Abandoned Places

There is still paint on the wall behind the inside stairs, and carpet or oilcloth on some of the stairs. The colours are faded, but their presence is the echo of this once being a joyful place.

Very little left in this house

The windows and doors, the electric fixtures and wiring are gone, scavenged, and the roof has begun to fall in. Most of the houses have been bulldozed, and the bulldozer sits, rusting, in a garage that has also been stripped. Only the pieces too big to take out remain.

I had heard of the relocation of Inuit, or Eskimos as they were then called by southerners, to the high Arctic during the Cold War, confirming Canadian ownership of its north in the face of Soviet expansion. I knew it was horrible, and harsh. On this trip, I have met a woman who was relocated when she was a child, and later I will go to the High Arctic.

I am in Killiniq, Nunavut. It was called Port Burrell when the Hudson’s Bay trading post was established in 1884, and the missionaries came 20 years later. By the 1920s there was an RCMP detachments, a radio station and a Coast Guard base. Local Inuit living on the land were encouraged to move in, with the promise of more services: a nursing station, a school, government offices. There were about 400 people here at one time.

Governments changed, policies changed. In the late 1970s, the residents were moved out, on short notice, split between several communities that did not have the space nor resources to accommodate them.

So much gone…

This history, however, is new to me. I didn’t know how peoples were moved, back and forth, at the whim of bureaucrats far to the south, who had often never been to the north.

Killiniq is beautiful. The harbour is sheltered between rolling hills and islands. The sun glitters on the water and it feels warm in the sun, although it is only 10C. (50 F) Now, in the summer, tiny purple and white flowers are scattered along what were once paths between houses.

I can see the children, hear their laughter as they run along the paths. They pick the flowers, throw rocks in the water, play with their puppies. They roam the hills; but not too far, in case a bear or other wildlife approaches.

Sorrow washes over me, because I was once one of those children in a small isolated village.

The houses are gone but the paths are still there

We moved there for economic reasons, not because of government edict. I remember my mother crying, when on the rough wooden boards of the cupboards one of her precious teacups fell over and broke.

But I was a child and I didn’t understand, or care. We ran wild in bare feet on the gravel streets, only coming home for dinner. We played elaborate games, climbing trees and rocks, shouting and running. We sat in the dirt and played house with stones for house walls and sticks for people.

The moves always came as a surprise to me. My parents might have known but they did not think to share that information with us.

I am too sad to stay any longer, and I catch one of the first Zodiacs back to the ship.

Half a century later, I process what I didn’t realize at the time was trauma. And with trauma, you go one of two ways: resilience, or despair.

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. But, as my sister Linda used to add: “Good God! How strong do we need to be?”

Resilience, or despair. We of the south, of privilege, don’t get to decide what path they take.

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