Paulatuk and Barbuda

By: John Crump

Our four zodiacs cruised into Paulatuk through the morning fog. Hugging a symmetrical cove, the village emerged slowly as we approached across a flat, slate grey sea.

The day before we had been on the water in the brilliant sunshine at Pearce Point Harbour, the green sea running flowing along the side of our translucent kayaks. A great arch of layered seabed soared above us as we pointed the nose of our light craft through, passing from shadow to sunlight.

We spent a gentle day visiting Paulatuk, a village of slightly more than 300 on the Arctic coastline of Canada’s Northwest Territories near the western entrance of the Northwest Passage. We learned a lot about the Inuvialuit who live in this quiet place on the edge of Tuktut Nogait National Park. While we enjoyed the tranquility and visited with students at the local school, a distress call went out that two people were missing on the nearby Hornaday River. The river is within Tuktut Nogait, one of Canada’s remotest national parks (so far this year, it has had four visitors from outside the territory).

Several members of the Canada C3 team leapt into action, including Jimmy Evalik and Roger Hitkolok, from Cambridge Bay and Kuglutuk respectively, who were travelling with us. Shortly after the local distress call came in, C3 received a call asking for help from Canadian Forces Base Trenton, a search and rescue coordination centre several thousand kilometres away near the shore of Lake Ontario. Trenton is responsible for a vast area, including the Arctic. The caller was informed that C3 “was on it,” in the words of expedition leader Geoff Green.

The searchers found a woman shivering on the bank of the river and they brought her back to the village. Her husband wasn’t found.

We talked about this loss in subdued tones that evening as we sailed away from Paulatuk. The Arctic can be an unforgiving place, even to those who live there. The loss of one man affected everyone in the tight-knit community.

That night I checked my email and saw a flood of messages, posts and stories about the hurricanes sweeping through the Caribbean. One post caught my attention in particular. It was about the almost complete destruction of the small island of Barbuda, home to 1,600 people. About 90% of the community’s infrastructure had been wiped out. A two-year-old girl was killed as her mother tried to get her to safety. Nearly everyone was homeless.

I have a connection to Barbuda. A couple of years ago my organization worked with the island school to produce stories and photographs about the effects of climate change. When Hurricane Irma hit the island its 300 kilometre per hour winds were the highest ever recorded. While hurricanes are not unusual in the Caribbean, the size and frequency of the storms has increased due to higher water temperatures and other factors driven by climate change.

There is always time to reflect on Canada C3. That night I thought about the coincidence of tragedies – different scales and different circumstances. In small communities, people are connected and tragedies – big and small – touch everyone. In that way, Paulatuk and Barbuda are similar.