Email to Mayor and Council about Roundabouts

This evening, in an incident that has happened countless times before, I had a near-collision with a car while cycling on the 10th Avenue bike route.  I don’t recall the exact intersection (I believe it was Prince Albert), but I was headed Eastbound and approached a roundabout.  There was no traffic (bicycle or car) in the roundabout, and no one coming to my left.  I headed straight through – I would guess at around 20 or 25 km/h given that I was going downhill.  This is still well under the speed limit of 30km/h on this road.

As I was travelling through the roundabout, a Northbound car approached on my right.  Rather than a) recognising that one is required to yield to traffic in roundabouts (the BC government has a lovely little page on this) or b) looking up and realising that driving straight through would involve hitting a cyclist, this car just kept driving anyway.  I was able to brake and swerve to avoid hitting her car (or being sideswiped by her), but then she stopped in the roundabout and had to carefully manoeuvre around me to keep going.

In my frustration I yelled out “what are you doing?!” because I honestly had no idea – she seemed uncertain as to whether she was going to continue or stop and let me through.  She responded with “it’s not your turn!”  The fact that this was her response suggested to me she had no idea how roundabouts work.  They don’t involve “turns” – they always involve yielding to whomever is in the roundabout.  Period.  You wait until it’s clear, then you go.

While the complete incompetence of Vancouver drivers is pretty common, and to be expected, I have to think at least part of this is connected to the way the road communicates to them.  I took this photo shortly before moving to Vancouver:

Just so I'm clear- are these roundabouts or do you make left turns to the left of them?

 

If you click through to the Flickr page it’s on, you’ll see by the caption that I was just as confused when I first saw them.  These signs do not mean roundabout.  And yet the City of Vancouver uses them on virtually every single roundabout in the city.  I’ve heard somewhere that the difference is that these are “traffic calming circles” and not “roundabouts,” but frankly the wording is academic only – this has no meaning when it comes to how they are used.

So, I wrote the following email to Mayor and Council.  I sincerely hope something is done, because the way people behave around these things right now is incredibly dangerous.

Mayor and council,

After the most recent in a long string of near-collisions in this city’s roundabouts, I’ve had enough. I think roundabouts are an excellent traffic management tool and I don’t believe the city should get rid of them. I do, however, strongly believe city needs to do a heck of a lot more to tell people how they’re supposed to use them.

Besides a public education campaign, I think the number one thing the city needs to do is adopt standard signage. Vancouver is the only place in the world I’ve ever seen “bear right” signs to signify a roundabout. If we all bear right without yielding, we crash into one another – that’s kind of how it works. In case you aren’t familiar with what I’m saying, the BC government’s Graphic Sign Index that includes this sign (item number R-014-R) is here: http://www.th.gov.bc.ca/publications/eng_publications/signs/2010_Catalogue/Standard_Traffic_Signs/Regulatory_Signs.pdf. It refers to this sign (in the index) as “Median symbol (keep) RIGHT ARROW.” This does NOT signify to anyone how they are actually supposed to behave at such an intersection, or who has the right of way.

Everywhere else I’ve travelled, including virtually every other municipality in the Lower Mainland, uses a sign similar to Rb-R-502-T in the BC Roundabout Signs Index (http://www.th.gov.bc.ca/publications/eng_publications/signs/2010_Catalogue/Standard_Traffic_Signs/Roundabout_Signs.pdf). This clearly signifies to all road users that they are to yield to traffic in the roundabout. I have often seen such signs in combination with something like Rb-W-500 to show the direction of traffic flow (many road users, especially cyclists, turn left against traffic through these, suggesting they don’t realise how they should navigate these intersections at all).

I would like to see council adopt a motion that mandates the usage of these signs universally throughout the City of Vancouver to signify roundabouts or traffic circles. A limited number of roundabouts in the city use these signs (though often in combination with the bear right one, which is even more confusing); I see no reason they can’t all be used this way.

Before I get a response that these are “traffic calming circles” and not “roundabouts,” the distinction is completely meaningless when one is travelling around one of these things and someone decides to drive or cycle directly in front of you (or side-swipe you). If the rules are the same, the size of island in the middle of the circle should not change the signage or communication made by the city. These are universally (outside of Vancouver) used and perceived as roundabouts, and it should be communicated to road users that this is what they are. The next time I’m cut off in one of these might be my last, and that’s not a result anyone wants.

Thank you,

Neal Jennings

 

 

How to cycle straight across Hornby on Helmcken going Westbound, in 7 easy steps.

How to cycle straight across Hornby on Helmcken going Westbound, in 7 easy steps.

