It may surprise you to learn that life in the North can be stressful. Sure, we aren’t subjected to nightmare commutes or the blaring ubiquity of urban noise. But jobs and the daily demands of life can still leave us feeling worn down and disconnected. To recharge, we go to the cabin. (We don’t call it a cottage.) This building may be constantly evolving through family generations. It may stand where ancestors gathered to fish through the summer—and where we continue to fish to this day. It’s a place to take stock of what is important—family, friends, the land. And it’s where we go to get away from everything else.
Even us Northerners need that.
MACKENZIE DELTA, NORTHWEST TERRITORIES
Cheryl Greenland has been living in her cabin full-time for nearly a year. Every day she commutes 50 kilometres from her modest, off-grid Campbell Creek cabin to Inuvik to go to work. “It’s not any different than people commuting to work in the city,” she says. She only stays in town when the temperature drops below -40C out of concern for her vehicle freezing overnight.
Greenland is one of many full-time or near-full-time cabin dwellers in the Mackenzie Delta.
For Janet Boxwell and her partner Hans Maurer, their cabin is a weekend getaway. Boxwell used to live in Vancouver. There, camping would mean hours of planning, packing, and driving to get out of the city. In Inuvik, she considers herself lucky to be able to get away and be “in the cabin zone” in no time. Their cabin is one of many located at Airport Lake, a popular recreational area among Inuvik residents, just outside of town.
Some cabins are right off the highway, and others can only be reached by boat in the summer. –Weronika Murray
In the evenings in late summer, an area on the southeastern shore of Maguse Lake, roughly 50 kilometres northwest of Arviat as the crow flies, becomes a community of its own. At dusk, it lights up like a small town as people fire up their portable generators and turn on their porch lights. “It’s pretty neat looking,” says photographer Paul Aningat.
Residents drive ATVs or pick-up trucks down a gravel road to the long lake where many Arviammiut have built cabins. “There’s a lot of fishing,” says Aningat. “We catch lake trout, whitefish and Arctic char in the winter, when they migrate back from the bay into the lake.” The road passes Mamaittuq, a camp that predates the community of Arviat. Inuit still come here in the fall to hunt caribou, as the herds pass through on their ancient migration from north to south. “It’s an old, old trail of caribou,” says Dorothy Aglukark, who has a cabin near the mouth of the Maguse River with her husband David. “We collect our caribou meat in September because it’s the best time.” That’s when the caribou are fat. In the mornings, Dorothy and David will go out and collect bird eggs for breakfast. “We don’t go just for fun,” says Dorothy. “Yes, fun is part of it, but most of the time we’re thinking of food that we store in the wintertime.”
The Aglukarks make the 1.5-hour ATV drive to their cabin in June or September. July and August can get buggy. “I don’t want to get out of the house when they’re around,” Dorothy says, laughing.
DAWSON CITY, YUKON
Dawson City has a two-dog limit and that wasn’t going to work for Gaby Sgaga. “When I was looking for a place, at that time, I think I had nine or ten dogs and I needed a place to stay,” she says. She found that place in Lower West Dawson—on the other side of the Yukon River. Sgaga’s lived there year-round for 14 years, among a close-knit community of folks who wanted to get away from town life permanently.
West Dawson has changed over time. “When I moved over, there was basically one telephone in the neighbourhood. No cellphones, no computers, no WiFi. Nothing,” Sgaga says. “We’re connected now.” They even have their own West Dawson community Facebook page.
But it’s still far from easy living. “I haven’t had running water or a toilet in 20 years,” she chuckles. “I have to haul my water. I haul it in blue jugs or I catch rainwater. I melt snow. We have either a generator or solar [power]. There’s still all of that to deal with.” When the community is cut off from Dawson for weeks at a time during freeze-up or breakup, it can get hard. And Sgaga admits, the new connections have actually strengthened community. People reach out over Facebook for a hand in a pinch. “There’s no question that if someone needed some help, they’d get it.”
“I just need to get out to the cabin.” It’s a popular refrain among Iqalungmiut who’ve been cooped up indoors or stretched thin at work for days. Or weeks. Or months.
For Pamela Wood, there’s a feeling she gets whenever she paddles her kayak away from shore and looks back at town. “Everything just melts away,” she says. “And it’s fantastic.” There are no roads to cabin country along the shores of Frobisher Bay, so there are times of year when cabins are inaccessible—when the sea ice breaks up or freezes, snowmobiles and boats sit idle. But in late March when spring blows in with longer days, milder temperatures and the sea ice still holding strong, it’s time to hunt, to fish, to get away and enjoy the land. “It seems like everybody leaves town in the springtime and heads out to their cabin,” says Wood.
When the ice melts, the bay isn’t as bustling. “A lot of families have snowmobiles,” she says. “Not all families have the boats to get out.” (That helps explain the many wall tents that line the banks of the Sylvia Grinnell River.) Still, Wood and her friends don’t always paddle out. Sometimes they hike from Apex (outside Iqaluit) to a friend’s cabin roughly 20 kilometres away. “You’re tired by the time you get there because you’re going through tundra and marsh and up hills and down hills,” she says. But then it’s time to relax. That’s the whole point.
KAKISA, NORTHWEST TERRITORIES
Percy Simba watches the fire at a hunting camp on the south shore of Tathlina Lake. In the fall, a dozen members of the Kakisa Dene First Nation fly 20 minutes by Twin Otter to the four-cabin camp to harvest moose and other game on their traditional lands for the community.