Sunday, 25 March 2012

Expect the Unexpected in Canada’s Northwest

            Fifty years ago, a pilgrimage of sorts made its way beyond the large settlements of the border-lying cities in Alberta and British Columba and into the ‘bush’ that was Northwestern Canada. It was a ‘back-to-the-land’ movement that sparked many young urbanites to completely change their way of life. The idea was to find open land, stake a claim and live from your immediate environment. In those days, any unmarked land owned by the government (or ‘crown land’) was free for the taking at a very minimal one-time payment. Dozens of ‘hippies’ from all over North America found their way to places like Watson Lake and Stewart Crossing, settling on the outskirts of a small town and gathering in groups to celebrate a new connection with earth.

           Many of the young adventurers followed in the footsteps of those who had frantically made their way along the dangerous route to Dawson City during the infamous ‘Gold Rush’ of 1889. The challenges of subsisting on land that experienced eight months of frigid winter with only two hours of sunlight in peak cold season would have pushed these squatters to their limits, testing their ability to survive in such extreme environments. The North is a stunningly beautiful place, but it can also be your worst enemy if you aren’t prepared.

            Today, not a lot of physical evidence from this brief era of nomads is left behind. Many grew tired of the isolation that was inherent to living in such conditions and moved to Whitehorse or Dawson Creek to find a steady income and permanent residence. But the legend of these areas continues to inspire many a traveller to stray from the beaten path and experience the awesome landscapes and cultures of Canada’s Northwest. I have been fortunate enough to have had a taste of the true North while I was living in Whitehorse during summer 2010. I travelled to the Alaskan Peninsula, Dawson City, tripped up the Dempster Highway through Tombstone Territorial Park and into the Arctic Tundra, and visited many incredible places in Northern British Columbia. But I left feeling a sense of wanderlust; I had seen so much, yet not nearly enough. 

Dawson City at midnight.
           So I’m going back. But I’m raising the stakes: Instead of existing in the comforts of a tourist capitol with a Wal Mart and Starbucks, I’m living in a cabin with my amazing partner Nikki Satira, inside the Liard River Hot Springs Provincial Park Campground, where I’ll also be working and using as a sort of ‘home base’. The park is located four hours from the closest major city (Fort Nelson) and has no cell phone access or grocery store (go ahead, Google Map it!). Lucky for us, our cabin is complete with internet, so I’ll be blogging during the entire trip here and on a new blog I’m launching in about a week with Nikki! Stay tuned for more details over the course of the next month. Our official departure date from Toronto is April 27th, returning in early September for a final year at university. It’s time to make some big changes, people!

Safe travels,

Aaron Turpin

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