March 22, 2019
This week, it's way too warm in the North, pigeons are a surprisingly rich financial investment and we trace a music genealogy of the NWT.

What's Happening Up Here

Two out of three editors in the bullpen have some late-winter/early-spring cold and I'm doing everything possible to avoid catching it myself.

In other staffing news, we welcome our new ad sales executive Maud Robinson Spence. Maud is a second-generation Yellowknifer, pastry chef, and recent dog adopter. We're all very excited to meet her terrier/husky mix, Henry

Hey! Seeing as how you're enjoying this newsletter so much, I just wanted to let you know that our 200th subscriber will receive a free subscription to the print edition of Up Here. At time of writing, we're only 10 names away. So tell your friends. 

As always, thanks for reading,
Jacob Boon



The hottest story this week was the unsettling heat wave breaking March temperature records across the North. The NWT hit 20 degrees in March for the time ever recorded. Fort Good Hope smashed its high-temperature benchmark by a full 16 degrees, while Fort Simpson was warmer on Monday than it normally is in May. It's not all sunshine, though. The warm weather has forced the daytime closure of Yellowknife's Snow Castle, canceled the Polar Pond Hockey Tournament in Hay River and is closing down essential ice road networks weeks earlier than expected. “I can’t speak for everyone, but this beautiful weather has me terrified,” tweets reporter Jimmy Thomson. (Up Here)

But what you really want to know is bad are the mosquitos going to be? Ollie Williams inquires with entomologists about what impact this week’s warm spell will have on the NWT’s annoying insect population. Turns out, not too much. Some mosquitos might be on the hunt for blood a little earlier, but they’ll also die off sooner. As far as nuisances go, that’s not so bad. Certainly, it’s preferable to, say, prolonged climate change awakening unknown pathogens which are then passed on to humans bit by mosquitos (also a growing concern for insect experts). (Cabin Radio

There’s no doubt climate change is affecting Northern communities, but a new study published this week shows that the changes in Inuit populations are more complex than researchers realized. Scientists looking at how Arctic residents navigate around their communities found that even while sea ice coverage has dramatically decreased over the past 30 years, trail access has only declined by a day or two. In fact, the number of days suitable for travel has actually gone up. Unfortunately, access to expensive boats for traversing open waters and the skilled knowledge needed for navigating land trails remains unsteady, say the study's authors. (Popular Science)

Development of a new vaccine to protect against bacterial infections in Northern communities is at a standstill, reports the Canadian Medical Association Journal. There are hundreds of HIA infections amongst infants and immunocompromised adults each year across the North, resulting in pneumonia, meningitis, and even death. Clinical trials on a vaccine were expected to begin this year, but southern researchers eager to drop into remote Inuit communities and conduct vague medical tests have been met with an understandable reluctance over the lack of Indigenous consultation. Mike Kirlew, a family physician in Sioux Lookout, says the larger issues are overcrowded housing, poor indoor air quality and limited access to clean water—all of which contribute to high rates of infectious diseases in the North. “You can’t just apply a vaccination and expect it to take away the problem.” (CMAJ)

Priscilla Hwang wraps up her series on the NWT’s stolen laptop data breach and comes up with five takeaways from the privacy botch. The unencrypted laptop, belonging to a Health and Social Services employee, was stolen from a locked vehicle in Ottawa last spring. It contained tens of thousands of health records and demographic information for patients from the territory and throughout Canada. Among the details Hwang uncovered from an Access to Information request was that the combo laptop/tablet wasn't encrypted because IT staff were unfamiliar with this particular model, so they just went ahead without it. The laptop is still missing. (CBC)

Forget ptarmigans, Norm Pottinger is the pigeon king of the North. The Yellowknifer has been raising—and racing—pigeons for decades. Aside from companionship, Pottinger also enters his feathered friends in competitions across the globe against other trained birds, with winners taking home prizes worth $500,000. Again, that's $500,000. Emily Blake has all the videos you need of Pottinger’s 100 pigeons at the link. (CBC)

Remember that horrific public toilet on the NWT border, overflowing with excrement? Well, the social media shaming (and some heated questioning in the territorial legislature) resulted in pledges for a sparkling clean outhouse. But Cabin Radio couldn't let it end there. The station decided to do some literal muck-raking by checking out several other government washrooms along the highways between Fort Smith and Yellowknife. Some passed with flying colours, “others exhibited deeply undesirable colours.” Check out the photos for yourself. (But why would you?) (Cabin Radio)