5 months ago, I emailed the City of Vancouver to ask about how I was supposed to cross Hornby Street Westbound on a bicycle when riding on Helmcken. At that corner, Helmcken is right-turn-only, and there is a protected bike lane on the left side of Helmcken on the other side of Hornby. The city, just now, replied with the following instructions.

1. Turn right on Hornby into the bile lane, reposition your bicycle and wait for the light
2. Proceed into the bike box in the intersection of Hornby & Helmcken
3. Wait for the light then proceed into the separated bike lane on Helmcken st.

By my count, this is actually 7 steps (and three full cycles of the traffic light)! 7 steps to continue in the same direction on a road!! None of which is marked in any way at the intersection.

Email to TransLink Commission on the YVR AddFare

I mentioned in a previous post a number of Compass Fare Hikes set to take place with the rollout of the new smart card in the Vancouver area.  At the time, I questioned  TransLink’s legal interpretation of the Commission’s ruling in 2009 about non-cash fares not being subject to the YVR AddFare.

On December 23rd, TransLink quietly applied to the admission to get their approval for this change.  I guess they realised the error in their ways.  If they’d be honest about this for the rest of their fare hikes, that would be wonderful.  Anyways, here is my email to the Commission.

Hello,

I’m writing with respect to the proposed additional AddFare at YVR stations. I was hoping to refer to your previous decision on this topic, but the commission has conveniently deleted from your website all the relevant documents linked from the page about the decision here: http://www.translinkcommission.org/html/yvr_add_fare_decision.html . I will thus go from memory as best possible.

First, I’m thankful TransLink has finally decided to put this issue to the Commission, as their initial communications have all suggested they would simply be implementing this fare increase because they believed they had the right to do so under the original agreement. I believe that TransLink has been incredibly dishonest about this and other fare changes and I almost want to oppose this on principle. The new double-fare for those who pay cash on buses is another example of this. This type of dishonest approach to fares risks losing faith in the transit system that many Lower Mainlanders are very proud of, and the Commission has an opportunity here to show that the public will truly be represented, regardless of poor decisions made by TransLink management.

Next, I must say that the answers provided in the document titled “Information Requested by the Regional Transportation Commission” are wholly unsatisfactory. In many cases, management hasn’t even bothered to answer your questions. It is as if management expect the Commission to simply rubber stamp whatever it asks for, rather than treating this as a serious process of public engagement.

The answer to question c, in particular, doesn’t answer most of the question. What it does say, though, is telling. The AddFare program has been a total failure in coming up with revenue for TransLink, bringing in over $5million less than anticipated. This doesn’t appear to be an effective revenue tool. This could be a result of the Commission denying TransLink the ability to charge the AddFare on FareSavers initially. But adding it to Compass card charges isn’t going to remedy the problem, as demonstrated by the numbers presented by management in question d.

Speaking of question d, I find the rationale fascinating. TransLink has chosen to move forward with Compass cards, which will result in an effective fare increase for those who used FareSavers or cash before due to the discount rates applied to prepaid cards and the problem with transferring from buses to trains. And yet at the same time, TransLink and is complaining that its own decision is going to lose it $1.4 million as a result of it being so successful!! This is illogical for a number of reasons, the biggest one being that the effective fare paid by someone with a stored-value card as opposed to a FareSaver will be higher system-wide. Next, people using FareSavers currently at YVR stations are not going to cause losses (since if you decide against this change, we aren’t paying it now and won’t pay it in future). Only people who currently use cash and will eventually use Compass cards will cause a reduction in the AddFare revenues. Why should FareSaver users (who provide significant financing to TransLink through interest-free loans) be punished for this? And is it really plausible that people who are currently paying cash at YVR station will switch to prepaid Compass cards at the same rate as people paying cash elsewhere in the system? Such people are likely to be travellers in town for the first time (who will be unlikely to already have purchased a fare before arriving at the station), or people who use transit so infrequently that they don’t even buy FareSavers. Even if these people have the ability to buy prepaid Compass cards at the airport somewhere before getting to the station, they will be paying $6 just to obtain the card (which can’t be used towards their fare) – which is more than the AddFare!! This will mean a one-way trip into the city for such a person will cost them $6 + $4 x 86% + $5 = $14.44 after applying the 14% discount! I highly doubt such users will “switch” to stored value Compass cards over cash (would would yield a $9 fare, being $4 for two zones plus the $5 AddFare) based on this cost!! Even without the AddFare, it will be cheaper to pay cash of $9 than to pay $9.44 to buy a Compass card with enough value to get them into the city. If anything, this is a great way to encourage people to take taxis, which I suspect is not the goal of the Commission.

