When I was in university, on certain nights of the week you knew where everyone would be. This is pretty common in university towns, and the schedule is often dictated by nightly drink deals. The North can feel a lot like that at times. Widely known muster points are commonplace (discounted drinks? Less so), and you never know who may pop in. Standing around a bonfire just off the road to the Inuvik airport, I wouldn’t have thought I’d run into a familiar face from down south. Inuvik is a prohibitively long—not to mention expensive—trip for anyone below the 60th parallel. But strange things happen under the all-day moon. (We were celebrating the return of the sun to the region after a month of total darkness after all.) And on the final night of celebrations at the Inuvik Sunrise Festival, nearly everyone in town was gathered around a giant
It’s hard to recognize people in the dark, when they’re covered head-to-toe in various items of fur, so maybe it was her voice, but there was something familiar about a girl I was introduced to in the crowd. I attempted to casually drop the names of every place I’d lived in up to that point, as well as a few places I’d travelled. We landed on Dawson Creek—a farming, and oil and gas town in northeastern B.C, with no relation to the ‘90s TV show. About a year earlier, I had worked at Dawson Creek’s newspaper and she worked at the local college. I interviewed her on a subject I can’t even remember, but in that conversation we’d gone beyond our scheduled hour after we got chatting about her time spent in Nunavut and mine in the Northwest Territories. I don’t think either of us mentioned an urgent desire to return to the North, but here we were.
She’d come up a few months earlier for a new job and I’d only been in town for three weeks covering the newspaper bureau while someone was on vacation. Small world, we thought.
But in the North there are a few currents that pull people together and leave many of us regularly reminded of just what a small world it is up here: I wasn’t even surprised when, a few months after I moved to the North, I found myself on the back of a skidoo, clinging to the person I’d sat next to on the flight up. It took less than a kilometre for us to draw the connection. At that point, I was already well aware of my shrinking world.
There’s this factor of everyone within one area merging in one place. When there’s a big event in the North—be it a music festival, celebration or jamboree—it draws in revelers from across the region. If there’s a Christmas party, chances are that young pilot you met at the pool and gave a fake number to will be at it. (And, for the record, he was.) The second factor that shrinks the North’s enormous landmass is that people are constantly on the move: work travel, starting a new job, falling in love with someone who lives in the capital city a territory over while they were visiting on work travel. Few people stay in one place for good. But even when they leave, chances are they'll come back to visit, and that they've got a friend or relative keeping tabs on them. Maybe it’s a learned practice having so many loved ones come and go; maybe northerners are just avid networkers. Locations change but once you’re here, you’re here.
This brings me back to the bonfire in Inuvik, at least temporarily. It’s been a few years now since we heralded in the sun and shared stories of our roads back North. In all honesty, we haven’t kept in touch since then, but with the various mediums that connect people these days, I’m sure it wouldn’t be difficult. I could always make my way to the next sunrise festival in Inuvik, though I’ll probably bump into her in a mob of dancers at Folk on the Rocks in Yellowknife first.