Friday November 28, 2014

Yellowknife inspires more stories to tell

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Just a few minutes out of town is Long Lake. The ice had been out for about a week. This picture was taken about 8:30 p.m. and the water was very, very cold.

Yellowknife seemed so far away, off the beaten track.

Did I know anyone who’d been there? I remembered a young artist from Regina going up to work for a few months who stayed for a few years naming her first born daughter after a northern river. She had fallen in love with the place and I was curious about it.

It didn’t take long for me to feel comfortable in the city of 20,000. I was told which street to avoid walking at night and I began to wander the city feeling the changes in temperature in different neighbourhoods and a varied pace in different parts of the city. Apartments, houses and hotels were built between the rocks while ducks and grebes enjoyed the open water just steps away

The sun was shining when I got there and after checking into the hotel I had a few hours before I was to meet a friend from Edmonton for supper. I checked in at the StoryNorth registration desk, received my information package and was ready to spend a few days with the SC-CC, the Storytellers of Canada-Conteurs du Canada.

I love exploring new places by myself and, listening to the advice of a young man in the airport shuttle in Edmonton, I headed out to the tourist information booth across from the hotel. I was pointed in the direction of Old Town and with a map in my hand I set my course for the historic section of the city.

One of the only recommendations I had been given about the city beforehand was to visit the Wildcat Café built in 1937. On the night before my airplane took off I looked up the Yellowknife homepage on the Internet and was surprised and disappointed by the news the heritage building would be closed for a year for restoration. I still wanted to see what I was missing, but as I neared its spot I could see the log structure was almost completely dismantled, the logs sorted and numbered, workmen busy at their tasks.

I stopped to chat for a minute and share my experience helping chink and mud a log church in our area and one of the workers asked where I was from. On three more occasions during my trip I saw the same man who would wave and call out “Hey, Saskatchewan.”

It wasn’t the first time in my life I had been called “Saskatchewan,” whenever I travel I feel like an ambassador for our province and in Yellowknife it seemed almost everyone I met had lived in Saskatchewan at some point.

Artists in the shops and storytellers had family in my province or had been educated here. It made sense. Yellowknife seems to be a region of extremes with similarities to my home. It gets very cold, very dark, very sunny and the mosquitoes are said to be even bigger than here. I was lucky, the bloodthirsty pests hadn’t become a problem, yet.

The landscape reminded me of the La Ronge area and the natural beauty just outside my hotel room window and down the street was inspiring. I was also inspired by the people.

The number of conference delegates was fewer than usual and it meant I was able to get to know people better. I attended a marketing workshop, wonderful story sessions, workshops about storytelling and meetings.

I played hooky from parts of meetings letting myself follow one of the conference’s rules of engagement:“Do not engage in a session if the session does not engage you — instead find something that sparks your passion.”

I took the time to walk instead, sometimes alone, sometimes with friends exploring tiny art galleries and even sifting through yard sales following one sign into an alley in Old Town promising “Exotic Junk.” I found a handmade teapot and although I knew it would ruin my plan to pack everything into my tiny suitcase it was a $6 purchase I couldn’t pass up.

Other conference rules included starting the day with a walk, sleeping in a good bed and eating good food. Included in the conference were lunch and supper buffets prepared by the chef at the Explorer Hotel. The food was much better than typical buffet fare. One meal featured the exotic tastes of India, one featured spicy Mexican offerings and the final meal was a tribute to the north complete with arctic char and musk ox wellington.

I sometimes find myself rating a trip based on the food and the weather and although they were fantastic it was the people and the stories making this getaway memorable.

I love being a freelance writer because I get to meet and speak to passionate people about what they love. I am infected by their enthusiasm and want to do what they do. I’ve dreamed of becoming a doll maker, canoeist or small business owner, but only for a short time.

One of my true passions is telling stories and as I sat in informal groups and concert halls I was surrounded by my peers, men and women of all ages and backgrounds who share my passion and inspire me to continue to follow my heart down a path of make-believe, memories and history. Voices of the northern tellers and those from across the country are still whispering in my heart as I remember the stories of their people, their families and from places long ago and far away.

Every morning a sliver of light would slip in between the room darkening shades and I would reach to open the curtains wondering what the day would be like. Every morning I would reveal a bright blue sky the sun shining from the early hours and not setting until the middle of the night.

It was hard to rest when the sun shone for so many hours. I watched the ice on Great Slave Lake recede as the days passed and I felt the air warm up as I walked.

A fire ban meant our fireside storytelling was warmed by coffee and hot chocolate instead as the evening sun shone and the bravest delegates removed their socks and shoes to spend a moment feeling the chill of the water of Long Lake just outside the city. The water was cold, cold, the ice had melted away only within the last week or so, but it left us with another story to tell.

Yellowknife is one of those places I wish was just a few miles down the road so I could visit often but I know it is even more special and protected because it so far away.

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