THE LIFE OF GUIDES – Is it the best job in the world? Or the worst?

Explore Magazine, Fall 2016

Whether ogling orangutans in Indonesia, musk ox tracking in the Arctic or springbok stalking in South Africa, the lives of my guides have always struck me as intriguing as the wildlife and wilderness they’re helping me explore. It seems the idyllic occupation for an experienced adventurer – spending months working in a roll-call of exotic international wild places, connecting with critters, educating and sharing experiences with wide-eyed clients.

But is it the dream job it appears to be?derek-kyostia-igloolik-nu-3

After years of after-hour beers and midnight chocolate-bingeing sessions with guides working back-to-back 18-hour days I’ve discovered that while they all love their freelance freedom, the natural environment and the unique opportunities they can incorporate into their annual schedules, it can be a very taxing profession.

andy-macpherson-seal-river-lodge-churchill-mb-6Sure, they’re being paid to fuel their addiction to adventure in wild workplaces, but it comes at the cost of juggling family and relationships during remote gigs that can last months. Most are single; many are ‘homeless’; few have children. They deal 24/7 with guests who sometimes pose more problems than the big-jawed long-clawed wildlife. How do they prevent burn out in a profession where they’re ‘on’ for weeks without a break, bunking with other guides while bearing the responsibility of guests having a life-changing vacation and staying safe?

Experienced, full-time wilderness guides are a small, elite community of strongly andy-macpherson-seal-river-lodge-churchill-mb-13independent, like-minded creatures who migrate just like some of the animals they observe. In Canada, the best of them all know one another and the country’s premier wilderness outfitters know them all too. I spoke to a top trio who shared the ups and downs of the job that gives them the thrilling and rewarding experiences they crave and the means by which they get around its inherent challenges.  Read more…

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GOING WITH THE FLOE – A week on the sea ice in the frozen wilds of Nunavut

Explore Magazine, Winter 2015

Weighed down by a mushrooming snowdrift, my tent wall awakens me by thumping a reggae beat onto the left side of my face. I lift my eye-patches, struggle into a parka and wriggle outside to find a shovel. Blinded by golden sunshine bouncing off an iceberg towering above our base camp, I blink at the endless ice horizon,Floe Edge-MPfeiff (52) a ground blizzard swirling around my legs. It doesn’t matter how many times I’ve come to the northern tip of Baffin Island to do this—and this is my fifth time in two decades—I can never really wrap my head around the surreal fact that I’m camped Floe Edge-MPfeiff (56)atop the frozen Arctic
Ocean, six kilometres from shore in prime
polar bear country and my watch is telling me it’s two o’clock… in the morning.

Floe Edge-MPfeiff (41)The Arctic can be every bit as exotic as Africa, and nowhere more so than hanging out at the floe edge where the sea ice meets the open ocean in springtime. It’s a superb and strange environment not only for experiencing wildlife activities up close, but also for gaining insight Floe Edge-MPfeiff (65)into the millennia-old culture and skills of active hunter-gatherers.

Round-the-clock daylight defrosts, cracks open and shears off a thick crust of saltwater ice, exposing a nutrient-rich Floe Edge-MPfeiff (36)marine smorgasbord— the ocean. Watching a seething mass of hungry critters at this all-you-can-eat feeding frenzy is a true Arctic safari. Skies darken with migratory snow geese, eider ducks, swooping jaegers and swirling clouds of kittiwakes and gulls. Murres kamikaze into the waves, so buoyant when they surface that they shoot from the water like corks. READ MORE…

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OUT ON THE LAND: Go north, and then keep going, to where wind peels the paint off your cabin walls, and the wolves are on your doorstep

Cottage Life Magazine, Winter 2015

Sarah and Eric McNair-Landry rattle inArctic-CL-MPfeiff-11
their dogsled along the lumpy shore ice
of frozen Frobisher Bay, past beached
boats and houses half-buried in snowdrifts.
Sarah rides on the Inuit wooden sled, while Eric, her brother, drives the team of eight dogs. At a sloped embankment, Sarah jumps off, with the sled still in full flight, runs up the rise, and stands with arms outstretched, halting the traffic of cars and snowmobiles. The vehicles do stop, remarkably, their Arctic-CL-MPfeiff-127drivers clearly accustomed to Nunavut’s offbeat traffic conventions. Eric shouts “Hike! Hike!,” the dogs surge, and the sled crosses the frozen road. Sarah waves thanks to the drivers, sprints to catch up, and leaps back on as the sled glides down the opposite slope, then alongside Iqaluit Airport’s main runway, to the roar of a landing First Air 737.

The low winter sun is the colour ofArctic-CL-MPfeiff-35 butter, and an icy wind has whipped up over the tundra by the time they turn into Sylvia Grinnell Territorial Park. They ride through swirling ground snow broken by glimpses of snow-covered picnic tables.
An hour later, after the sled negotiates Arctic-CL-MPfeiff-57the ridges and the blue ice of the Sylvia Grinnell River itself Arctic-CL-MPfeiff-31, a cabin comes into view, tucked in front of a rocky outcrop on high ground. “We’re home!” Eric says.

