I’m back for a short part of the summer and I couldn’t help but ask myself what it is I love about Yellowknife and what I can do without so here is a list of five things I like and dislike about my hometown.
1. Walmart reunions – It never fails. When I walk into Walmart in Yellowknife I see all my relatives. No need to plan a visit when I can just go to Walmart and walk through the aisles stopping to talk to everyone I know. Some of us don’t ever get out of there until closing.
2. Foxes – The foxes here are the equivalent to raccoons down south: always scrounging. They are unique to the north with their beautiful red coats and people down south are often impressed by how they are so tame. Yet, they are becoming less afraid of humans because of the foolish few that like to feed them so, please don’t feed the wildlife it’s actually not helping them to survive its only making them dependent on humans and endangering their lives.
3. How everything changes yet stays the same – I still call Circle K “Winks” and Shell “Circle K” and I know every road like the back of my hand and I don’t know the names of the streets only landmarks. My generation is all grown up now but there was a time when we used to jump off the Yellowknife bridge or the cliffs at Long Lake and I see the younger generation doing the same now. The movie theatre still has crappy seats, broken machines and a strategically placed ATM at the entrance because they only take cash but they make up for their lack with their popcorn and fake butter. And I got to hand it to KFC making a comeback by popular demand like it never even drove out of town, bucket and all. I find solace in knowing that no matter how long I am away when I come back not much has changed.
4. Small town heroes – Every town has them, the ones that stand out in a crowd. People like the snow king who goes above and beyond to bring joy and happiness in the darkest days of winter by building an elaborate snow castle for Yellowknifers and visitors alike to be entertained. And people like William Greenland who makes us laugh with his bingo humor and cry with his expert level wooden flute playing skills. Or what about Lydia Bardak and her kindness towards the homeless population who need compassion and support. Or Arlene Hache and all she has done to provide shelter for women and children over the years. We must hand it to Leela Gilday who consistently impresses us with her strong voice bringing home the Junos and representing not just Yellowknife but the entire North.
5. Ndilo – It’s where my mother grew up and played kick the can on the unpaved roads. At one point Ndilo went down in history for having the world’s smallest traffic circle but the history of Ndilo is far more fraught with a darker story starting with the imposition of settlers when prospectors came for the gold rush and pushed the Yellowknives Dene into the corner of the peninsula of Latham Island. Ndilo is the only part of Yellowknife where you will learn firsthand of the full and true history of the establishment of Yellowknife. Many people who live there will be able to tell of a time before the town of Yellowknife even existed. When downtown was a place where abundant berries grew, moose hunting was prime and dog team trails were well used.
1. Walmart reunions – As much as I love visiting my friends and relatives, I also love keeping to myself and sometimes want to be able to walk into Walmart wearing my pajama pants and my hair in a messy bun without caring who I might run into or having to hide how much junk food I’m buying. Next time I’m considering going incognito.
2. Homelessness – The homelessness crisis in Yellowknife is hard to witness. Nothing has changed since I have been away at school and it seems as though its only gotten worse. When I was on the homelessness committee for the city I suggested that tiny home communities be set up on the outskirts of town where those who are homeless can stay and live off the land together to rebuild what was taken from them but that idea never went ahead which is a shame. This leads me right into my third reason…
3. High cost of living – With housing wait lists at maximum capacity, many are left waiting for years to get into a home. Couch surfing and overcrowding are not uncommon because the average cost of living is over $2,000 per month and is the 3rd most expensive city in Canada. The cost of buying a portable trailer is outrageous and something many residents can’t afford and really who would want to pay that much money anyway for an expensive to heat run down home. It reminds me of the times that my power was turned off after being only a few days late on payment. It sometimes comes down to either heat the house or going without food and no one should have to face that type of decision especially with children in the cold winter months which brings me to the weather.
4. The Weather – Everyone tells me I’ve become soft living down south, that I can’t handle the cold anymore and maybe they are right. I have poor circulation in my hands and feet probably a result from freezing them one too many times as a teenager when all I wore was a sweater and running shoes in minus 40. As much as I dread the long winters there is something about the arrival of spring and the excitement of knowing summer is around the corner. Yellowknife’s are in a better mood at the first sign of spring melt but when our short summers are only a few days of sunshine it makes it hard knowing that winter is inevitable. Our summers are like a reward for us surviving the long winters. Yet even so most of us still can’t help but complain when it gets too unbearably hot either. We just need some in between, not too cold and not too hot would be just right.
5. Remoteness – Yellowknife and the North are far removed from the closest big city. There are days of road in between Yellowknife and Edmonton and only one way out. Our small airport invites people from all over the world to visit and live but for us to travel from Yellowknife is very expensive and the cost of shipping supplies in jacks up commodity prices. Yellowknife is often an unknown to the rest of Canada and most people think it’s in the Yukon. It’s such a common misconception that I’ve stopped correcting people on their poor geography skills. The isolation that comes with living so far removed from other major metropolises is that we see a lot more boredom among youth that can lead to excessive drinking and drug use so it is important that more programs be provided for youth to be connected to opportunities that are comparable to those offered down south. For instance, our pool is not Olympic sized so even if a youth wanted to compete one day in the Olympics they are at a major disadvantage and its not an excuse enough to say that we have a low population therefore we do not require those additional benefits.
I think its fair to say that I have mixed feelings about Yellowknife, what I like is also sometimes what I dislike but no matter what Yellowknife is my home and always will be. It is the land of endless skies and the deepest waters and anyone who has been here for a time will agree that it is a place like no other.