Finally, I’ve noticed that none of management’s answers to your questions come with any sort of backup or support. For example, they say “most” travelers from YVR will be air travelers, without any studies to support this. They have provided no explanation for how much administration of this new “exemption” program will cost, and whether it will even come close to being paid for by the nominal amount of additional revenue this whole scheme is trying to earn. If this increase is to be approved, the public should be able to see a logical and evidence-based analysis to support it.

If TransLink is trying to encourage people to take public transport to and from the airport, and is trying to encourage people to use the Compass card, then I strongly believe this is not the way to do it. Applying the AddFare to day passes and stored value cards gives visitors and residents alike a disincentive for taking transit. For many visitors, the Canada Line is the first experience of transit they have in our city – if that experience is marred by perceived gouging, they may choose not to take transit in the rest of their stay. I think this would be a terrible result, and I strongly oppose this proposal.

Sincerely,

Neal Jennings

 

My 2013 WordPress year in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.  Apparently I didn’t write much this year. I should rectify that for next year.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 4,800 times in 2013. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 4 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Open letter to TransLink on Compass Fare Hikes

Dear TransLink,

I’m writing about what I’ve decided to call the Compass Fare Hikes.  You don’t call them that, but more on that in a moment.

It’s come to light over the last couple of months that with the full implementation of Compass a number of changes will also come to the way we will pay our fares.  Specifically:

  • To obtain a Compass Card, which you have suggested will be the primary method of fare payment, users have to pay $6 in exchange for only $5.50 of credit, meaning riders will be incurring an extra 50 cents on each card purchase.
  • This will entitle users to a 14% discount on fares, which is significantly less than the FareSavers currently offer.
  • The elimination of FareSavers also eliminates the ability of anyone without a monthly pass to prepay to avoid the AddFare at the YVR stations, since your questionable interpretation of the Commission’s ruling suggests you think Compass is NOT “non-cash fare media.”
  • Bus riders who currently pay cash and subsequently transfer to SkyTrain or SeaBus will be forced to pay twice to continue their trip.  TransLink Police recently confirmed this isn’t just because of faregates, and that bus tickets will be completely invalid within the system (presumably even if the gates are open).
  • This is all in addition to the Tariff Changes announced last month, made under the guise of what “makes sense” and a suggestion that TransLink has too many riders.  These changes affect those who used Employer Passes, monthly passholders with family who ride with them, and West Coast Express riders.

Call these things what you like, but for anyone who uses these fare media or routes, these are fare increases.  Anyone who buys a Compass Card is paying more for their ride than we would have before.   Casual riders who use FareSavers will pay more than we would have before, both in general and at YVR stations.  Bus riders who transfer to SkyTrain after paying cash will pay more than they would have before.  These changes undoubtedly increase the amount of money riders are paying and, in turn, the amount of money received by TransLink on account of fares.

Some of these things have come as a surprise to many – such as the policy change on the YVR AddFare and the bus transfer issue.  They haven’t been announced clearly or publicised, at best hidden stealthily in texts about how great Compass cards will be.  And when they do surface, you have told half-truths about the alternatives (insisting the cost of allowing bus transfers was $25M when the cheapest alternative was only $9M) in order to distract from the fact that you are effectively increasing fares.

I worry about what other surprises TransLink has in store for us.

I’ve heard the arguments about these things affecting a small number of riders, though I question whether that’s still true after you add up all of the people affected by these things.  I’ve also heard all the spin that suggests these are just making things make “more sense” or that they are meant to encourage Compass use.  But at the end of the day, these things are fare hikes for a lot of people.

I love that we are upgrading to a smart card system – it’s about time. I want Compass to succeed.  This is why this frustrates me so much – if Compass is blamed for all of these fare hikes, you will only continue to build public opposition to it, and the data you so covet will be less useful to you.  You are also putting at risk what I think is a very positive reputation in the community – of all the cities I’ve lived in, I’ve never known one where most people look at the transit authority and say “yeah, they’re pretty good” the way people in the Lower Mainland (particularly in the city of Vancouver) do.  Your planning, quality, and customer service are phenomenal compared to other transit agencies.

So I ask of you: be honest with us.  It’s so blatantly obvious to me and other transit users that these changes are intended to increase funds flowing from riders to TransLink.  We know you have budget issues – we can’t escape this news.  So tell us the truth and call these changes what they are: fare increases.  Tell us that you’re sorry you have to do it, but that you have no other choice but to make up for budget shortfalls.  We might not like it, we might not sing your praises for it, but we’ll appreciate your honesty.  And, eventually, we’ll accept it.  Stop the lies, and stop the distractions.

