by Shelley Wiart

I am writing this column while on the beach at Fred Henne Territorial Park – my office for the next three weeks in Yellowknife!

My view includes shivering kids running past me in search of their towels after immersing themselves in the cold water, and brazen seagulls looking for loot. I hear small town catch-ups, “You’re working five days a week now?! Where did you find childcare?”

Columnist Shelley Wiart, with daughters Kayla, Harper and Aubrey at Pilots Monument in Yellowknife. photo courtesy of Shelley Wiart

Amid the busy skies full of aviation – floatplanes, commercial planes and helicopters – and the roar of propellers from the airport, I am reminded of why I love Yellowknife. The small-town feel with the big city activity.

Last Thursday we undertook the 1673-kilometre trek from Lloydminster to Yellowknife. I am here visiting my family, and exposing my three girls ages 8, 7, and 5 to the amazing sights, sounds, and activities of NWT in the summer.

Starting with the biggest horse flies they have ever seen during our stop at the 60th Parallel Tourist Booth. “Are they going to bite me?” asked my seven year old refusing to get out of the van. It was a coordinated operation involving layered clothes and exit strategies from the van, with little girl screams as they ran to the restroom.

We stopped at Louise Falls; only after we promised them it was a five-minute hike with very few bugs. The breath taking beauty of the falls was worth our minor detour.

In Fort Providence, which had the most expensive gas price on our trip at $1.59 per litre, we took on a stowaway horse fly. The girls, tired of watching DVDs and forced to use their imaginations spun a tale of the small town horsefly in the big city of Yellowknife. “He’s going to get a job,” they speculated, as our van became a rollercoaster ride with the abrupt dips on the highway from Bechoko to Yellowknife.

When we stopped in front of Northern Heights downtown, our new home for the month, and rushed out in search of a bathroom for my five year old, the horsefly buzzed away, probably ending up down the street at the Safe Harbor Day Shelter.

In Lloydminster, there are fewer homeless people and less visible, unlike Yellowknife. Staying in Northern Heights, with our balcony overlooking the shelter, my girls are getting a street education.

Last Saturday night every time they heard a siren they ran out to the balcony to investigate. I told them it is a sad reality to live on the streets, and to not repeat a single word that comes from the belligerent, swearing drunks’ downtown.

Yellowknife has bred a special type of homeless population. I used to work in downtown Vancouver and I have never had the aggressive run-ins with homeless people that I’ve encountered this past week.

On Saturday, we were pulling out of the Northern Heights under ground parking and a homeless man was crossing the sidewalk. He threw his middle fingers to us and yelled, “I’m walking here!” Then I thought he was going to attack our van. Passing the shelter a man pulled down his pants in the middle of the street to moon his buddy while my girls watched wide-eyed.

I cannot shield them from this reality while we visit, but I wonder how permanent residents handle the constant affronts: “Hey! Hey!…You got some money? Hey – you wanna talk to me?!” Followed by a flurry of F-bombs when you decline to engage with them.

Over the next three weeks I’m looking forward to sharing my visitors eye of Yellowknife. How many of us take for granted the beauty and undiscovered treasures of our own backyard? I hope to renew your enthusiasm for a city that is a juxtaposition of rugged beauty and urban problems.

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