this area as well. Eileen told us how she and her husband live off the land, spending up to 8 months of the year at their hunting camp and returning to Tuk during the summer months. Eileen had built the smoke house herself and did her own fishing and hunting.

When we returned to the “downtown” area, Eileen noticed her brother’s boat was gone, she was disappointed as she had wanted to go whale hunting with him. Getting a whale is a big deal, as it is one the food sources that gets the community through the winter. Six families will share one beluga whale, each family is responsible for the butchering of the whale, otherwise they have to pay a fee to the other participating families. The day of our visit a beluga had been caught off Herschel Island and there was much excitement in town as it was the first whale of the season. Everybody knows when a whale is harpooned.
I had heard there was an underground freezer in Tuk, so inquired about it, Eileen took us to the location of the freezer, but she was not able to take us inside. Tours had been stopped several years prior due to liability issues, but she explained the freezer had nine rooms in three separate hallways, the freezer was available for use by all residents of town. The freezer is 9M/30ft below ground level and was actually colder in the summer than in the winter, go figure. Several families had built their own freezers outside their homes, but they are no longer in use.
From there we went back out towards the spit, and talked about all the churches. Tuk like so many other First Nation communities was not immune to the residential school incident, children were taken from the community on a boat, The Abigale, as young as four years old, not to return home for eight years. Although there are four churches in town, very few attended them, if a religious ceremony is to be held, a priest or minister will fly in from Yellowknife or Whitehorse. After the residential school disaster, the people turned away from religion, returning to their heritage, and old ways.
We then went past the medical/dental building, where there were nurses on staff and the doctor and dentist fly in once a month. All medical emergencies are flown out, depending on the severity, to Inuvik, Yellowknife or Edmonton. Across the parking lot is the Elder centre, for residents over the age of 65, but with declining numbers anybody over the age of 50 can live there.
As we passed the community housing I commented on the painting. Apparently on Dragons Den there was a pitch for recycling paint, the guy got the backing of one of the Dragons and had donated recycled paint to the housing authority. All community housing was being painted and if you owned your own home you could also get free paint to have your house painted, Eileen was undecided if she would paint her house blue or purple, I suggested purple and she shared it was her Mum’s favourite colour. What a great project and it was really adding a nice touch to the community.
Then the cemetery, sadly a large number youth in community had taken their own lives about ten years prior.

Edwin told us there were not enough activities to keep the youth on track. As it turned out, Edwin is the Deputy Mayor and contributes much to the community for youth, through music and other programs. Drugs and alcohol are of concern, even though Tuk is a dry settlement, alcohol is allowed in, but in very limited quantities.
Eileen then took us to her friend Anne’s house. Anne was a former teacher/principal at the school, but in retirement she enjoys making native arts and crafts. She also sold other artisans goods. Sadly we were not able to buy anything, as we just don’t have anywhere to put it, we soaked up the sights and stored them in our memory banks.

Stewart did get a copy of a recipe from Anne’s!

Next door to Anne’s was the radio station, yup they even have their own radio station in Tuk.

Next to the sod houses, one of the two sod houses was built for the occasion of a visit by Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip, unfortunately they never made into the sod house. Sod houses were used during the summer as they were very cool and no bugs went into them.

So more on the corporation the Inuvikiantun set up after their land settlement, all Inuvikiantun share in the profits from the corporation, receiving an annual payment if there is a profit. Elders receive a second payment just before Christmas each year.
Everybody is offered housing, if there are vacant homes. Some people own their own homes. Rent is calculated based on income, which is divided by 12 and a percentage charged. Water is delivered to homes on a scheduled delivery service, into the homes, as permafrost is ever present, therefore they do not have underground services.
We went by what would be deemed as a driftwood cemetery, driftwood had collected in a bay, but could not be used by the community for fuel as it was water logged. Wood is scarce in Tuk, there are no trees.
We visited the community greenhouse, where people were growing all sorts of veggies and flowers.

After several hours with Eileen and many questions, it was time for us to go to the airport. Back at the airport we were advised our plane was slightly delayed from Inuvik, as we waited the organizers from the music festival began arriving, there to greet the performers for the festival. While they waited they discussed some of their food needs for the weekend, one lady said she could make Bannock, one would make buns, another salad, and somebody had fish………and so it went, so wonderful to hear how they were pulling together for the Community event. Seems the reason for the plane delay was one of the performers, who is very well known in the north, broke out his fiddle in the Inuvik airport and was entertaining the folks “down south”. When the plane arrived there was some large equipment which needed to be unloaded, so the lady at the ticket counter came into the lobby, 10 steps away and pointed at a young strapping fellow and told him to help the ramp rat who was outside unloading the plane, guess that’s how they roll up north, if you’re there and help is needed, you help, none of that union stuff, my job, your job, just help each other and get it done.
To our surprise when we went out onto the Tarmac to get on the plane, it was a Ken Borek plane, male/female crew based out of Inuvik, and we were the only passengers!!! Flying low we had a great view of the largest Pingos in the world, the boggy marshes and the new highway.

