UpHere Logo

Welcome To Cabin Country

Welcome To Cabin Country

It is a refuge, a base for a hunt, the family home away from home. From Arviat to Dawson City, take a tour through cabin country, Northern-style.
By Up Here
Aug 03
2018
From the July/August 2018 Issue

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

Randy Zerke, Marsha Day and dog Dempster. With the prohibitive costs of travel, owning a cabin is the cheapest way to get a break from town, Day says. Photo by Weronika Murray

Hans Maurer makes breakfast and morning coffee. The retired chef’s “cabin gourmet” meals are legendary. Photo by Weronika Murray

Cheryl Greenland’s family has set up camps in the region for generations. Photo by Weronika Murray

Janet Boxwell unwinds from a busy week by playing some banjo. Photo by Weronika Murray

Matt Lavoie stocks his woodpile at his Airport Lake cabin. Photo by Weronika Murray

ARVIAT, NUNAVUT

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.

A cabin affectionately called the ‘PenTenthouse’ at Maguse Lake. Photo by Paul Aningat

When you bear-proof a cabin in polar bear country, half-measures won’t do. This cabin is used by researchers as a base to study the same predators they guard against. Photo by Paul Aningat

ack Irkok’s mobile-second-home. The Arviat resident moves his cabin by ATV. Photo by Paul Aningat

 ‘The Bone Island Express’ awaits its next ride. Photo by Paul Aningat

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.”

Gaby Sgaga’s Lower West Dawson cabin home. Photo by Chris Healey

She has 12 dogs, many of which are former sled dogs. Before she had a vehicle, they were working dogs. Now, she brings people out for sled dog rides or to skijor. “I like to get my dogs out, not just by myself but with people too. Photo by Chris Healey

The one-room cabin will fit 11 of Sgaga’s dogs and it can get cozy. “It’s a little stinky though." Photo by Chris Healey

Sgaga used to haul wood with her dogs. Now she pays for lengths, though she cuts and splits it herself. Photo by Chris Healey

IQALUIT, NUNAVUT

“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.

Hiking out to the cabin. Photo by Pamela Wood

At Burton Bay, 20 kilometres from town. “My husband and I go out often in kayaks, but we rarely see other people on the water in kayaks,” says Wood. Motorboats are the preferred mode of summer transport. Photo by Pamela Wood

With no roads, supplies are hauled in by snowmachine for the summer. Photo by Pamela Wood

Friends arrive at dusk; Kanajuk, or sculpin, are caught by hand in small pools after the tide goes out. They are eaten raw. Bite down on the breastplate, rip it open, rinse the meat in the sea and then eat it right off the bone. Photo by Pamela Wood

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.

Photo by Patrick Kane