Friday, June 22, 2007

For Crown and Country

It’s been a long time since I felt like writing. Today is the 21st of June, the longest day of the year. It’s a statutory holiday in the Northwest Territories because it is National Aboriginal Day. The Dene Band here in town held celebrations just across the road from our house. There were barbequed steaks, smoked grayling (a type of fish), an archery competition, and a drum dance. As I barbequed supper out on my deck, I could hear the steady thumping of ten or more drums pounding in unison.

Earlier in the day, as Nicole and I got ready to take the dog for a walk on the beach, we spotted the unmistakable sight of tourists. You can distinguish them a mile away in their shorts, windbreakers, and Gilligan style wide brimmed white hats. As soon as I saw them, I knew that the Norweta was in dock. Sure enough, when we walked out to blueberry hill, we could see the ship tied up at the point, along with a few more white hatted tourists ambling along the dirt road towards town.

The Norweta was built in 1971 as a passenger ship according to the ship’s website. It is now used as a tour boat that makes regular trips up and down the Mackenzie all summer long. Passengers pay upwards of $6000 each for an eight day tour (10 days if you’re going south against the current) between Hay River and Inuvik. From what I’ve seen, the passengers are usually retirees spending their kids inheritance. These rich, polite old folks are always friendly and a pleasure to talk to. We met one nice lady at the foot of Blueberry hill. She asked if the store was open because she wanted to buy another notepad for her travel log. I informed her the store was closed, but invited her to take advantage of the free steaks cooking up the hill.

Nicole and I went down to the beach, let the dog off the leash, and started walking towards the ship. Just a few short weeks ago, the beach was littered with massive chunks of ice after the breakup. I wanted to go down and get my picture taken next to some, but for some reason I never got around to it. Today they are gone and we made our way around and over the dead trees that now litter the beach. When we got to the Norweta, a crew member was swabbing the deck with a broom. He greeted us and we made some polite casual conversation about the weather, but he didn’t invite us aboard. We walked a bit further down the beach and then started back.

On our way back, an older gentleman in a beard was preparing to mount a bicycle to peddle into town. Mackie approached him and we struck up a conversation. He told us he was the historian and tour guide on the cruise. He told us that he had worked as an archeologist for the government, and was based out of the museum in Yellowknife. He had researched and suggested the name change for the town from Fort Norman to Tulita. He said he had just finish telling passengers on the ship the story of how one of Canada’s Governor Generals, Lord Tweedsmuir, had climbed Great Bear Rock with two bodygurads and then drank some whiskey atop the plateau while his two bodyguards were rescued by a team of locals.

As we were talking, we had to get out of the way of a huge yellow grader that was scraping the road. All day today, the town worked through the holiday leveling the dirt roads around town, and spraying them with a chemical that is supposed to reduce dust. We learned they are doing this because Prince Andrew will be in town next weekend (or possibly the weekend after) to set out on a canoe trip. First Leslie Neilson, and now Prince Andrew. We are forever being besiged by our social superiors here in Tulita. I think I will make an effort to get the Prince’s photo if he does show up in town. Oh, and apparently this is supposed to be a secret. And here I am posting it on the internet. Oh bother.