Adventures – It’s always helpful to recall events that took place and to remember the experiences shared or gained as a result – here are a few that stick in my mind.
Bombardier trip to the Wells – carbon monoxide poisoning was what they said we had. It had been a trip from Ft Norman in the Government bombardier. I can’t remember why the trip was planned but we were loaded into the over the snow contraption and headed off through the bush on snow and ice roads that crisscrossed the frozen north. Checking on native hunting camps was one of the tasks. I believe the trip required an overnight camp on the way. I remember the machine tracks kept getting clogged up with snow and on a couple of occasions we broke through the ice on river crossing – that was scary and difficult to get out of the water ice. At some point along the way many of us started to feel ill and as we processed so did the feeling of dizziness and nausea. We made it to Norman Wells and went straight to the hospital where our CM poising was diagnosed. We spent some time at the hospital on oxygen to ensure we were ok before our release. Repairs were made to leaky exhaust before the return journey – it’s not something I would care to do again.
Snowmobiles to Franklin – This was a wonderful cross-country adventure on these amazing over the snow machines with the wild country and wilderness scenery. If you stopped the eerie silence was profound but frostbite and suffering on the way home to Fort Norman was a reminder of the dangers that lurked for the unwary. The trip to Ft Franklin had been fun and daunting with travel through wilderness over the deep snow with a guide. It was easy to be lost in these tundra conditions. However, on the return journey, we had left early and traveled throughout the day. It was sunny with blue skies.
The light of day began to fade late in the afternoon and soon our travel was marred by darkness. This gave the trip a new-found uneasiness. That familiar pain of your toes and fingers getting too much cold and tinges of frostbite loomed. The pain gets progressively worse and all you want is for it to go away and for the warmth to return. No matter what you do it won’t stop. Occasional trail breaks were taken to rest from the curling riding and attempts to warm my painful joints were not successful. Tears had begun that would freeze quickly but then the lights of Ft Norman loomed in the distance. We had only an hour or so to go until warmth would be found.
We did make the frozen river crossing and the home stretch. The feet and hands were put into water to slowly return the body to the desired temperature and no permanent damage was done thank goodness. Had we been any farther from civilisation then I am sure there would have been severe frostbite and more substantial damage. I don’t care to experience that level of pain again anytime soon, but snowmobiles are a fun way to travel.
My Last Underwater Dive – I have a vivid memory of one event I became involved with at Fort Norman to help out in a dire situation for the good of a local family and to support my RCMP friends. It was the last time I ever went scuba diving; I put the tanks and gear away after this last dive. The mighty McKenzie River is a swift flowing, muddy and debris infested. The settlement was receiving one of the normal summer supply barges. There were lots of activity on the shore and the forklift operator on the barge was busy unloading supplies as fast as possible to keep un the schedule. He as busy moving around the barge deck, lifting pallet after pallet to load onto trucks for delivery around the village.
It was later in the afternoon when it happened. The forklift operator backed up just a little too far on the deck and the wheels tipped over the edge. The machine and operator were instantly swallowed up by the murky waters of the McKenzie. Panic and excitement followed and everyone watched in anticipation that the driver might surface and live to recall this tale. It was not to be. He had unfortunately been taken to a watery grave in the north.
The RCMP took over the scene and tried to make arrangements for police divers to attend but they were not available for a few days. The barge couldn’t be moved; goods were being delayed and refrigeration issues were a concern. This barge had supplies to last other settlements for a year. Attempts were made to try to hook the forklift but the swift current prevented it. Frustration was evident with all concerned and no apparent solution to recover the body and forklift.
My memory has faded somewhat on this but either I volunteered or I was asked to volunteer – but no matter approval was granted by the RCMP subdivision for me as a civilian to assist the investigation by doing a dive to attempt to recover the body. I recall being most apprehensive and my dive plan was probably against all safety protocols but in the north practical invention was the norm. The water was very cold and you could not see your hand infant of your mask once submerged. I had a lifeline tied to my tanks and tenders on the barge. I made my way to the bottom guessing where the forklift might be.
I don’t recall how long I dove or if I made a number of attempts but I only had one tank of air so it couldn’t have been too long. I recall feeling my way around on the bottom and not being able to see a thing – there it was some metal; a frame. How was this thing sitting on the bottom – was it solid or on the edge and could it fall over and trap me on the bottom. Apprehensively I inched my way around the forklift until I felt the cab and there, still strapped in his seat I felt the operator. I managed to secure a rope as I recall and eventually he was removed first and then with cables attached, the forklift was winched out of that old river.
It was a cold, emotionally chilling, life draining and frightening experience. It was a necessary job to save the body for the dignity of the person and family to ensure peace for the local community. I didn’t take up scuba diving ever again and often wonder at what risk I actually put myself. Thank you, god for helping me through that ordeal.
Signing Up again – It turned out that I would re-engage or “sign up” in the RCMP and stay in the NWT for a few years. The extremes of climate with long hard winters and short warm summers, northern lights, and unique indigenous culture were an attraction too great to resist.
Deline (Fort Franklin when I was there) – “Flowing water”
Population: 514 – It’s the birthplace of ice hockey, home to the biggest lake trouts in the world, and the only community on the western shore of Great Bear Lake. It was a settlement occasionally visited by the RCMP from Fort Norman to provide services as needed.
Alone on a Lake approximately the size of the Netherlands and near the Arctic Circle, Deline is a place where culture and traditions of the Dene First Nation flourish. There are no roads to bring you here most of the year – air access is the only option. For its people, this remoteness means a connection to the land remains a way of life. For visitors, year-round cultural experiences and outdoor adventures take place against the backdrop of the solitude and silence of this scenic northern landscape.
