Sunday, September 30, 2007

Hall Beach

Warning: Some of the following images are not suitable for young children, people with sensitive stomachs, and any members of PETA. Consider yourself warned.

A few weeks back I visited Hall Beach to do a community MD visit. Each of the settlements around Baffin Island and the nearby mainland are covered by a specified physician in Iqaluit. The doctor covering that community takes calls from the nurses about more complicated patients, and would ideally visit to see patients and review charts about every 3-6 weeks (depending on the size of the community). Unfortunately, current physician staffing levels haven't allowed these visits to happen as often as they should. Luckily, I got to fly north of the arctic circle to visit Hall Beach and see the patients there. I had a great time, and I'm looking forward to going back again in the future.

Hall Beach is a community located on the Melville Peninsula, across the water from Baffin Island. It was founded in 1957, and was named for Charles Francis Hall, an American explorer. Hall Beach is not too far from Igloolik (Iglulik), another community on the peninsula. The actually "beach" is very rocky, and the topography is very flat, unlike many of the spots on Baffin, but I thought it had a beauty all its own. It's probably the smallest and most isolated place I've been so far; about 600-700 people live there, and pretty much the whole town knows each other. So it was pretty obvious I was a stranger...However, everyone would say hello on the street, and the kids would come up to me and ask me my name. I found the people there very nice.

Here are some of the highlights of my trip:

Arriving at the airport

I love the obligatory picture of the Queen (circa 1970) hanging on the wall.

The health centre

The lovely health centre staff

Some adorable sled dog puppies

While they appear adorable and cuddly now, once they're grown, it's best to stay far away from the sled dogs, which are usually kept chained up and away from the houses. These dogs are NOT pets. They are working dogs. You do not pet them and give them doggy kisses. They might eat you. Just kidding. Or maybe not.

The town

Community centre

The mall (ie: Northern)

The co-op

You may notice that there are no signs on the two (count 'em TWO) stores in town. I guess the scrawled spray paint job counts as the sign. Then again, in a place this small, do you really need a sign?


The hotel (pretty swanky! great food)

A crazy looking vehicle

Can't remember what this is called, but I guess they used to use these to go out on the land and look at polar bears or something.

The dump on the beach

I walked out along the beach and found...the dump. Where the heck did that old yellow school bus come from?

The spoils of the hunt!

Cariboo skulls

Cariboo skins

A seal skin being stretched out


My new friend, who was heading down to the beach to chop the tusks off this walrus. It's not often you can make friends with a guy walking down the street with an axe and a severed walrus head. However, you can tell he's a good guy, because he is obviously a Leafs' fan.

We apologize for the lack of recent posts...we've been pretty busy and the internet connection is so slow that uploading these pictures took forever. Fear not, we have some other posts in the works, so check back soon.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

The little differences make things interesting...

Inspired by a post about a taxi strike from my cousin Liana's website I thought I'd add a post about the way the taxi system here in northern Canada works. Now taxi's are an interesting topic in many places. In Toronto and Vancouver many of the taxi drivers are well educated imigrants to Canada. I've met doctors from India, engineers from Iran, and professors from Lybia all making a living behind the wheel. One of the tragadies of the Canadian immigration system is that with one hand it welcomes highly educated newcomers to Canada, while the other hand blocks them from working in the professions in which they are educated. Meaningful routes towards having their professional qualifications assessed, updated and recognized here in Canada being very limited.

Here in Iqaluit the cabs drivers mainly hail from Quebec. Many are French Canadians by heritage, while others are immigrants first to Quebec, and later further north in search of opportunities. They are an interesting, and cosmopolitian bunch. They'll point out the sights along the way, tell you which dogs are causing problems, and generally give you the gossip of the town.

Cabs in the south are bright and shiny. Many cities have bylaws that mandate cabs be no more than a couple of years old. They are also mini fortresses on wheels, the front and back seats divided by bullet proof glass, a camera trained on the back seat, a meter glowing with red numbers letting you know how far you've travelled and what you owe and a GPS screen to guide the driver. There are rules about when the cab must run the AC and what music they can have playing.

By contrast a cab in Iqaluit can seemingly be any vehicle as long as it has a sign on top from one of the local companies. The vehicle can also be of any age, and since the cabs are often run around the clock some of the vehicles have their share of wear and tear. There are no dividers, no meters, and only a CB that tells the driver where the next call waits for them. A ride anywhere in town (or to the adjecent town of Apex) costs $6 per person no matter how long or short the journey. The cab may stop to pick up others along the way, and may make detours that seem random, but bring them by high pick-up areas hoping for an extra fare on the way to your final destination.

Up until a few years ago cabs were the main means of transportation in Iqaluit. There were few personal vehicles and taking cabs was a part of everyday life. Over the past few years there has been a dramatic influx of vehicles of all types. Cars, trucks, SUVs classic cars, even Hummers. Iqaluit has them all. I've heard than on average ther are 300 more cars shipped up every year, a substantial number for a place this size. The influx has been hard on the cabs who have seen business go from a hustle to keep up, to a hustle to survive. One of the really important functions the cabs still serve is transportation for many of the medical folks here in Iqaluit. Since it is very expensive to ship and keep a car here in Iqaluit many of the people who come here to work at the hospital choose to take cabs instead.

