Colville Lake –K’áhbamítúé – “Ptarmigan net place”
Fifty kilometers north of the Arctic Circle, this traditional log-cabin settlement nestles between rolling black spruce forest and the gleaming waters of its namesake lake. It dates from 1962, when the region’s Hareskin Dene began to settle around the new Our Lady of the Snows mission. Today visitors can check out the mission and the small museum/gallery, and fish for trout, grayling, and pike. Our trips to Colville were usually by police aircraft although an overland ski-doo trip was also made.
This was in our patrol area and we visited from time to time as routine patrol services or in response to a call for assistance. One of the jobs to be done was to inoculate the village dogs against rabies. We would get our annual supply of vials of serum and syringes and it seemed that this chore always occurred in winter when we would notify the settlement people we would be doing the rounds with our needles. It was a challenge in the cold to draw the serum up and inject it before it became too stiff to inject. You also had to contend with the dog’s behavior and on most occasions, the sled dogs had to be secured by the owners before you could accomplish the task – many near bites occurred as I recall from the beautiful huskies.
It was a most unusual log cabin environment and very picturesque and extremely cold in winter. The settlement took pride in using log cabin designs for most of the buildings which gave it a very rustic and romantic environment.
Normal Wells – Tłegóhtı – “Where there is oil”
Tucked between alpine foothills and the big Mackenzie River, this is a historic oil town – explorer Alexander Mackenzie reported oil seeping from the riverbanks in 1789, and today pumpjacks and storage tanks abound. The town boasts several hotels and restaurants, a campground, and a compelling museum, making it a great place to explore before heading out to the Mackenzie Mountains or Canol Heritage Trail. Access is by air and, in winter, by winter road from Wrigley. There was the main airport that was serviced with daily jet service.
My posting here was to provide holiday relief if my memory serves me correctly. It was an oil town so the population was a mix of locals and transient oil men. It was a rough kind of place at times with bars a popular place for socializing and a source of problems – once too much alcohol-fueled fun was had. Call to break up fights or to deal with the protection of drunks was common.
Murder on the lake – While there I was asked to support a murder investigation by accompanying an investigator who was using a float plane to visit various settlements around Great Bear Lake to look for the suspect. A murder had taken place at Deline (Fort Franklin) and the suspect had headed into the bush and not seen for some time. Rumors abounded as to his whereabouts with apparent sightings at various fish and hunting camps scattered around the lake. Our journey by single otter float plane did not result in finding this individual nor did we unearth further clues as to his hiding place in the massive bushland but it did prove entertaining for the pilot and the investigator.
The tactic was to fly the shoreline of Great Bear Lake, spotting itinerant native camps and landing to check out the area and speak with locals – to try to locate the murder suspect. This proved fairly routine for our landings and takeoffs except for one occasion.
As we landed at one camp and the float plane taxied into shore the water became shallow and fairly rocky but the pilot maneuvers skillfully to shore. With inquiry’s not revealing any leads we mounted the plane for a departure – we began to paddle the plane from the shore but soon became hung up on some rocks. We pried and pushed and got into the water to free it but no luck. The tactical decision was for me, as a young and enthusiastic you constable, to stay on the floats outside, and using a paddle trying to pry the plane from the rocks as the pilot used the engine’s power to rock the plane.
This sounded reasonable until I was told that if the plane was freed from the rocks to avoid getting hung up again the pilot would power on the engine and get the plane airborne sufficient to settle again in the deeper waters out into the lake – don’t worry I won’t go very high he told me. Hey – just a minute, how am I to stay attached to the outside of the plane in this scary maneuver? It is our only way out of this – can’t walk home, can stay forever and the plane was going to be left hung up on rocks.
So with instruction in my head and being slightly nervous about this approach we began to execute it – he was rocking the single otter with his engine and I was trying to pry the plane off the rocks; then all of a sudden it was free and he hit the power lever – the plane gained speed quickly, I nearly crapped myself as it lifted into the air with me perched on the float. I had quickly grabbed the nearest float strut to ensure I did not plummet into the icy cold water however, this is also where the aircraft engine exhausted and now it was burning hot on my arm. The pain became unbearable about the time the plane finally settled back down to the water and taxied to a stop. I was assisted into the plane with a slightly scorched and sore arm. It appeared that during our escape one of the planes landing floats had been damaged with a small tear in the skin which meant that upon our return to Norman Wells we would be making an airstrip landing as the plane could not use the float without a likely bad landing.
We didn’t find the suspect, we had an exciting adventure and saw some magnificent northern territory country and a tale to remember for a lifetime.