Worlds Largest Pingo.

New all weather road winding through the terrain.

Upon our return to Inuvik we stopped at the golf course to inquire about late night golfing. It had been on Catherine’s bucket list to midnight golf and we had planned to golf in the Mayor’s Tournament and attend the Pig roast, however the dates had been changed and we were no longer able to attend. Catherine got talking to a very nice fellow, Eugene who arranged for us to have a set of clubs so we could return later that evening and enjoy a round of late night golf.
Once back in town we headed to the Legion to enjoy a beer at the most northerly Legion in Canada, there was a warm welcome and we were invited to stay for the nightly actives of games and the Saturday meat draw.

From the Legion we ventured off to get dinner before touring the town for a few last pictures, the most northerly mosque, the community greenhouse, the Igloo church and a few others.

It was now 10:30 pm with the sun still high in the sky we decided it was time for our round of golf. The course was still open and there was a sixum on the course ahead of us, along with clouds of mosquitoes!!!!! We had also been warned about the resident black bear, luckily we didn’t see him. We played 6 of the 9 holes, two times around the course makes 18, before conceding to the bugs, no amount of bug spray was keeping them away. Not to mention how tired we were from our long day and we still needed to find a place to stay for the night.

Knowing we would be heading back toward Dawson City in the morning, we headed south, luckily finding camp site at Jak Territorial Park just a few km down the road. We were able to shower and freshen up after our long day. Catherine decided she wanted to see the sun bounce off the horizon, so endeavoured to stay awake to watch, but lost the battle to sleep about 2am.

Taken at midnight.
Taken around 1:30am.

The sun just touches the horizon and starts its upward climb for the next day. It is very strange and for some; sleep is difficult during these days. Flip side of the coin, is during winter there are about 36 days of no sunlight, the brightness comes from reflections off the snow.
We had anticipated an early departure from Jak to get back to Dawson, but we slept in, which we find ourselves doing a lot of late. We left around noon, the day was sunny and virtually no traffic on the road. We saw two wolves, a lynx, some ptarmigan, and hundreds of bush bunnies. As we got into the plains and there were some bushes, we saw families out picking berries. It seemed they were in the middle of nowhere, which I guess they were. Also seemed strange to see them armed with a rifle, but they were picking the berries that the bears like!

We passed the three roadside airstrips, sorry forgot to mention these on the trip up. There didn’t seem to be any civilization around for these airstrips, but they are still active runways.

This was taken on the way up the Dempster, the road widens and is used as an airstrip.

As the weather held for us, we were able to make our return journey to Dawson City in one day, arriving back into town about 9:30pm and making our way to the Territorial campsite on the west side of the Yukon River. Campsites are $12 per night and all the firewood you might want. Very clean and exceptionally well run, we had such a peaceful spot on the river we stayed four nights. The ferry to cross the river runs 24/7 and is free.

Completion of the Dempster.
Relaxing at our campsite, Yukon River Territorial Park.

Once back in Dawson, Catherine decided she must do the Toe Shot. We had a young couple, Sam and Chris camping next to us, who also wanted to go do the Toe Shot, so off to town we went. Sam and Chris were vacationing from Toronto. They had come west to hike the Chillkot Trail, as Sam’s mother had done some 30 years prior. Chris surprised Sam by asking for her hand in marriage and offering a beautiful diamond ring at the top of the trail. A couple beers and a couple shots and it was all over. Every night of the week hundreds of tourists visit the Downtown Hotel in Dawson City to partake in the crazy event, you must buy your own shot, which must be at least 80% proof, line up, sometimes for hours and then have the opportunity to have an amputated toe dropped into your glass and drink your shot!! If you Google Toe Shot, you will find all kinds of articles about the toe, and yes people have stolen it and swallowed it!! There is a $2500 fine for either of these infractions.

The Toe!!!



Catherine doing the Toe Shot!

We once again ran into Pam and Andy who like ourselves were resting from their trip to Inuvik and Tuk, while preparing for their trek to Alaska. We had a couple nice visits with them, comparing notes on what we had seen and done.

During one of our treks across the river on the ferry to Dawson, Catherine did a self-guided Cemetery Tour. In the day there had been 8 different cemeteries in Dawson, some are just skeletal remains, sorry for the pun, and others remain intact. The largest cemetery in Dawson has been relocated. In its hay day, Dawson was a city of 30,000 – 40,000 people, who would have known?

The view of Dawson from the ferry.

We also visited the RCMP barracks, which are a historical site, the Dawson City Museum and Rail Museum, Dredge #4 near where the first piece of gold was found (gold mining/panning continues to this day) and The Dome.

The Dome is the highest point just outside Dawson with a magnificent view of the valley and town. Many people camp at the Dome.
Next: Alaska Part 1

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