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Springtime in Arviat

in 61st Parallel/Featured by

First there were the snow buntings. Small brown and white birds with a call like a robin’s.

Then there was the day when I looked out my front window and wondered what that brown stuff all over the road was. For one terrifying moment I thought a passing sewage truck had sprung a leak. Then I realized it was just the dirt road showing through.

Then, finally, it rained. Not just rained, but poured, and I realized that this was the first time in seven months that I had seen rain.

Spring has arrived.

Although it seems to have arrived quite suddenly, it was a long time coming. The last few weeks have been so (relatively) warm and sunny that we’re suddenly feeling the cabin fever that has no doubt been building since February, and we’ve been taking every opportunity to go outside and go for a walk around town in the sun. And the water. And the mud.

Have you seen our moat?

The temperature has been hovering just a few degrees above freezing, but with the high Arctic sun – now bringing daylight from about 4:00am to midnight – it feels much warmer. It’s at least warm enough to start melting the mountains of snow that have been piling up since October. But with the entire community located on a flat plain just a few metres above sea level and the ground underneath permanently frozen, the meltwater has nowhere to go. So it stays, creating huge, deep puddles throughout the town and making everybody break out their rubber boots. It’s sometimes a challenge for the hamlet’s public works department to keeping up with the calls, but I guess one benefit of all the buildings being constructed on pilings is that nobody has a basement to get flooded.

The warming temperatures are also bringing back the wildlife that the north is famous for. While people have been harvesting caribou all winter, spring is definitely the start of hunting season. On our walks around town we are not only seeing lots of drying caribou skins, but also muskox skins (and heads!), arctic foxes, and the occasional bear. Back around Easter a lot of people went out wolf hunting. A few nights ago I had roasted goose breast for dinner, generously given to me by a co-worker who is an avid hunter, and I couldn’t help but wonder if I was eating one of the geese I had seen passing overhead in their big flying V’s just a few days earlier.

Big fish, big money

It’s the start of the good fishing season too, and people take their fishing pretty seriously around here. Arviat marks the arrival of spring by the annual fishing derbies, starting with the trout-fishing derby held the weekend of May 5. For a $50 entrance fee, contestants can fish anywhere within 100 kilometres of Arviat and submit their catches for measurement. This year’s winning trout was 98.8 centimetres long, with the fisherman taking home the $11,000 first place prize. That’s right, eleven thousand dollars. I’m told they used to weigh instead of measure the fish, but apparently some enterprising people discovered you could increase your chances of winning by stuffing lead shot down the fish’s throat.

The cod-fishing derby is held the Victoria Day long weekend, and people jig for cod or sculpins (locally known, understandably, as ‘ugly fish’) on the bay near the community. The winner of this contest gets a new UTV, worth roughly $18,000. Although I haven’t quite figured out how such a small town is able to furnish such great prizes, it’s not just the prizes and the good excuse to go out fishing with friends and family that make the fishing derbies community events that people talk about all year long. I think it’s a kind of celebration of the return of the sun and the warm days ahead. After all, the changing of the seasons here is important to seasonal activities and brings a sense of renewal, and the climatic difference in the seasons is far more dramatic than it is in Newfoundland.

So I’ve hung up my Canada Goose jacket and put away my fur mitts for what I hope is the rest of the season. I’m a little concerned how I’ll react to temperatures in excess of 25 and 30 degrees when I’m on vacation this summer – but for now I’m just looking forward to getting out of my rubber boots.

The views and opinions in this column are those of the author alone, and are not necessarily those of the Hamlet of Arviat, Government of Nunavut, any of its departments or agencies, or anybody else.

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