Saturday, June 27, 2009

The Great White North


When my husband died, I made the decision to head to the North, in 1982, after being convinced by my longest and dearest childhood friend, that is closer to me than a sister, who was already living there, that this was the place for me.

Being an artist and a musician, she assured me, Yellowknife was full of creative types and I would fit right in. I thought that sounded like a good reason to leave my Nova Scotia roots. In retrospect I know now, I was taking the geographical cure, running from my grief, my broken heart and I was broken in every way. I convinced myself I had a very logical reason to go North. I told my mother I wanted to snag myself a Mountie, and make a big fist wad of money. In disapproval, she exclaimed my name out loud and shook her head in disbelief. I sensed she was right, but I was determined to prove her wrong, that I wasn't as crazy as a bag of hammers.
So with 300 bucks in my pocket, the trip in and of itself was an adventure, and one etched forever in my memory. I boarded a train from my hometown to Edmonton, where I spent a few days with a friend before taking the bus two days later, headed for the Mackenzie highway.
At midnight, I stepped onto the bus with a degree of trepidation and as the miles, upon miles passed, the number of passengers dwindled to four, myself included.

We arrived at the ice bridge, a supposed frozen body of water, unknown to me, the day before it was to close on April 28th.
The bus driver kept sticking his head out the window, and I didn't know why, just thinking this was odd. I was also looking out the windows, and I saw small trees that marked the way to follow along the ice bridge. Of course I did not know this and assumed we were driving over a frozen marsh. I had not made the geographical change in my Nova Scotian mind.

The driver then proceeded to get out, and off the bus, removed our luggage from the lower compartment to the passenger level, because he was obviously concerned that our bags were going to get wet. This was the reason he had been was craning his neck out the window of course, watching the water level on the ice.

When I realized just what was happening, all I could do was think of my mother and what she was going to think if I ended up on the bottom of Great Slave Lake. We were actually on the Mackenzie River; all the same to me then, wet and very cold. I quickly started to say my Hail Mary's, very seriously, as my heart pounded and raced. I reflected back to what a fellow I met on the train had said. He told me someone usually goes through the ice bridge every now and again in their vehicle, when the ice starts breaking up.
He had been very kind to me on the train, offering to lend me his guitar to play, if I wanted to perform anywhere. It was a beautiful Ovation.

I took him up on this offer after getting my first job, two days upon my arrival at Yellowknife, at the Polar Bear Lounge and Bowling Alley. The man that hired me, ran the establishment and was one of many Northern characters. I told him I had just blown in from Nova Scotia and did he need a singer? He immediately invited me into his office for a cup of coffee and informed me he knew people in Yellowknife, that where from my home town. He immediately hired me without ever hearing me sing or play my guitar. I am certain he gave me the gig because I was Nova Scotian. Yellowknife is full of Maritimers.

People in the North have a very adventurous and generous spirit and love to see others the same, free and wild. Well, I wasn't as free as I thought, but I sure was wild to say the least in those days and I was just getting started, as soon as I got off that God forsaken bus! Once we arrived onto dry land it was pitch dark, and our bus had developed a serious mechanical problem. The relay coil under the dash went. Lights, heater and the phone no longer functioned, they were all dead.

We spent some of the night on the bus and the rest in community center, that was in a remote village, Rae Edzo, still many hours away from Yellowknife. We would have to wait and for daylight and get the bus repaired.
Hypothermia and sleep deprivation were all playing with my thinking, but I had started to seriously question my decision; wondering what the heck I was doing, and where in God's name was I going?

On the road we made a pit stop and I got to a phone to call my friend who was supposed to be meeting me with her husband. I gathered the place we were in was a bar/restaurant and the characters there looked very unfriendly and foreboding. I said to my friend in desperate relief, after hearing her voice, on the other end of the phone, I had no idea where I was. I looked around and then asked one of the customers in the bar, where I was. Someone mumbled something. They all may as well have been aliens, and me a stranger in a strange land; this could just as easily have been a bad "B" movie where the stranger always gets killed off, and that would be me.

My grand arrival finally came 24 hours late, when I stepped off that bus monster machine, at 7:30 a.m., my good friends waiting for me, with a welcoming roast beef dinner and a cold beer at their home. Man I'll tell you that was the best breakfast I'll ever have in a lifetime.
Suddenly I felt like my good friend and I were the counterparts of Bob and Doug and Mackenzie. We were real hosers! Kooroo cuckoo koo roo cuckoo, we both sang as loud as we could at the top of our lungs that joyful day, I landed in the Great White North. Hey and we're still hosers. Take Off eh!

1 comment:

The Victorious place said...

Enjoyed reading this story.