His voice echoes to silence. It’s Arctic-CL-MPfeiff-96-32°C on a clear Saturday morning in January, as clear a day as most Canadians have ever seen. Both siblings are obviously very happy to be out of town—Sarah to give her dogs a run, and Eric to fulfill his recent obsession of building an igloo to sleep in. Like Canadians everywhere, they’re looking forward to a much-needed overnight respite from their busy lives. And like Canadians everywhere, they’ve come for that respite to their cottage.

Arctic-CL-MPfeiff-70The McNair-Landry siblings, Eric, 31, and Sarah, 29, grew up in Iqaluit (pop. 6,700), with the Arctic Ocean in their
backyard. As youngsters, they shuffled on skis behind polar explorers training on Frobisher Bay. They raised and ran dog teams, pulled gear-loaded “pulks” on skis, and backpacked and camped year-round with their world-renowned expedition-leader parents, Philadelphiaborn
Matty McNair and Ontarian Paul Landry. At least they did when their parents weren’t taking turns guiding
adventurers to far-flung destinations like the North and South Poles.  READ MORE…


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State of the Art – New artists, new disciplines and shiny new buildings: there’s an exciting generational shift happening in the world of Inuit art

Up Here Magazine, September 2014


Family of Eight, Tim Pitsiulak

Next spring, a new sound will join the clinking chisels and buzzing grinders of Cape Dorset’s famous carvers, as they coax polar bears and walruses out of chunks of stone: the steady whump of pilings being pounded. It’s the first step in the construction of a $7.5 million cultural centre and print-making studio, scheduled to open here in March, 2016.

It’s been a long time coming. And it might just help save Inuit art as we know it.


Handcuffs, Jamasee Padluq Pitseolak

This hamlet, nestled on Dorset Island off the southern tip of Baffin, has long been the tiny epicentre of Canada’s Inuit arts industry. With almost a quarter of its labour force involved in the field, Dorset has more artists per capita than any other Canadian community. Arts and crafts are a prime economic mover here: Kinngait Studios’ carvings bring in about $1 million annually; prints generate around $800,000 a year. Big numbers for a town of some 1,300 souls. Nunavut-wide, the arts sector creates almost 1,100 full-time jobs, pumping roughly $33 million into the territorial economy annually, including small change for another 2,000 or so part-timers who sell work door to door.


Brief Case, Annie Pootoogook

Many visitors, drawn here by the lure of Cape Dorset’s artistic reputation, are surprised to realize there’s no gallery or display space attached to Kinngait Studios. For decades, its world-famous artists have been creating their masterpieces in the cramped quarters of a ramshackle cluster of wooden 1950s-era buildings. Along with state-of-the art studio spaces, the new Kenojuak Ashevak Centre—named after the Order of Canada and
Governor General’s Award-winning printmaker—will include space for rotating exhibitions of prints, drawings and sculptures, an interactive learning hub, and a retail shop. And it’ll sustain an industry that helped put Nunavut art on the map. “This will be a national cultural treasure on the level of the McMichael Collection in Ontario and the Haida Gwaii museum in B.C.,” says Brian McLeod, project consultant to Nunavut Tunngavik (NTI), the Inuit association that provided kick-start funding for the project. “It’s a terrific asset to Canadian culture.” Read more…

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Hotels Gone Wild – A peek behind the scenes of the business of running a Northern Lodge: from blizzards, bear invasions and caretakers gone crazy, to the ever-changing face of tourism.

Up Here Magazine, July/August 2014

seal river lodge (27)

Seal River Lodge, Manitoba

bear day 028

Furry visitor to Seal River Lodge.

As he does every March, Mike Reimer hops onto his vintage 1964 Caterpillar D6B ’dozer and sets off north from Churchill, travelling along Hudson Bay’s frozen coast at a blistering four kilometres an hour. He’s towing a sled loaded with more than 36,000 kilograms of supplies—everything from diesel, propane and batteries for a new solar energy system to furniture, lumber and food—bound for his

family’s four fly-in lodges, as far as 300 kilometres away.

Meanwhile, buzzing around the ponderous Cat like worker bees, snowmobiles check ice conditions ahead, venture inland in search of logs that will be jammed into the slush holes the Cat will inevitably slip into, and harvest the lodges’ seasonal stash of firewood. Then they hook back onto their qamutiqs, each piled with 907 kg of freight, and re-join this slow-moving springtime convoy.

