Heather Killen
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Up north comes down home in Paradise Saturday

All About Polar Bears will be one of the presentation by ecologist Heather Stewart January 19 at the Paradise Community Hall. It will be a day of Up North in Paradise, a fundraiser for the community hall.

By Heather Killen

The Spectator


The Paradise Community Hall is hosting a day of activities guaranteed to get the community chillin’ this weekend.

Lots of cool “Up North” activities are planned this Saturday afternoon and evening to raise money for the hall and celebrate the Canadian Arctic. Highlights of the day include outdoor demonstrations, an Elders' Tea Tent, and Inuit-style games.

Inside, ecologist Heather Stewart will be giving three presentations, while various items are up for auction including clothing, photographs, and artwork by Nunavut carvers such as Chelsey Nibgoarsi. In the evening a movie, Atanarjuat (The Fast Runner),will be shownat 6:30 p.m.

Heather Stewart has been living and working ‘up north’ in the subarctic/arctic region for Parks Canada for about five years.  Every time she returns to Annapolis County to visit her friends and family, they urge her to talk about what it’s like ‘up north.’


Share Experiences

During her trip home this time, she said she decided to share her experiences in the arctic as a fundraiser on January19 from 3 until 6 p.m. Stewart is offering three presentations starting with All About Polar Bears at 3:15 p.m., followed by Life in a Northern Community at 4:15 p.m., and Plants and Diversity at 5:15 p.m.

Stewart has 20 years experience as a vegetation ecologist and has worked in Wapusk National Park (the polar bear park) as ecosystem scientist. She’s been on assignment in Nunavut for the past five years working in northern parks such as Sirmilik National Park (seabird survey and plant survey); Auyuittuq National Park (plant survey) on Baffin Island and in Quitinirpaaq National Park on Ellesmere Island (permafrost survey and plant survey).

She has also worked with dog teams and with commercial dogsledding operators in Wapusk National Park. She says that living up north is a rich and diverse experience. The communities are remote in distance, often separated by hundreds of miles and only accessible by snowmobile, dog sleds, or plane.


Close-Knit Bonds

This geographical distance between communities creates close-knit bonds between people, she says. It’s not unusual for people to travel across long distances in subzero temperatures and then suddenly stop halfway to the destination, jump off the sled and play soccer in a snowstorm.

“It’s the best way to warm the body up over a long trip,” she said. “They really have fun with the winter.”

Elder tents are also set up for older people to gather and take shelter from the wind. These regular gatherings bring the generations together as elders share their stories with each other. Older people are cherished in northern communities, she added.

Stewart says one of her favorite examples of how strongly the people support each other in these distant communities is a story about how a fire suddenly destroyed one of the schools. The students were able to escape unharmed, but a few had lost their coats, boots, and mitts.

With stores mainly accessible by plane it’s nearly impossible to replace these items quickly, as they are lovingly fashioned by family members, not bought in stores.


New Clothes

“The elder sewing woman went to work and made four new kits for the students,’ she said. “This kind of thing is something normally done by family members, and these women were not related to the students, but within two weeks they had new kits.”

Stewart also spent time studying the polar bear populations as well as other animals. She describes the arctic as very diverse, with shifting terrains and unique ecosystems. Polar bears differ from region to region, some being completely terrified of humans, while others in more populated areas show no fear of guns.

Barbara Bishop, of the Paradise Active Living Society, says that what began as a community fundraiser has turned into a great opportunity to learn more about the north.

“Heather is a wonderful presenter and those who have heard her stories of the north give her rave reviews,” she said. “This promises to be a day of fun and activity and an opportunity to build community spirit.”

While a freewill donation to the Paradise Community Hall will be accepted for the daytime events, a toonie will be collected during the evening wind-up of the Up North day. Reserve seats for the showing of Atanarjuat (The Fast Runner) at 6:30 p.m. by calling 584-3511. This movie is restricted to people 14 and older.

Organizations: Canadian Arctic, Parks Canada, Paradise Active Living Society

Geographic location: Nunavut, Wapusk National Park, Annapolis County Sirmilik National Park Auyuittuq National Park Baffin Island Quitinirpaaq National Park Ellesmere Island

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