“What is life? It is the flash of a firefly in the night. It is the breath of a buffalo in the wintertime. It is the little shadow which runs across the grass and loses itself in the sunset.”

- Crowfoot

Thursday, December 22, 2011


There is one question I always get asked when I tell people that I am going to Ft. Albany for my final placement.
How cold is it there?!
Well, in an attempt to answer that question, along with my countdown to the right (-->) of your screen, I have also added a weather icon. As of this post, the temperature is currently -24c. Please be assured, as I was, that this is simply a 'cold snap' as the forecast later in the week goes back up to... -15c... dang.

We have lift off!

Last week I called the hospital to talk with an employee to arrange housing. The person that I was talking with said that she had left for Christmas holidays and wouldn't be back until the end of January! Needless to say, I was panicked. "You mean I am going to voluntarily spend 3 days getting to a fly in community in the midst of a housing emergency in the middle of winter without a guarantee of having anywhere to live?"

Pictures of me arriving at the hospital, suitcases in tow and sleeping on a bench in the ward (a la Tom Hanks in The Terminal) flashed through my mind.

Tom Hanks as Viktor Navorski, stranded traveler, in 'The Terminal.'
After a week trying, today I finally got in touch with another member of staff (who I feared may be holiday as well). After directing me to the gentleman who was managing the housing portfolio while Employee #1 is on holiday. He said that as a matter of fact she is only off until the end of December, not January (relief!) and to just email her to let her know when I am expected to arrive and either she or him will meet me at the airport. Thank goodness!

So now I am free to book my tickets, etc. Tomorrow I am heading into Union Station (in Toronto) to buy my train tickets, which are conveniently unavailable for purchase online, and will book my flight.

The journey will be three legs over three days, as follows:

Train #1 departs in the morning from Toronto and arrives in Cochrane in the evening.
Train #2 departs the next morning from Cochrane and arrives in Moosonee at night.
After staying overnight in Moosonee, I then fly in the morning to Ft. Albany.

The plan is to leave on January 3rd for two reasons, (a) because I have to be there for Monday the 9th and the trains don't run on the weekend and (b) to allow a little leeway in case of inclement weather.

A couple of interesting stories:

First, the train that I will be taking from Cochrane to Moosonee is called.... *drum roll please*

The Polar Bear Express.

This is actually a 'flag down' train.

One of my professors actually worked in Moose Factory (near Moosonee) 'a thousand years ago' and took this same train up. She told me the story of her journey up. There was a terrible snow storm that forced the hunters out of the bush and to the tracks where they flagged down the train, threw their catches in the cargo areas and climbed aboard. The journey took hours longer than it should have. As this train only goes through once a day, the train had to keep reversing and accelerating through the snow build ups. When she got there, she was completely overwhelmed but felt better when even the elders in the community said that they had never seen a snow storm as bad!

So, the wheels are starting to slowly roll, though I feel that the pace will speed to blinding very, very soon. Until next time!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

First Placement Update!

Since my last post, a LOT has happened. Considering my last post was in May, I would be worried if it hadn't. I have been to England, worked four months and returned; started and finished a placement with a visiting nursing agency in the Durham Region; Christmas is coming and I am organizing next semester's placement.

When placement preferences were submitted, I had requested Moose Factory, Ontario. When this didn't work out I was instead placed here:

Fort Albany, ON

Fort Albany is a Cree First Nation situated (as you can plainly see) on James Bay, or as I like to refer to it the 'foot of the old woman,' that is Hudson Bay. The only way to get in or out of this community is by plane (year round) or by winter road (only while the water has frozen sufficiently to support trucks) - trains to not travel that far north. I will be there from the beginning of January to the beginning of April. Average temperatures at this point on the 52nd parallel at this time of year average -23c. 

As a nursing student, for a $500 temporary deposit, I am guaranteed housing and (theoretical) warmth, with a roof and four walls, all of which are full of insulation that is not contaminated by black mold. This is in direct contrast to many houses on this reserve.

You may have heard about the State of Emergency that was declared by Attawapiskat First Nation at the end of October (and was completely and utterly ignored for a grand total of three weeks). Since this declaration, two other Ontario reserves have joined Attawapiskat's declaration, these being Kashechewan and Fort Albany First Nations. Directly related to the lack of adequate housing on these reserves, many residents are forced to live in tents or plywood shacks with makeshift stoves made out of metal barrels. Many of the more 'substantial' dwellings (and this term is used very loosely), are contaminated with black mold due to roof leaks etc and are either condemned buildings or are in need of drastic renovations.

Like I said, I am lucky enough to have housing provided for whilst I am passing through, so no need to worry! However many are not so lucky. I will keep you all informed as to my progress in planning, booking trains/flights etc as well as my experiences whilst I am living with members of Fort Albany First Nation in such a Northern community!

Talk to you all later!