Tell the public the truth and maybe some people will be on your side.  Until then, I will continue to find it hard to believe the sincerity of your statements on this matter.

Yours sincerely,

Neal Jennings

Travel blog – Nunavut

My trip to Nunavut was a nice bookend to my NWT trip (the last portion of which is detailed here, this is effectively a continuation and the story picks up in my last morning in Yellowknife).   This entry was written in Iqaluit and is being posted a few weeks after the fact.

Monday morning (bright and early), I got up and headed for the Yellowknife Airport for my flight to Iqaluit.  I got to the airport with plenty of time to spare – even though First Air says you need to arrive 2 hours in advance, you really only need half an hour. YZF is a really small airport.  It also has no security for flights that stay North of 60.  So after returning the rental car, it was just a matter of dropping my luggage at the counter with no queue, and waiting in the departure lounge.

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I had a couple of small scares, though.  First, shortly after I arrived, the power went out in the entire airport.  It came back within ten minutes or so, and thankfully there was no impact on my flight.  Then, shortly before we started boarding, they asked everyone who was flying to Iqaluit to come up to the counter so they could stamp our boarding cards.  Which seemed an odd request, but I’ve had that happen for other flights before, so it didn’t stand out.  Until I read the stamp they put on it: “LANDING SUBJECT TO WEATHER. FIRST AIR regulations provide that no hotel, meals, or transportation will be supplied when over or under carried from your destination.”  At first I thought: if the weather’s bad, do we just keep flying until we run out of fuel? I decided not to think about what would actually happen.  When we got to Rankin Inlet (there are no direct flights from Yellowknife to Iqaluit), they allowed us to deplane and hang out in the terminal (which is tiny… I was just happy to have a clean washroom to use), and while I waited they made an announcement with similar content to the stamp… plus clarification that if we couldn’t land in Iqaluit that we would be diverted to Kuujjuaq, Quebec, and returned to Rankin Inlet on the next flight.  With, once again, no provision for anywhere to stay or any compensation for associated costs.

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Thankfully, the flight was very smooth and when the clouds cleared I got a good view of Northern Hudson Bay, which is still frozen for the most part and simply beautiful.  We did, ultimately, land in Iqaluit in mildly foggy conditions. Oh, and snow.  Lots of snow on the ground, and still more falling from the sky. A perfect ski destination, if there had been mountains.  And a very Canadian way to experience the moment I arrived in my 3rd Canadian territory, and final on the list of 13 provinces/territories.  I’m here – I made it!  All 13 provinces and territories.  I shared a cab with a couple others from my flight (which was full; though the first 9 rows were segregated for carrying goods) to my hotel – the Frobisher Inn.

I had expected very little of the Frobisher (or “the Frobe” as the locals call it) – it was the only one I really found any information about online, and their booking system was less than ideal… though it did work. Having stayed in towns with populations similar to Iqaluit’s (or smaller) before, I expected it to be the major hotel which was relatively old, but had sufficient services and clean rooms.  When we pulled up I realised immediately it would exceed these expectations. The hotel is part of a much bigger complex, which includes the local CBC station, a number of offices, a restaurant/bar (with rather creepy bouncers), a café, and a movie theatre.  I felt like I was entering a casino complex (of the Niagara variety, not so much the Las Vegas variety) rather than a hotel in Iqaluit.  The room was, indeed, sufficient – and actually rather nice… and there is free, though terribly slow, Wi-Fi.  After grabbing dinner at the bar & grill (the muskox burger was surprisingly good), I spent the evening just unwinding in the hotel room resting for the next day.  The view didn’t hurt either – I have an amazing view of the bay from my window.  Snow was still falling when I arrived – on June 3rd!  I really am in the Arctic.

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The next day (Tuesday), in -3°C weather, I headed straight for the tourist information centre.  See, unlike the NWT where there was very little information available anywhere, Iqaluit has virtually no information available anywhere. There were a few paragraphs about it in the AAA/CAA Western Canada book, and that’s about it.  I had a rough idea of what the main attractions were, by virtue of a tourism website, but my requests for further information were never responded to. I made my way to the info centre slowly, wandering here and there en route, just to explore the town.

