Hauling the last load of crush signified the end of a project that consumed Kurt Wainman’s life for the past five years.
“It’s like someone took a 100-pound dumbbell off my shoulders and threw it aside when that last load went down,” said the owner of Northwind Industries, which was charged as part of EGT-Northwind (E Gruben Transport and Northwind Industries) with leading the construction of the Inuvik-Tuktoyaktuk Highway.
Wainman, born and raised in Inuvik, said the highway has been his entire life, inseparable from other life events during that same time.
“It’s been a challenging five years,” he said. “I’ve lost quite a few friends and key family members that passed away. It’s been a long challenge.”
His description of the 137-km drive would make anyone eager to get on the road, which officially opens Nov. 15.
“The way I see the highway, there are two ways to look at it, north and south,” said Wainman.
Leaving Inuvik, drivers take a long climb up hills before seeing the delta stretch out before them across the horizon. The Mackenzie River sits to the left, while drivers begin to see the long Husky Lakes to the right.
“It’s beautiful all the way to Tuk,” said Wainman, adding that the drive is similar to the Dempster Highway but has more hills and rollers.
“Then you turn around and on your way back… you look to the right, which you never saw before, there’s all the Richardson Mountains and you start realizing there are two views to this highway and it’s beautiful both ways. It’s nice because on the south (route), you’re coming back and all of a sudden these mountains come out of nowhere. You don’t really notice them when you come (north) because they’re on the far left when you’re driving.”
The drive takes about two hours. The speed limit is 70 km/h.
At the height of construction, Northwind had 250 people working for the company. It normally employs about 40 to 45.
Wainman said his hiring practice is based on regional circles. First, he tries to hire from Inuvik, then he hires from the region and finally he expands the circle to the Dawson City and Whitehorse area.
“It was the only thing going for four years here so it kept a lot of people busy,” he said. “It kept a lot of businesses going. I think every business in town in one way or another was affected with work on the ITH. Now that it’s come to an end, we’ll just have to find something more to do somewhere else.”
The $229.3 million contract was the largest job Northwind has ever received.
Wainman said the company will go back to chasing after maintenance contracts and any other opportunities around town, recognizing things might slow down for a period.
He hopes the original moniker for the highway – The Road to Resources – comes true sometime in the future.
“It opens up a whole new country for us,” said Wainman, who’s Inuvialuit. “Now we can travel on our own land.”