In small, isolated places everyone has to look out for everyone else in order to survive. In that spirit the cabs of Iqaluit offer emergency transportation to the doctors of the town. When a doctor is called in to the hospital to deal with an emergency, the nearest cab will drop whatever else it is doing in order to provide quick transportation. When I phone in to the dispatch and say 'It's Dr. J., I have to get to the hospital quickly!', a cab arrives at my front door quickly. 'How fast?' the driver asks. I say either 'Pretty fast.' or 'Really fast.' depending on the nature of the emergency. When I say really fast that's exactly how the cabs go, like NASCARs, racing down the road, drifting around the corners, making every effort to get me to the hospital on time.

I wonder how often cabbies down south are responsible for getting a doctor to the hospital in time to catch a baby, or treat someone who's seriously ill? Probably not often, but here in Iqaluit it's just another part of regular business...

Friday, September 7, 2007

Odds and Ends

Winter has Arrived!
Well, not exactly but the first snow of the year fell yesterday (Sept. 6). It was wet and it melted as soon as it hit the ground and it only lasted for about 30 minutes, but it was definetely snow. Welcome to the arctic. Perhaps it will be an early start to winter, although recent history argues against it. For each of the last 2 years the bay has taken much longer than usual to freeze over. This has real ramifications for the people who live here because the ice is a major route of travel between nearby communities during winter and the floe edge (where the ice meets open ocean) is well populated with seals which are a major food source for some people. An early winter (or even an on time winter) wouldn't be entirely unwelcome.
In the picture below you can see the snow capping the hills in the distance.

Take out in Iqaluit
In Vancouver Dr. H and I spent many a Friday night curled up on the couch watching a movie and eating a dinner of take-out Thai food. Iqaluit is lacking in Thai resturants so tonight I tried my hand at opening my own Thai Away Home. I cooked phad thai, spring rolls and wonton soup. Dr. H gave it an enthusiastic thumbs up. Here's a picture of the finished product.

And speaking of food in the north...
The food selection here in Iqaluit is actually quite good (in spite of my previous lament about the lack of Tim Horton's). There are several grocery stores here in town, the two largest being Arctic Ventures and Northmart. Both actually have a fair selection of interesting foods, and overall the selection is probably better than in most small towns in Ontario. The produce here in Iqaluit is usually pretty fresh as it gets flown up on a regular basis. (I'll admit to recently purchasing a bunch of grapes from Chile....each with a sizable carbon footprint I'd imagine). The Northmart is a fascinating place, it's a large grocery store with a clothing section, a sporting goods section, furniture, a pharmacy, furs, and (my favorite part) a middle isle that in winter has a long row of skidoos and in summer ATVs.

When I was a resident I spent a couple of months working in Moose Factory, a small Cree town on the southern tip of James Bay connected to the south by a rail like to Timmins. The food at the Moose Factory Northern store was decent, but even more expensive than here in Iqaluit. Like many northern hospitals the doctors in Moose Factory travelled out to the smaller communities in the area to provide medical clinics. When sent out to a community we would be issued a food box containing what the hospital judged to be an adequate amount of food for the trip (food in the smaller communities was very expensive and sometimes the stores wouldn't have much in stock). The food box usually contained some spagetti, ground beef, tea, sugar, a couple of pork chops, a couple of loose carrots and onion, a banana, bread, eggs, and a litre of milk (and often a few other odds and ends). On one slow spring day in Moose all the doctors got together for an Iron Chef style cook off and pot-luck dinner. It was amazing what people came up with (I made a banana bread pudding), and great fun. Being in places where you have to make your own fun sometimes brings out the best in people...

Monday, September 3, 2007

The Fall of Summer

Labour Day

Today is the first Monday in September, historically a day set aside to honor workers, unions and the people who keep the economy of Canada moving. For many people in Canada Labour Day has many other meanings. It is summers last hurrah, the last weekend at the cottage, the weekend to close the cottage or the pool for the season, it's the first night to get lunches ready for kids heading off to school, or maybe the weekend to drive older children off to their dorms for the coming months of college or university. It's the weekend that the first red and yellow leaves start appearing on the maples in Ontario. For many Canadians it's a Monday to sit around with friends and enjoy some classic Canadian CFL football (that's 3 down's, wild passing, and very high scores for any American's reading) along with some fine Canadian beer.

For me the Labour Day weekend is the first time in every year where the air smells like fall, when (no matter how old I get) I feel like I'll be going back to kindergarten, high school, university and med school tomorrow, and when the oilthigh (the fight song of Queen's University) will run through my head at least once.

Happy long weekend!
Photo credit: October Gold by Franklin Carmichael

The worlds shortest forest
The close cropped tundra here in the arctic is a forest of sorts. It has a wide variety of plants, mushrooms and lichens, and it's growth is slow and ponderous, inching it's way across otherwise barren landscape. Here are a few pictures of this minature world up close.