South for Summer Vacation

When home becomes the home away from home, and a reminder of the things left behind.

We all stood in the window, watching anxiously. It seemed like all the southerners in Arviat were packed into the airport. The weather had been wet and foggy the whole week, and with the multiple flight cancellations a lot of people were eager to catch the next plane south so they could start their vacations and see their families.

But first the plane had to land. One flight had already overflown that morning. I had heard it come low over the town, then disappear again as the pilots decided not to take a risk on the landing. A few minutes later, standing outside the airport watching the gravel runway, I heard the same sound: turboprop engines coming in low, lower, and then fading away again. I knew we weren’t going anywhere.

“Ladies and gentleman, Calm Air Flight 540 has overflown Arviat today due to fog. Passengers booked on this flight should make their way to the ticket counter to rebook for the next available flight.”

We lined up at the counter knowing it was the second or third delay for some people, and that the fog was really starting to eat into their vacation time. We were assigned seats on the next day’s flight and, luckily, that plane was able to get in, so our vacation was only delayed by a day.

Flights in the north are always subject to weather—blizzards in the winter, fog in the summer—and this plays havoc with people’s travel plans. It can make vacations stressful but we were prepared for setbacks, so a 24-hour delay was easy to accept and our vacation pretty much started as planned.

A Different Kind of Vacation

Until last year I had lived in Newfoundland my entire life. That meant my vacations involved either visiting someplace else or simply doing much the same things I always did with my free time, just without the interruption of work every day for a week or two.

So this summer, when it came time for my wife and I to take our summer vacation, we decided to do something a little different. It was the first time a vacation meant a trip back home to Newfoundland rather than somewhere else. It was also the first time we had spent such a long time away from family and friends, so we had a lot of people to see.

Our first stop was Ottawa. We chose the Nation’s Capital because there were people there we wanted to visit, and we really like the city. We arrived close to midnight and immediately went to the Highlander Pub for a drink and some food. I remember sitting at an outdoor table as the temperature lingered in the mid-20s despite the fact it was after midnight. I marveled at the fact I had woken up that morning North of 60, where the temperature was five degrees, hovering near freezing with the windchill.

Ottawa is also a good place to prepare a sealift order. Sealifting is one of the unique features of life in the north, and many people take advantage of the annual summer sealift to bring in supplies, materials, and special order items to save money. And it’s the only way to bring in things like cars and trucks, for example, unless you want to charter a Hercules aircraft. It’s possible to place an order for a sealift right from Arviat through local businesses or by calling up shopping and shipping companies in the south, but we chose a company that allowed us to buy our own supplies and just drop them off for shipment. That way we could be sure to get exactly what we wanted, although it meant spending three or four days shopping frantically.

From Ottawa we headed back to Newfoundland, and it was a little strange to be returning after a year away. It’s the longest I have ever been away from the island and the changes were not as subtle as I had expected. Three new major construction sites in downtown St. John’s, still plenty of new residential construction, and perhaps most importantly, a Smoke’s Poutinerie. But our old haunts were mostly unchanged, and it was oddly comforting to see the city has continued its summer tradition of stripping chunks out of the pavement in a seemingly random manner.

Family and Friends

I also never quite realized how many friends and family we’ve been blessed with until I tried to catch up with them all in a single week, which was pretty much impossible. But we managed to see plenty of people we hadn’t for a year or more. As great as it was to catch up with family and friends though, it was sometimes tough to hear about the changes and important events that we have missed in the past year.

As busy as we were it was still an enjoyable trip, largely because we got to take advantage of the things we miss the most living in the north: movie theatres, running trails, restaurants, coffee shops, and so on. But as enjoyable as the trip was, it’s always good to get back home again.

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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