Stella Polaris is focusing on the Canadian market to sell its blood pressure medication, made from crushed up shrimp shells. Canada approved the sale of the Norwegian company's PreCardix product two years ago, but the pills still haven't been cleared for Europe's shelves. Arctic shrimp shells, which contain blood pressure regulating peptides, are part of the 60 per cent of a shrimp's body discarded by consumers before eating. (High North News

Mining companies in Nunavut are having trouble living up to some big promises about job opportunities for Inuit. Recall Nunatsiaq News reported two weeks ago that those workers could miss out on $1 billion in jobs at Baffin Island's Mary River mine if ratios don't improve. Several Inuit associations now say they hope new benefit agreements, increased training programs, and a growing mining sector will help the problem. (Canadian Press)

DID YOU KNOW...Axel Heiberg, one of Canada’s most northern islands, is home to a mummified forest? Trees flourished over 40 million years ago on the now mostly barren island, located in Nunavut’s Qikiqtaaluk Region. As the area cooled over time, the dry, cold Arctic air mummified the trees—some hundreds of years old—instead of petrifying them into stone fossils. 


A meteor blast over the Bering Sea was 10 times the size of Hiroshima—and went almost entirely unnoticed. The celestial object hit Earth’s atmosphere last December at 72,000 miles per hour, exploding 16 miles above Russia’s Kamchatka peninsula and releasing the energy equivalent of 173 kilotons of TNT. The remote location meant the explosion wasn’t immediately noticed. NASA’s planetary defence officer (good to have one of those) tells BBC that blasts of this size are expected only two or three times a century. “The Bering Sea event is another reminder that despite efforts to identify and track space rocks that could pose a threat to Earth, sizeable meteors can still arrive without warning,” says science editor Ian Sample. Comforting! (The Guardian)

Europe’s first underwater restaurant will also double as a marine research center—and aquatic ecosystem. Under is a half-sunken eatery located in Norway, with one side of the structure built into the coastline and the other resting against the seabed. The restaurant's owners say they plan to invite research teams to the swank locale to study the surrounding biodiversity. The restaurant will also eventually function as an artificial coral reef as limpets, kelp, and other underwater sealife begin adhering to its concrete shell. Under seats 30 to 40 guests nightly. Patrons can enjoy an immersive chef’s menu of “pure, naked flavours” for about $350 (wine pairings cost extra). (Colossal)

Search-and-rescue crews in Alaska are now using infrared cameras and an “augmented reality” mapping system to find people in minutes, rather than days. The $600,000 rescue system can pick up heat signatures of those lost and in distress, then overlays those images onto navigation information for the helicopter crew. Coupled with high-zoom cameras, it means rescue teams can fly at higher altitudes and spend less time surveying the ground. “With this, sometimes we can find them within minutes of coming into the area,” says tactical flight officer Zac Johnson. (CBC)

Wintering at Svalbard has been a lifelong dream of Hilde Fålun Strøm, and now the 51-year-old product manager will be the first woman ever to stay over at the Norwegian archipelago. Well, one of the first two women. Strøm will be joined for the nine-month stay in a 20-square metre trapper cabin by Norwegian-Canadian Sunniva Sørby, who was the first woman to ski to the South Pole. “Originally, my game plan was to go with my husband,” Strøm tells High North News. “Only after several years did I realize that it was not really his dream. So I thought, ‘Why not go there alone? Find out who Hilde really is when the going gets tough?’” (High North News)


Pat Braden used to sneak into Yellowknife bars like The Gallery and The Gold Range as a teenager to hear the rotating roster of musicians from across the North. Now, he’s interviewing many of those same bands for an oral history project, Musicians of the Midnight Sun, which recounts the music scene of the Northwest Territories from the birth of rock ’n’ roll in the 1950s—a time of change for both music and politics.

It was when the Indian Brotherhood of the Northwest Territories (known today as the Dene Nation) was asserting Indigenous rights and the Berger Inquiry energized an emerging environmental movement, writes Up Here editor Jeremy Warren. “This cultural dynamic seeped into the local music of songwriters like Ted Wesley, Bob Ruzicka, and Wilf Bean, who collaborated on songs like ‘James Bay Hydro-Electric Power Play’ and ‘Pipeline Promises’”

Rock out with some great archival photos and colourful anecdotes at the link, including a story about impromptu fiddle strings made from a lynx carcass. (Up Here)
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