Coast To Coast To Coast

After a few days in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, I awoke Wednesday morning around 5:00 am to board a tiny but glorified lawn dart on my way to Rigolet. Because I had an early flight, I spent most of the night waking up in a small panic worrying that I was going to sleep through my alarm. Fortunately, that didn’t happen.

Despite being warned that fog had formed the morning of my flight along the Labradorian coast, the trip to Rigolet was neither delayed nor terribly eventful. Instead, I found myself spending much of my time between attempting to decipher the various gauges and switches that adorned the flight panel in the cockpit and staring out the window at the ground and water below. Whether it was the drone of the engines or the comfort that came from watching the land roll by below, I found myself happily lost in thought. In what was likely a brief moment in time, I found myself reflecting on past trips to this corner of the world, and smiling because I know I would never have had the precognition to have predicted my current life if anyone pressed me to describe where I’d be and what I’d be doing even 5 years ago.

As we began our descent into Rigolet, the exhaustion brought on from a night of interrupted sleep began to take hold. I yawned and sipped the remains of the coffee I’d purchased about an hour before in the Goose Bay airport, deciding to promptly nap as soon as I arrived at the Sinittavik B&B.

All sense of exhaustion quickly dissipated as soon as I stepped off the plane. The sky was clear and bright, and suddenly I was fully awake. Sandi welcomed me with a giant hug, and before too long we were off to the B&B. I stepped inside and dropped my bags in my assigned room, taking in my now familiar home away from home. I opted not to sit too long, however, as I wanted to head down to the dock. On the flight in I spotted the Polar Prince floating just off the shores of Rigolet, and I knew that Inez would be down at the dock waiting for the arrival of the Canada C3 expedition team. For those not in the know, the Canada C3 expedition is sailing around Canada in 150 days – coast to coast to coast – to celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday, and to highlight the diversity of the land and people who have called Canada home for far longer than 150 years.

I met up with Inez a few minutes before the first of the C3 team made their way from the Polar Prince to the dock. Introductions were made as they were formally welcomed to Rigolet, and soon the place was buzzing with people from all walks of life and all corners of the country. This included a team of professional photographers and filmmakers, at least one writer, a group of scientists, a school principal (who just so happens to be a 1997 UofG Zoology alum), the local MPP Yvonne Jones, Olympic gold medalist Adam van Koeverden, and Fred Penner, to name a few. Because where else would one expect to meet this band of Canadians, other than Rigolet?

After settling in, the C3 team made their way to walk the Rigolet boardwalk. While I was initially going to join them – because I very much wanted to chat with Adam about that gold medal of his – I returned to the dock partially to avoid the swarms of black flies that were feasting on my scalp, but also because I was going to help Inez out with setting up for lunch in the community centre. Of course, when I met back up with her she asked if I wanted to tour the Polar Prince instead.

And so within minutes, I was crossing the water to tour the C3 expedition’s home. The ship – once an active ice breaker – is now a giant floating Canadian flag. And despite its utilitarian design, it feels comfortable and cozy. Rooms are adorned with indigenous art and scenes from across the country. Everywhere you look are signs of Canadiana, and an overwhelming sense of you are welcome here. Of course, the ship isn’t all about celebrating the successes of our country. It’s also about reflecting on where we as a country have failed in the past, where we are still failing now, and who we want to be in the future. This is particularly evident in the Legacy room that has been designed to celebrate the Indigenous Peoples of Canada, but also to remind us of their unfair and unjust treatment through colonization, and their continued mistreatment today. But more than that, it serves as a space for communication and exploring how we can be better as a country by listening to the voices of so many people in our country who have remained unheard. As I returned to land, I couldn’t help but feel spoiled and a little overwhelmed that I got to experience even this small sample of what the C3 team will share during their 150-day voyage.

Following an incredible lunch of salmon cakes and deep fried dough with rhubarb jam and red berry jam, we made our way from the community centre back towards the dock where much of the community shared in a game of road hockey. It was cliche and Canadiana through-and-through, and it was absolutely perfect. I spent some time watching the chaos of the match, enjoying the happiness that was painted on everyone’s faces and marvelling at how much hockey truly is our game.

At some point, however, I got distracted when I noticed that Adam van Koeverden had jumped into the water to help Kenny, one of the locals, dislodge his boat that had gotten stuck against the rocks as he was attempting to bring his catch to shore. I couldn’t help but shiver imagining how chilly the water must have been. Adam, however, seemed unphased by it all. I’m guessing he must be accustomed to training in cold water, or he’s some sort of super hero in disguise as an Olympic gold medalist.

What followed was something that I will never forget. Once Kenny was safely dislodged from the rocks, he docked his boat and came ashore to clean a freshly caught seal. While I’ve been coming to Rigolet for several years now and have been fortunate enough to try seal meat, I’ve never witnessed the aftermath of a catch, or the skill required to expertly harvest the skin, organs, and meat. I watched as Kenny carefully washed the skin in the cold waves, and was transfixed by the colour of the blood as it mixed with the salt water. At once he worked quickly and delicately, carefully preserving the skin (which will be used to make clothing) and preventing damage to the organs. Along the way he gave us an anatomy lesson, pointing out the heart and liver and kidneys. He offered us a small slice of the liver to try, and while not everyone took part, it was slightly warmer than I imagined it would be given the chilly temperature of the water. It also tasted as one might expect liver and blood to taste. It was an incredible experience, and I felt fortunate and humbled to be able to witness such an important part of the culture of Rigolet.

With that my day came to an end. I returned to the B&B incredibly happy and overwhelmed by the experiences of the day. And as I crawled into bed that night, I couldn’t help but reflect on the day and remind myself how lucky I have been and continue to be to be able to work with the beautiful people who call Rigolet home.

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