The first thing I made sure to get was a map… Iqaluit is designed like a subdivision of a small suburb somewhere – while there is a “downtown” with two roads that intersect, there’s not much in the way of a grid or any discernible pattern.  There are plenty of cul-de-sacs.  Fortunately, it doesn’t cover a lot of area, so if you get lost it’s easy to find the way back to the main ring roads.  I asked for tips on what else there was to do – most of which I already knew about.  The person at the info centre suggested Sylvia Grinnell Territorial Park, walking to Apex along the waterfront, and the museum.  She also suggested the name of a local operator I could contact if I wanted to “get out on the land,” but I had no intention of going too far and the only enticing thing about the suggestion was the possibility (though nowhere near a certainty) of spotting a polar bear.  The info centre also has some exhibits on Iqaluit and Nunavut, as well as Inuit life, which was actually very interesting.  It is, effectively, the territorial museum – covering animal life, human history, and modern activity very briefly.

I wandered for a bit and grabbed lunch at the café in my hotel … there aren’t many places to eat out here – there is a restaurant, a bar, a convenience store, and a café in the Frobe, a North Mart (grocery store which includes a mini Tim Horton’s), a takeout-only Pizza Hut/KFC Express, and a shawarma place near the airport, as well as a second grocery store/other goods shop called Arctic Ventures.  I think one or two of the other hotels also have their own restaurants, and there was a deli near the four-way stop in the centre of town that never had its “Open” sign illuminated, though I did eventually visit it later in my trip and it had average food.

I had planned to visit the legislature for a tour, which is advertised as taking place daily at 1:30PM.  But when I arrived, I discovered that the legislature (only 14 years old, as it was opened two days before Nunavut became a territory) is under renovation and there are no tours.  Which I guess explains why the info centre didn’t mention it as something to do.  I did get a chance to look at the mace, but that was about it.  Having just freed up an extra hour or so of time, I wandered down to the (completely frozen, though starting to show cracks) bay and spent some time just looking at it.

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At this point in the day, the winds had changed and the sun had come out – it was mild (approaching 5°C).  Everywhere around me – the streets, the snowbanks, the parking lots, and the actual creeks – there was water flowing down towards the bay.  Even in the Tim Horton’s, where the snow on the roof was melting so fast it broke through a seal in the wall and was causing some minor flooding.  Spring had arrived!

From there I headed to my next destination, The Road to Nowhere.  I didn’t rent a car while in Iqaluit, as you can’t go very far from Iqaluit and virtually everything is walkable – despite the snow and mud.  And a taxi anywhere driveable is only $6 per person – taxis are effectively their public transit system. But I had The Road To Nowhere all to myself anyway, so walking was no trouble at all (despite the snow and mud).  The road literally leads nowhere – it meanders its way out of town and the scenery rapidly becomes tundra (again, Iqaluit is small). There is no development, no buildings, no people, nothing – save a small sign indicating a future graveyard site.  Within a ten minute walk, I was surrounded by rolling hills covered in snow which lay just on top of short grasses and some small ponds and lakes. I think it took a little over an hour to get to the end of it, including multiple photo stops.  And there’s no clear indication the road is over, other than the end of the tire tracks in the snow and a sign warning of a shooting range up ahead (so, I guess it’s a road to a shooting range, rather than to nowhere).

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At this point I was tired and my shoes were soaked through from the melting snow and mud, so I headed back to the hotel.  I chose to eat at the fancier restaurant this time, and had an “Arctic cassoulet,” which was basically a stew of assorted “country foods,” as wild game is called up here. Country foods are the foods the Inuit used to eat primarily when they lived off the land – and still eat today, but now in combination with other imported foods.  This particular dish had caribou, musk ox, game sausage, smoked bacon, duck confit, and great northern beans, and was pretty tasty.  And, of course, pricey – with a drink, my bill came to just over $60.  I retired to my room where the Internet (which was already incredibly slow to begin with) had stopped working altogether… so I watched TV.

Wednesday morning it was like Iqaluit was a completely different town. Whereas there was about 20-30cm of snow on the ground when I arrived, it was virtually gone by this morning.  The creeks and streams were flowing and washing away what little snow did remain in the town (though in the immediately-outlying areas there was still a lot).  All the paths I had walked the day before that overlooked snowy and icy ditches were now running beside (and often across) small creeks and larger rivers.  It seems every road and building had water flowing all around it – the whole town had meltwater runoff flowing through it.  It occurred to me later that every town would be like this if we hadn’t long ago forced our creeks and streams into underground pipes – an option not available in permafrost, or at least not without significant cost.

Following the directions given to me by the info centre, I headed to the path to Apex, a nearby suburb that was the original town site and contains some old buildings.  On the way, I passed by the breakwater and dock, so I took a walk out to the end. I’m glad I did – this gives an excellent vantage point to see the town skyline all at once, as well as a great view of the bay and harbour.