Deline residents are largely Dene or Metis who speak the North Slavey language and English. Sahtú Dene families are often related to Hare, Gwich’in, and Mountain Dene people’s. The people of Great Bear Lake had to be hardy and resourceful to survive in the past.
Within living memory, they lived a nomadic life, following fish and game with the seasons. Many still supplement their diets by hunting, fishing, and trapping at least part of the time. Although modern life has made its way North, Deline homes often feature a traditional lodge or teepee used to smoke meat and fish. I recall on one motorised canoe trip to Fort Franklin we were fishing and the grayling were practically jumping into the boar – I had never seen anything like it. Fishing was never this good anywhere else I lived.
Their culture was unique and a visit often meant an excuse for a community gathering and some dancing and drumming.
Fort Good Hope – Rádeyįlįkóé – “Place of rapids”
Population: 560 – On the west bank of the Mackenzie, just upstream from where the river squeezes through the towering limestone of The Ramparts, this Dene town has deep roots in fishing, hunting, and trapping.
It’s also home to the oldest building in the NWT: the ornate Our Lady of Good Hope Church, built-in 1865 and now a National Historic Site.
Access was by air from Norman Wells or, in winter, by ice road up the Mackenzie Valley. I met my future wife here, she was an Australian nurse who was posted to the nursing station that was adjacent to the Policing compound.
There were only a handful of Caucasians in the settlement involved with the power station, school teaching, nursing station, Hudson Bay store and Police station.
This was a two-person detachment with myself and corporal. We had our police compound that contained the office, cell facilities, garage and separate married and single living quarters. Our transport was by our police truck, ski-doo’s in winter. We used air services for remote access to wilderness camps or by boat.
Our caseload consisted of the usual policing matters from family disputes, theft, assaults of many kinds from physical to sexual assault, break & enter, deaths and suicide, medical evacuations and accidents. A few of interest that I recall relating to a ski-doo accident, arresting a drunk on my ski-doo, causing the police garage to burn down.
Skidoo accident – It was a stormy night with snow falling heavily and it was cold. An accident was reported to have occurred involving a drunk individual who ran into a pregnant lady while driving a ski-doo and severally injuring her. Her medical condition became severe and required emergency evacuation to hospital.
This was at night and the airstrip was not lighted electrically and for a plane, to land, it required the RCMP to place oil pots along the runway to define the boundary. A plane had been ordered but it would take an hour or two for it to arrive as I remember. Now while dealing with the medical emergency it came to my attention that the father of the injured girl had decided to take justice into his own hands and armed with a gun was hunting for my suspect.
I was the lone police officer in the settlement as my boss was on holidays so in trying to multi-task priorities I solicited the assistance of the power station manager to accompany me (as back up to report if I came to any harm) to search for both suspects before I had a murder to investigate. We drove from house to house and known acquaintances of the suspect to try to find either or both men. Eventually, I was able to arrest the accident suspect and get him secured in the Police cells.
When the plane was due to land it required me, together with a couple of other trucks to locate at the end of the runway with our headlights on to give the bush pilot a sense of depth and distance for landing. The plane arrived and departed with the injured girl. I was able to locate the father and disarm him to save further violence and injury. The girl recovered from an operation and court hearings addressed both suspects behavior on the night.
Wild driver – A call from the Hudson’s Bay store manager indicated that a drunken individual was racing his ski-doo up and down the main road, nearly hitting pedestrians and doing donuts. Mounting my own trusty metal snow machine with the RCMP crest on the side I was off in the direction of the store. A short drive saw me arrive at the antics of one crazy driver. I managed to get him to stop driving. It seemed that I was now the target of his attention and a struggle ensued. Being you and fit and having had a few years of practice in making arrests of unwilling suspects the game was on. I recall that an audience of sorts convened to watch this wrestling show but through some well-practiced maneuvers I managed to handcuff and detain the villain. Now to transport him back to the office cells for processing. Let us just say that my person in custody was placed across the ski-doo seat with me driving (like a person thrown over a horse) and off we drove in the snow-covered streets.
The police cells were in a wooden building. While electricity was available heating was done with an oil stove and that was only activated once a person was arrested. So if it was 20 or 30 below out it was the same inside until the heater built up warmth – and that could take a while. So having arrived with my person in custody I attempted to coax him to the cells. He wasn’t having any of that it seemed. The path to the cells was a wooden walkway made of slats. It was easy to get a handhold between the slats and this is just what my new friend decided to do… let’s play a game of how long will it take you to get me into the cell cabin. After some wrestling and maneuvers, he was deposited in the cells and charged with various offenses not to mention the resisting arrest. He was duly dealt with by the courts during the next traveling circuit.
Fire alarm – The police garage was on fire, the settlement fire alarm was activated and the volunteer brigade was coming to put out the fire. How did that get started – I was only just in the garage doing an oil change and grease job on the police truck. I had slipped out to get a cup of coffee and to allow the oil cans to thaw near the heater – oh, oh?
When I emerged out of the office to see what all the fire alarm fuss was about I quickly realised that it was our facility that was ablaze. The flames were shooting high into the air and smoke was billowing. The volunteer brigade managed to get the fire under control in quick order and everyone departed.
In investigating the incident and realizing that I may have created this disaster it weighted heavily on me. It seems that when I left to get coffee to allow the oil cans to warm up enough to pour into the truck they were a bit to close to the stove. They got too hot it seems – I had only planned to be gone a few minutes – and burst into flames quickly spreading. The garage, truck, yard, and maintenance equipment were all lost. A replacement vehicle was sought and eventually a new garage and equipment were provided. It was deemed an accident and I was reminded of my duty to be more careful in the future. Lesson learned on managing in the Arctic.