13 August 2018
How far up north can you go before getting out of touch with civilization? At what point does living in the north affect your lifestyle?
Read how Derek Martin saw these questions become a reality during a trip in Nunavik, in the north of Québec, as he saw firsthand what it meant to be living in northern isolation.
As our plane was approaching Kanjirsuk, a quick look through the window confirmed that we were in untamed lands. Everywhere we looked we saw cloudy and grey horizons, as well as long rocky silhouettes, devoid of any vegetation. Flying along the Ungava Bay, we had a glimpse of what would be our home for the next week. Our house was nestled at the outlet of Payne River. My first thought was that this small village seemed as though it had sprouted from nothing, as if it had just appeared in this spot, without any apparent reason.
After setting up our rooms, we were looking forward to exploring the village. We walked towards a small wharf, which appeared to be the community’s gathering point. A good number of villagers surrounded a boat that was about to leave. Our filming gear and cameras flagged us as outsiders, but we were nevertheless greeted by the locals. “Winnie” was the first to talk to us, she had a contagious smile that made us feel at home. Winnie taught us the story of the boat and how it had been recently purchased and brought to the community. The boat and its crew were leaving for the Ungava Bay for a few days, possibly a whole week, to bring back fish and scallops for the entire village. To my great surprise, among the crew about to leave were a few young boys who seemed to be between 5 and 8 years old. Winnie told us that young boys needed to learn how to fish and pilot boats at a very young age, as the village would eventually depend on them to go out for food. It was at this moment I understood that this region and community were isolated from the daily lives we were used to.
“Living the nature“ was an expression I had read in books and heard in movies, but I was seeing firsthand what it truly meant. For that reason, I am eternally grateful to our friends in the North.
We hade the pleasure of going up Payne River with what seemed to be larger than life canoes in search of Arctic Char. Ungava Bay has one of the highest and quickest tides in the world. We had no idea we would have to be able to synchronize our departure and return trip with the tides, by fear of getting stuck between cycles! To get out to the strategic spot the guide had identified for us, we had to fight against the temperature and turbulent waters. Once we got there though, the weather seemed to change in our favour and Arctic Char came out to join us. It was amazing to fish in these clear waters while these powerful creatures preyed on our colourful flies. When they bit, it was guaranteed fun!
I really loved the time we spent learning more about our guides and understanding their culture. Sadly, we just missed the caribou migration through the village. Caribou moves in packs and could be numbered in thousands throughout the village. Villagers depended on that migration to hunt and collect meat for the whole village. The community had a public cooler in the centre of the village, where meat was cut and divided equally among the villagers, prioritizing the elders. It was obvious for us that hunting wasn’t for sport or for fun, but rather a means of surviving. Winter can be quite brutal and people need to be sure they have enough food to feed their families.
Following up Winnie’s invitation, we went to their “summer camp”. A spot where they usually went to hunt and enjoy the tranquility of nature. Listening to stories and talking with our new friends always gave me chills. From hunting beluga, caribou, seals and even to meeting polar bears, I was speechless by the status quo of their lives and their isolation in the north. But that was, in fact, the reality of Winnie and her family.
Even though different, isolated and sometimes surprising by moments, their sense of community, the love of their heritage, their culture and lifestyle were completely different from what we had experienced before.