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The Iqaluit end of the path to Apex starts immediately beside the local cemetery, where the plots are actually set above the ground because of the permafrost – each grave has a little mound of dirt and grass in front of it.  I found the trailhead and began my walk, trying to convince myself that the bones strewn about where those of seals and other wild animals that had been brought inland by the ravens.  I never did fully convince myself.

The path, while generally marked clearly and fairly level, was difficult to navigate on account of the melting snow.  It meant hopping over puddles and trying to stick to the rocky bits.  I got about five or ten minutes down the still-mostly-snowy path and came to a viewing platform that looks out over the bay.  Unfortunately, the trail sort of ended here – the snow was still almost a metre deep after this, and since it was melting it was in no way stable to walk on top of.

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So, I headed back the way I came – there is a road that leads to Apex too, but it’s a less scenic route.  I got about three quarters of the way back to the road when I stepped on a patch of slushy snow and fell straight through… up to my knee!  And this wasn’t just slushy snow – it appears the snow was sitting on top of a small stream.  Becoming rapidly cold and wet, I got my right leg out no trouble, but my left leg was stuck in, as if by a vacuum (which I suppose is possible given that I fell straight in and slushy snow immediately caved in all around my leg.  After a terrifying minute or two I was able to dig myself out, but I was at this point drenched.  I only have one pair of shoes with me, and my pant legs were soaked up to the knee, so instead of continuing to Apex, I headed back to the hotel on the road.  I spent quite a bit of time wringing out my socks, gloves, and shoes – my left shoe actually had a puddle of water in it even after the walk back.

My plan had been to spend the morning walking to Apex and back, and then after lunch head to the museum for a bit. Since it was already so late I just grabbed lunch from the convenience store in my hotel and ate it in my room to give my shoes some time to dry. I decided to hit the museum next, then go to Apex in the evening (it never actually gets dark here, and there was nothing in Apex that required going during business hours).

I headed to the Nunatta Sunakkutaangit Museum, which is right next door to the information centre.  I had expected it to be a bit more comprehensive as a museum (I hadn’t yet realised the information centre served a large portion of what I thought was the purpose of this museum – history and culture).  But what was there was a treat.  This museum was primarily full of art, with a couple of other miscellaneous artifacts thrown in. The main room on the ground floor has a bunch of historical items, including some magnificent whale bone sculptures and various other crafts and practical items related to Inuit and Northern life.  There were a couple of side rooms with modern artworks, mostly paintings and drawings.

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But upstairs was a real delight.  Lining the walls in display cases was the most exquisite collection of Inuit carvings I’ve ever seen.  And not the kitschy tourist crap you can buy in stores across Canada, much of which is actually made in China.  These pieces were so beautiful – mostly from the last century or so, they had carvings of various types of stone, whale bone, and other materials that were so beautiful (the photos don’t really do any of it justice).  And as an added bonus, on a table in the middle of the room was a collection of very old photos in binders – I skimmed through a handful of these and they give such a personal glimpse into life in Nunavut over the last hundred years.  I do hope they scan these materials and make them available to everyone at some point, as they were so intriguing.

After buying a caribou antler keychain (carved and polished into an inuksuk shape) in the museum’s gift shop (which is overflowing with locally-produced art, both traditional and modern), I made attempt number two at heading to Apex. Fortunately this time I made it.  It’s a long walk along the road to get to Apex, past a couple of local schools and a gas station, as well as a bunch of private homes and some open hilly areas.

I opted against going into the town itself, which is mostly just private homes and a couple of churches, and headed instead for the collection of old HBC (Hudson’s Bay Company) buildings by the waterfront.  I walked along the sandy beach (which, up against a frozen ocean, was very strange to me) and took in the small collection of buildings, which still have original signage from when HBC set up its business in the 20th century.  You can’t go in any of them, unfortunately, but they’re nice to look at from the outside.  This is also a really good place to get a good look at the bay and the nearby islands (there are a few points in the walk to Apex that give great views as well).  I sat on a picnic table for a bit just taking it in before calling it a day and heading back to the hotel… with a brief pitstop at the shawarma place for a delicious falafel sandwich of course!

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Thursday was like Tuesday again – the winds had once again changed and everything was cold again.  The rivers and streams were still flowing, but now with much less volume.  I had only one thing planned – Sylvia Grinnell Territorial Park.