In 2004, the procession arrived at their Seal River Lodge to find that a local bear had smashed through wooden shutters bristling with six inch nails. Every window was punched out, cupboards torn off walls, a fridge flattened, plastic liners peeled out of showers. “They love plastic,” says Reimer. “It was like having a 1,000-pound squirrel in your kitchen.” Foxes, wolves and Arctic hares had also taken up residence throughout the winter, nestling amid a snow drift that reached the ceiling. It took four men three days to shovel out the snow and debris. The only thing untrashed: a single jar of honey, sitting untouched atop a half-metre high carpet of rubble. Read more…


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Making Their Mark – In 1959, Inuit from the tiny village of Cape Dorset released a collection of prints that wowed the world and put Arctic art on the map. In 2009 the community’s artists celebrated a remarkable half-century of printmaking – and questioning the future of their craft.

Up Here Magazine, October/November 2009

It’s early afternoon, and the only person around Cape Dorset’s Kinngait Studios is a grandmotherly Inuk in a worn windbreaker leaning against the trash bin outside, smoking a cigarette. Does she know where I can find the manager? I’d heard the North’s most famous artist, Kenojuak Ashevak, would be dropping by to sign a recent batch of prints. She shrugs apologetically, not understanding a word of my English.

Kenojuak Ashevak with one of her 2009 collection prints.

Kenojuak Ashevak with one of her 2009 collection prints.

Twenty minutes later, as I chat with the studio’s then-manager, Jimmy Manning, the same woman ambles in. “Oh, here’s Kenojuak now,” Jimmy announces. In Inuktitut, he tells her what I’d been seeking, and she beams a gap-toothed grin. Then she modestly poses for photos and answers questions. How does she feel about the worldwide attention her art has
received over the decades? She shrugs. “I’m just happy to make
some money to help my grandchildren,” she says. Eighty-one-year-old Ashevak started her artistic career in the 1950s, drawing by

Kavavaow Mannomee printing a  Kenojuak work.

Kavavaow Mannomee printing a Kenojuak work.

the light of a seal-oil lamp in outpost camps as her husband hunted and she raised their children. One of her drawings appeared in the first-ever collection of Cape Dorset prints, released in 1959. And on October 16, when the 50th annual collection is rolled out, Ashevak’s newest works will be featured.

Over the past half-century, Cape Dorset’s traditional and colourful images of hunters, amouti-clad women and Arctic creatures rich with spirituality have been bestowed upon royalty, presidents, prime ministers and popes, and have been recognized

Contemporary Inuit artist Suvinai Ashoona with two of her prints.

Contemporary Inuit artist Suvinai Ashoona with two of her prints.

worldwide as saying “Canada” more than any other art form. They’ve become national icons, in particular Ashevak’s 1960 Enchanted Owl, which in 2001 fetched $58,650 at a Toronto auction – the highest price ever paid for an Inuit print. Feted by the southern art world, Ashevak has been given the Order of Canada and two honorary doctorates, and in 2008, she became the first Inuk to earn the Governor General’s Award in Visual and Media Arts. Read more…

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The Nunavut Quest – The High Arctic’s top dog sled race

Up Here magazine, December 2013

It’s a bright, brisk afternoon in April on the frozen shores of northern Baffin Island. Almost the entire village of Arctic Bay has gathered on the sea ice in front of town. They huddle, laugh and shuffle to stay warm as 11 dog-sled teams from four different Nunavut communities line up in the wind-packed snow. pfeiff - polar training (45)The past few days have been filled with feasts, dances and short-distance dog-sled races; now, after a group prayer, the timekeeper gives the signal for the big event to begin. The first musher takes off, then, a minute later, another leaves, then another. The crowd roars as each team glides
down frozen Adams Sound, all of them bound for Igloolik, 600 kilometres away. The 14th annual Nunavut Quest is off and running.

AS THE HIGH ARCTIC’S BIGGEST dog-sled race, the Nunavut Quest is unlike any other mushing competition. Taking place far above the treeline, it requires solo racers to navigate from one far-flung village to another, travelling for about a week along untracked routes of jumbled pack ice, steep ravines and  labyrinthine valleys choked with snow and slush. Some years, multi-day blizzards stop the event in its tracks; occasionally, fracturing ice sends participants scrambling for shore.  matty3Then there are the run-of-the-mill Arctic perils: the deep-freeze temperatures and, of course, the constant threat of polar bears. Despite the dangers, though, the Nunavut Quest has almost no help along the way. Unlike more famous subarctic races like the Yukon Quest and the Iditarod, there are no shelters or checkpoints, no directional markers or hovering helicopters. Mushers have their own personal support teams travelling by skidoo, but there’s no veterinarian or doctor. For the first decade of the Nunavut Quest, mushers’ only connection with the outside world was a single orange Spillsbury radio.

These days, support teams carry a few satellite phones and GPS units, but, for the most part, mushers aren’t following a predetermined course. Instead, the routes are decided on by daily consultations among Inuit hunters and elders on the support teams. “It gets you back to the old times,” says Olayuk Barnabas of Arctic Bay, who has run every Nunavut Quest since 2001. “The experience refreshes your mind and gets you out with others, meeting new people. It has become so much more than just a race.” MORE...

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