Saturday, February 14, 2015


When you live in a place like Iqaluit you get used to being asked a lot about what it's like to live there. Some of it is genuine curiosity, but I've always thought there is some internal measurement system going on. "Could I handle living in a place like that?"

When I used to update my "Living in Iqaluit FAQ" I wrote there are four main considerations/challenges to living in a place like Iqaluit if you're coming up from down south.

1. Isolation
2. Daylight
3. Lack of southern amenities
4. Cold

We've been in Iqaluit for almost 10 years now. As I frequently tell people, Iqaluit has ways to let you know it's not the place for you. We've been here this long, odds are we're here until we retire 15-18 years from now.

But man, Iqaluit has tested us these last two months. We're not packing up, not even close. But we have questioned the wisdom of moving to the Arctic.

It has been cold in Iqaluit the last two months. Yes, it's the Arctic in winter. It should be cold. There was an incident about eight years ago where it rained for a few days at the end of February. You would have thought the Apocalypse had happened. We're used to cold. Cold is expected. It's nice even.

I've viewed the cold (including wind chill) at three levels. There's cold (0 to -20), Cold (-20 to -45), and Fucking Cold (-45 and colder). We've now entered a new realm. It is known as "What in the name of holy fuck is this" Cold.

As I write this on Friday night, there is an Extreme Cold Warning in effect by Environment Canada. It's -37C with a windchill of -55C (-35F, -67F). Which is fucking cold. The problem is it's been that way most of the week. We've had more Extreme Cold warnings this week than we had all last winter. We've had more in the last two months than the last nine years combined. We had a day a few weeks ago where it went -44C with a windchill of -67C (-47F, -89F). That was, by far, the coldest day I've experienced since we moved here.

I asked on Twitter if anyone can remember a cold snap like this. Because we've only been here 10 years. We are not experts on long-term Iqaluit weather trends. I had a guy who has been here since 1989. This is the longest streak of sustained cold he can recall.

(Btw, if you go, "Huh, so much for climate change" I will smack you. Seriously)

But there's a catch to this that I don't think people understand down south when we hit this kind of sustained level cold. I think people believe "Well, that sucks. It's cold, bundle up or stay indoors until it passes." But when it goes on for months like this, there are all kinds of effects you might not think of. I'm not exaggerating when I say the mental health of people in town is starting to take a serious hit.

Let's look at some of the things that happens with this kind of sustained cold.

1. Things start breaking. Everyone has a horror story at this point. Our car battery died before Christmas. It died while the car was plugged into the house with a block heater and battery blanket going (it has died a couple of times previously, so it was on its last legs). So that was a tow to the garage and a new battery. Or, $550. I've gotten off easy.

Pipes freeze or burst. My next door neighbour had some kind of horror show happen where the truck water guys accidentally flooded his house. He can't live in it for months and the repair bill could push $100,000.

Adding to this is the airlines are seemingly having difficulty running in this cold. So cargo is apparently weeks behind on some orders. So when your car breaks, it's taking a couple of weeks to get the parts in.

Trying to get vital elements of your life repaired when it is bitter cold outside...just a touch stressful.

2. The schools/daycares close when an Extreme Cold Warning is issued. Which makes sense. Yes, people who have been up here a long time have a high tolerance for cold. I saw kids playing hockey on a makeshift outdoor rink when it was -50C. I saw a lunatic biking to work this morning when it was -54C. But you don't want kids standing outside waiting for a bus in it, or having kids walk home in it.

But when schools/daycares close, it leaves parents scrambling. Some bring their kids to work with them, or have to burn sick days to stay home. It's a small town; there are limited options for taking care of kids in situations like this, especially when they go on for days. It causes serious spikes in stress levels.

It also means people are getting pretty frustrated with the schools, which are following the guidelines, but it hasn't stopped people from lashing out. So that means kids, parents, teachers and administrators are all in a pretty foul mood right now.

3. Mercifully I haven't heard of anyone seriously hurt by this cold, but the risk is there. It does not take long for skin to freeze in this if you're not careful. Minutes. I try to walk to the post office and back from my office once a day on my break. Just for some exercise and fresh air. It normally takes 15 minutes. I haven't done it in weeks. Too cold to risk it.

Iqaluit also has, like most cities, a homeless problem. They go to shelters or stay in over-crowded housing or other situations. Again, the stress of trying to stay warm and safe during this level of cold is high.

Iqaluit just isn't a happy place right now. There's too much sustained cold which is generating a lot of stress and unhappiness. You can't stay outside for any length of time without a lot of bundling, which can do weird things to people. It really does feel like people's tempers are quicker. People aren't happy. This can be a rough time of the year, just from the lack of daylight (although it's getting better each day). But the cold is certainly adding to matters.

It also doesn't look like it's going to break anytime soon. The forecasted high (without windchill) for the next week is -28C. I don't think I've seen warmer than -25C since well before Christmas.

Yes, I live here and I choose to live here. And yes, this a freakish event. I wouldn't be surprised if we didn't get a single Extreme Cold Warning at all next winter.

Still, if you talk to someone from Iqaluit in the next couple of weeks, treat them gently. We've all had a rough winter.

Last Five
1. Always look on the bright side of life - Spamalot Cast Recording (seriously) *
2. Love to lover - Florence and the Machine
3. Sentimental tune (live) - Tegan and Sara
4. London burning (live) - The Clash
5. Message in a bottle - The Police (live)


Vimax Asli said...

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Anonymous said...

Your blog is awesome.

My partner and I are huge geeks, too. Which is why in considering whether or not to take a job in Qikiqtarjuaq right now, my two major concerns are 1) pets (we have 2 cats...and I just read your tragic cat transport story and now am freaked out) and 2) The Holy Internet. Even in a mild southern Canadian winter, video games and Netflix and being able to download as much stuff as we want makes life a lot nicer. I can't imagine living with a 5gb download speed... oh, wait, I can because I must. Dear god. I guess we would just need to fill up a few harddrives with essential viewing items to last us the long winter.

You mentioned satellite but it sounds, based on the last few posts I saw, that you're having major issues. Ouch! That is so frustrating, especially after paying so much to have it installed in the first place.

Also, this is the first time I've heard the NYC comic con touted so highly! I've always thought our first big one would be Pax East or San Diego. :)

towniebastard said...

Internet is just a lost cause in most parts of the North. I wish I could spin it another way. There's the possibility of a fibre optic cable coming through, but that's years away. Your internet in Qik, unless they have some magic access I'm unaware of, is going to be bad. Netflix will not be usable and online gaming is not happening.

That's not to say you can't find ways to entertain yourself. And yeah, lots of people come up here with TB drives filled with movies and TV shows.

We have our issues resolved with Xplornet now and it's actually pretty decent. I don't know if that option is available in Qik.

As for your cats...that's going to depend on your cats. Mine hated travel (he howled during a 10 minute drive to the vet) and in retrospect it was stupid to try and bring him up, knowing how he felt. Yours maybe different. There are cats here. But if you have outdoor cats, that's another strike. I would not let them outside. Aside from the cold, there are a lot of stray dogs. They can be agressive.

Only you, and your vet, can determine if it's safe to bring them.