Before I headed out, though, I firmed up plans with someone I met on Scruff (a gay dating/meetup app).  A related point on this – gay dating apps and sites are rather interesting up here (and in all remote places, but Iqaluit in particular).  Location can’t (easily) be faked on mobile apps like Grindr or Scruff, and smartphones are not compatible with the mobile network up here, so there are very few users.  Those that do exist are mostly using iPod touches on their home Wi-Fi networks.  I found only one other Grindr user in Iqaluit, the next nearest was at a US Air Force base in Greenland, followed by two Newfoundlanders and then a whole lot of people near the St. Lawrence River in Quebec (this last group was primarily under 25, which is atypical – I’d be curious to learn about the dynamic in that community!).  Scruff had more local users – seven or eight of them.  Of particular note is Manhunt, which does have a mobile app but is primarily web-based, and users set their own location.  It is apparently a very common thing to “park” one’s Manhunt account in Iqaluit (or Alert) as a way of keeping the account active without being findable in the area you’re actually in.  The first question anyone on Manhunt asked me was “are you actually in Iqaluit or are you just parking your profile?”  It is such a pervasive problem that this is more important than anything else you could ask on a dating or hookup site.  The lesson here: guys, don’t “park” your accounts in other places; you’re fucking with what little connection the queer communities up here have!

Anyways, back to Thursday.  The only information I had on Sylvia Grinnell Territorial Park was that there were some easy / short walking trails and a river with some waterfalls.  Apparently the waterfalls depend on the tide – when it’s in they’re just rapids, when it’s out, they’re falls.

I took the long walk there, along a dirt road.  The road, which is well-travelled so each passing car blows dust in your face, goes past the airport and the dump and seemingly towards nowhere.  Fortunately, the park is well signposted, all the way from downtown. The road to each of the two parking lots was plowed, but of course the rest of the park was still covered in snow.  However, since it was colder out, and the snow was more heavily packed (and at a higher altitude), I had no repeats of falling through it.

I got to the observation lookout near the South trailhead for the main trail that goes along the river.  I was glad I made the trek – a beautiful blue river, still mostly icy but slowly breaking up, was laid out in front of me.  I wandered around this part of the trail for a bit, and climbed to the top of the (very small) peak to get a better view.  Eventually the cold and wind got to me, so I moved on.  I followed the road to the North trailhead (the trail itself was deeply buried in snow), and had another amazing perspective on the bright blue river.  Of course, there were no waterfalls – the river was too frozen for this.  But it was still beautiful.  I recommend going later in the summer when you can actually get a closer look at the river, as it was a lot of trekking for only a small peek.

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At this point I was very cold so I gave up on any more exploring (the wind was intense, and there wasn’t really much else to see) and I headed back to the hotel to defrost and grab a bite for lunch.  I rapidly realised I had nothing else to do in Iqaluit (except my evening plans with the guy from Scruff) and 24 hours remaining!  I hung out in the room while I ate lunch, and then went for another walk around town, stopping at the North Mart to discover that it was significantly cheaper than Arctic Ventures where I’d shopped earlier – oops.  I also stopped briefly at Nunavut Arctic College again, where I had stopped earlier in the week, to take a closer look at some of the sculptures and statues that surround their small building downtown – they have some really nice artwork on display outside the building and it’s worth checking out if you visit Iqaluit.  This particular work was outside their location near the post office, though the other locations have some works as well.

I had a quiet dinner in the hotel room, then met up for a drink with the local I met on Scruff, because… well, actually I have no idea why. Maybe because he asked nicely and I had nothing better to do.  He showed me around town (I had seen most of it but he had some local insight which was interesting) and we sat in the bar and chatted for awhile, which was nice.

My last day, I had a few hours to kill before my flight, so took a brief wander around town and ate at the aforementioned deli before catching my flight to Toronto, via Kuujjuaq and Montreal – a long day, but one which affords more beautiful views from the plane.  And that was it – my brief visit to Iqaluit complete.  I’m not sure what adventure awaits me next, but only time will tell!

More photos are, as always, on Flickr – the Nunavut set is here.

Trilingual stop sign #iqaluit

Travel Blog – Northwest Territories Part 4 – Fort Providence back to Yellowknife

This is part 4 of my travel blog from my trip to the Northwest Territories. Part 3 is here, and this is the final entry (though I will post one about my subsequent trip to Nunavut shortly).  These were written en route and are being posted on a few week delay.

Friday I hopped in the car, grabbed some gas and some food in Fort Providence, and headed back to Yellowknife (which, incidentally, is a remarkably boring drive).  I got to Yellowknife in the early afternoon, checked into the hotel, and went for a walk downtown to pick up a couple of things. I also stopped in the two indoor shopping centres, which both had some basic essentials but were otherwise kind of sad… they reminded me of Jackson Square in Hamilton, Ontario, from about ten years ago – a number of empty stores, and interiors that haven’t been updated in decades.  But I had a really delicious coffee in the lower level of the YK Centre, which totally brightened my day.

