Chronicles of a Trini in the frigid North

People often joke that summer arrives in the north in July, and winter resumes in August. These non-believers might be sceptical that it can be warm in April in Yellowknife. The definition of warm varies based on latitude, so up here it means that the heat of the sun can be felt, at last.  There are certainly sunny days in winter, but the sun provides light, not heat. In April, there are days when the temperature is in the single digits below zero, yet when I get into my car I sit on a sun-warmed seat.

The fluffy blanket of snow that settles in October/November, and forms a cement coating by January begins to melt in the April sun. Given how much snow there is on the ground, it’s amazing how quickly it disappears, with very little slush or flooding. Occasionally there’s some pooling of water, in places where ice still blocks the drains. But the only other evidence of the melt is roads that are wet without rain, as the snow turns into a watery ice and forms barely noticeable rivulets. All that’s left is the snow that clings stubbornly to the rocks, or lingering traces of the mounds of it that were piled up on the edges or in the shadows of various properties.

City view in spring

The only trouble is that it doesn’t necessarily stay warm in April, as the seasons appear to be fighting for dominance. This month the temperature fluctuations have been mind-boggling, as has been the unpredictability of weather conditions. Even the meteorologists are perplexed, as the forecast can change on the same day. Getting your hopes up in April is a fool’s game. Days can go by full of sunshine and blue sky, the day-time temperature will inch up towards zero, and lighter jackets make their debut. One day you’re driving on dry road and you can even see the grass in the park. The gravel that was spread on the road for traction in winter becomes fully exposed, and the town turns into a dust bowl.  On some streets, clouds of dust follow your car. Just when you think that winter is finally gone, all of a sudden you wake up to snow, and a bitter wind.  Then the snow melts and creates a nice coating of mud. Two days later, it’s back to dust.

Temperature guessing game

Temperature guessing game

I prefer to ignore the schizophrenic weather and take my cues from other events: when the ice road is closed, it’s spring, end of story. I figure that if there are puddles on the road and a constant ice level cannot be guaranteed, it can’t possibly be winter. The ice road to Dettah is definitely closed now, completely barred off, leaving no room for doubt, nor for the intrepid or reckless to squeeze by. Less than a week before it was closed, I drove a few metres into it. However, I turned back because there was too much water on it for my comfort, and the 2 cars way in the distance were winding their way through and around multiple puddles. I’m not familiar enough with the lake to know at which point it becomes very deep. But I reckoned that if I followed in their wake and the ice were thin, those cars might be cracking it just enough for mine to break it, and plunge into the freezing water. Since I am neither intrepid nor reckless and my extremities freeze in an instant, I thought it best to stay on dry land. Even after the road is closed, people access it from elsewhere and drive on it, but I suppose they do so at their own risk.

Ice road entrance

Ice road entrance

Up until last year, the supply of fresh produce would dwindle at this time of year. During the spring thaw, the ice is no longer strong enough to allow vehicles to drive across the Mackenzie river, and there’s too much ice for the ferry to cross. So the grocery stores would either fly in their produce, or order additional shipments ahead of time. Since there’s limited room inside the store, there would be trailers in the car park for a couple of weeks. Sometimes the thaw lasted longer than the supplies, and there would be empty stalls in the produce section. However, with the opening of the Deh Cho bridge last fall, trucks can now be driven across the Mackenzie in all seasons, so the food supply should be steady.

During winter people wear hats, and very popular in the north is the Canada Goose brand of coats, which have huge, fur-trimmed hoods. Sometimes people greet me in the street, but I have no idea who they are, because I can’t make out the face inside the funnel of a hood. It muffles voices too, so I can’t always guess by sound either. Add to that the fact that men tend to grow beards in winter, so some of them are practically unrecognizable. I’m sure there are people in town who think that I’m quite the snob, because I pass by them like a full bus. I like spring because the hoods come off, the beards are shaved, and I can see people’s faces again. It’s like everybody gets a spring cleaning.

When it comes to spring cleaning around the house, I carefully time it according to weather conditions. Recycling stations (large blue structures) are located strategically around town, for example, in the car park of one of the grocery stores. It’s a great idea, as it’s much more efficient to collect from a few stations, rather than at each residence. Although there’s a recycling station within walking distance from my home, when it’s really cold I’ve been known to pile everything into the car and dump it on my next trip to the grocery store. On the wrong side of the temperature scale, even a 2-minute walk can result in frozen fingers.

Recycle stations

Recycling station

In our hooded hurry to escape the winter cold, we often don’t notice our surroundings. But in spring, with good light and an unobstructed view, the art around town seems to stand out. Yellowknife is full of artists and there are murals around town, some in unexpected places. They’re different, but blue seems to be a common colour.

This one is my favourite of all, as it depicts the aurora borealis.

Aurora mural

Aurora mural

This is as close to a bear as I plan to get.

Bear mural

Bear mural

I feel hunted when I look at this one.



This one conveys a feeling of joy.


Aside from colourful murals, there are also carvings and sculptures, in stone and other materials. A rock isn’t necessarily just a rock in this town. Here are 2 of my favourite pieces.

Stone carving

Rock carving


Once nature’s covering of white starts to peel off, it’s a good opportunity to reconnect with the spots of man-made beauty in the city. I’m looking forward to discovering some new spots this spring.

Copyright © Kathryn Birchwood and FrozenTrini 2013. The use and/or duplication of this material without the express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner are unauthorised and strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Kathryn Birchwood and FrozenTrini, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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