After wandering back to the hotel, I took a walk through Old Town and Latham Island which both have a bunch of older buildings with notable histories.  Old Town is also home to Pilots Monument, at the top of a big hill aptly named “The Rock.”  This has an amazing view of both the city and the lake – and is easily accessible with a set of wooden stairs.  After taking way too many photos I went hunting for Wildcat Café, which is cited in every guide as the place that you must go to eat, just for the experience… the wooden building is eighty years old.  Unfortunately, it was closed – it closed two years ago for restoration (it was, apparently, in very poor condition) and is slated for re-opening sometime this summer.

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I had one other restaurant destination, though, so I ended up at Bullock Bistro.  This is another place not to be missed… The service is very personal but also very nonchalant – it’s part of the charm.  There are bumper stickers all over the walls and signatures and business cards on the ceiling.  I noted quite a few Australian stickers, as well as queer-friendly slogans, so felt pretty comfortable.  I was told to grab a seat at the bar and the menu was told to me rather than provided on paper – they have a menu that depends on whatever meat is available at the time, and today it was three different types of fish… I chose the Arctic char which was an excellent choice.  One of the best fish dishes I’ve ever had – it came with a side of fries and salad.  Of course, since there was no menu, I had no idea how much the bill would be (though I feared the worst)… it ended up being about $50 including a drink – but totally worth it!

By Saturday, I realised I had remarkably little to do, so I divided things up between the remaining two days.  Saturday morning I went to the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre (basically the NWT Museum), which I once again discovered I had completely to myself.  There were a bunch of interesting exhibits about the territory’s history, as well as some of its animal inhabitants, and a history of transportation in the territory.

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After some souvenir shopping and exploring the small handful of shopping malls in the downtown, I set out for a walk along the hiking trail around Frame Lake, which lies between the legislature building and the airport (it’s a small city, and the airport is theoretically walkable from downtown).  It took a couple of hours to get all the way around, and despite the unexpected heat, and the expected but still annoying clouds of mosquitoes, there were a number of great views along the way.

I stopped into my hotel for a bit to shower and cool off, and then grabbed dinner at a Vietnamese restaurant (though the food was mostly Chinese) near the hotel.  Having not much else to do, and being tired, I rested in the hotel for a bit, but did head back out to Frame Lake to get a view of the sunset.

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Sunday, I had only one thing left to do in Yellowknife: the legislature.  The website was unclear – one page (not linked anywhere on the homepage) suggested Sunday tours took place at 10:30 am in the summer (defined as starting on June 1 – I was there on June 2), another (linked from the homepage) said tours only take place Monday-Friday.  Since nowhere said tours took place on Saturday I had planned to go on Sunday – all sources said that self-guided tours were allowed any time the building was open anyway.  I had asked on Saturday at the information centre and they knew nothing more than what the website said.

So I went at 10:15 anyway, just in case – and arrived to signs on the door explaining that from June-August Sunday tours take place at 1:30 pm.  The only person in the NWT legislature on the weekends (other than, I think, one or two MLAs working in back offices somewhere – there were a few cars parked out front) is a security guard, so I went in and asked and he confirmed the time.  Great!  I grabbed lunch at the only place I could find open on a Sunday (Boston Pizza), and then came back to the legislature for 1:15 or so.

The tour guide had grown up in Yellowknife and was home for the summer from school in Ottawa.  She was so friendly and chatty and had so much information! Not surprisingly, I was the only one there and a got a personal tour of the building!  I learned about the history of the legislature and its location (it was originally based in Ottawa, then for a number of years it would meet in community centres and hotels around the territory, until the legislative building was built in 1993).  The tour also included information about the territorial mace (the original was made in part from a narwhal tusk!), the coat of arms, and other territorial symbols as well as a bunch of the artwork on display in the building.  It ends in the legislative chamber itself, which has a complete polar bear fur right in the middle of it along with numerous pieces of culturally and historically significant furniture.  I learned a little bit about the consensus government model (there are no parties in the NWT, and the premier and speaker are elected by the MLAs in a secret ballot), and some of the logistics of the legislature of a territory with 11 official languages.  The whole tour lasted less than an hour but was so interesting and informative! If you ever visit Yellowknife, it’s worth going!

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For some reason it had gotten really cold out so I headed back to the hotel to throw on an extra layer of clothes.  Having not much else to do, I hung out in the hotel a bit and then went for a walk – after less than an hour I was much too cold so stopped for dinner and called it a night.  I had plenty of re-packing to do for the next part of the trip, in Iqaluit, anyway!

For photos, check out my Northwest Territories set on Flickr.

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