September 4, 2020

Fat Bear Week is almost upon us. Plus, the first day of classes at Yukon University, surviving four nights stranded on the sea ice, and an ode to Bruno’s Pizza in Yellowknife. All in this week’s Up Here newsletter.

Salmon dinner in Alaska. Photo by Katmai National Park & Preserve (via Facebook)


It's been a long week and there's a long weekend ahead, so I'm just going to jump right into things...

But first! Here's another reminder about our 2021 northern calendar. If you’re a northern photographer—professional or amateur—we’ll pay you $250 per photo selected. Send any pic or questions to before October 2.

OK, now onto the news...

Thanks for reading,
Jacob Boon 


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Lots of bear news this week.

Firstly, it's almost that special time of year again. Yes, if fall is just around the corner then that means Fat Bear Week is comin’. “The bears are ready. Are you?” teases Katmai National Park and Preserve’s Facebook page about the wildly popular annual event. There’s already a strong contender in the Alaskan wildlife preserve who could take the crown from reigning champion Holly. Bear 747 has grown so large that
he’s having trouble walking up riverbanks.

“The bears are extremely fat for this time of year,”
says Mike Fitz, resident naturalist, and former park ranger. Look, Mike, we're all trying our best these days. OK? But unlike me, it's not a global pandemic that has increased the bears' waistlines. Turns out there's been a “prodigious” run of tasty salmon this year.

Which is odd, as the salmon are getting smaller. The average size of Chinook salmon in the Arctic, Yukon, and Alaska is, on average, 10 per cent smaller now than it was before 1990. Some specific populations have seen fish sizes decrease by as much as 20 per cent. Climate change and ocean competition from high abundances of wild and hatchery-enhanced salmon, seem to be the culprit.

Back to the bears. Eric Anoee Jr. has some Inuit wisdom for you: “Don’t talk about wanting to see a bear, otherwise, you’ll see one too close.” It’s believed by Inuit that bears can listen to you if you talk about wanting to see one, he tweets. That was actually true of ancient Germanic peoples, too. Saying the animal’s name was a taboo, so much so that the word “bear” is actually a euphemism, meaning either “brown” or “wild” creature.

It’s interesting that it took human societies moving away from nature, and the omnipresent threat of a bear attack, to begin thinking of these dangerous creatures as cute and cuddly. And it doesn’t take much for that conception to be shattered. Yellowknife artist Jen Walden was recently surprised by a black bear not four feet away from her while she was painting on the shores of Great Slave Lake. It was an amazing experience,
she tells CBC, to be so close to this animal during a quiet evening at sunset. But... “At the same time, it was quite an adrenaline rush that will be imprinted in my brain forever.” Or look to Longyearbyen, Norway, where this past week a polar bear killed a Dutch resident at a camp just outside town.

The old rhyme for handling a bear attack advises, “If it’s black, fight back. If it’s brown, lay down. If it’s white, good night.” Because you’re not outrunning or outfighting a polar bear. But the NY Post has another suggestion:
Get naked.

“Back away (slowly at first), while peeling off your clothes one item at a time. The bears are very curious so they should stop, sniff, and perhaps play with each item as they come across it, leaving you free to run somewhere across the Arctic buck naked. Until they catch up with you, of course. Or you die of exposure. Either way—what an experience!” Indeed. (Various)
Some past competitors at the Yukon Quest. (Photo by Chance Mclaren)
The Yukon Quest sled dog race has been cancelled for the upcoming year. Organizers had already decided earlier this summer to split the gruelling 1,600-kilometre race between Fairbanks and Whitehorse into two separate competitions—one in Alaska and one in the Yukon. But with travel restrictions still a priority, the event’s 38th year has now been cancelled outright. (CBC)

Meltwater from shrinking glaciers is creating vast new glacial lakes that come with the risk of “gargantuan floods,” say researchers. The amount of water in glacial lakes has jumped by 50 per cent globally since 1990. (
The Canadian Press)

The proposed ban on heavy fuel oils in Arctic waters leaks like a sieve. An alliance of environmental organizations says the proposed plan by the International Maritime Organization contains “outrageous” waivers and dangerous loopholes. If the ban had been in place last year off of Canada’s Arctic, the use of HFOs in those waters would only have decreased by seven per cent. (

Despite efforts to increase the number of Indigenous people working for the government of the Northwest Territories, the percentage of Indigenous employees in the public service has remained at approximately 30 per cent for more than 40 years: “This is well below the 50 per cent target.” (

Frustrated by the federal government's inability to end Nunavut's longstanding housing crisis, the territory’s MP is on the fence about running for re-election. Mumilaaq Qaqqaq has spent the past few weeks on a tour of the “mould boxes” that Nunavummiut in eight communities have to live in. It’s had an impact. “This is not a fun job. It’s not fun to continuously be trying to justify why our lives as Inuit matter just as much as anyone else’s.” (
Nunavut News)

It was the first day of classes at Yukon University this week and, oops, the sub-Arctic university’s Whitehorse campus had to shut down almost immediately because two students didn’t self-isolate after crossing the territorial border. (

Say goodbye to Whale Cove’s old Anglican church. The building, which was moved by dog team in the 1950s from Tavani, has been in a state of disrepair for years and was finally demolished this week. (
Nunavut News)

Speaking of the Anglican Church, Reverend Mike Gardener was a preacher and officiant in Nunavut for more than 50 years. Now, he’s published a new memoir of his career, Called to the Arctic: the Memoirs of the Rev. Mike Gardener. (

In other book news, the new graphic novel How I Survived: Four Nights on the Ice from Inhabit Media tells the story of narrator/protagonist Serapio Ittusardjuat and how he made it home alive after his snowmobile broke down halfway across the sea ice on a trip home from a fishing camp. (
Quill and Quire)

Canada’s last remaining wild fur auction shows signs of an industry willing to adapt to survive, reports John Last. “Evolve or die,” says the CEO of the North Bay, Ontario Fur Harvesters Auction. Meanwhile, trappers in the Yukon seem to be turning to local artisans to buy their pelts, creating a local economy out of what's largely been until now an international market of fur buyers. (

Well-known Yellowknife musician Carmen Braden has penned a love song to well-known Yellowknife eatery Bruno’s Pizza. “It's always been there ever since I could remember,” Braden tells CBC’s Kirsten Fenn. “It’s always been in my neighbourhood… It's like part of the furniture.” (

Condolences to the family and friends of
William Andrew Spaulding, who passed away last week in Yellowknife. Spaulding was a longtime resident of the North who helped construct such log buildings as the restored Wildcat Cafe, served as a board member for Ecology North, and was one of the founders of the Dog Island Floating Film Society. (Globe and Mail)
Iguigig, Alaska, and its runway, during the day. (Photo by Igiugig Village)


The runway lights were out in Iguigig, Alaska when the medical evac plane needed to land to save the life of a local child. So residents from the tiny town of 70 people assembled their cars and four-wheelers, using headlights to light the way for the plane to land safely. (CNN)

The United Nations is calling for an investigation into Donald Trump’s plan to lease Alaska refuge lands for oil and gas drilling, saying the president’s policy violates the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination because of its impact on northern Gwich’in. (

The next great whiskey might hail from the Faroe Islands. A new distillery, called Faer, is crowdfunding its launch. “Founders’ Club” members who fork over 200 Euros will receive three bottles of booze: “A gin infused with Faroese seaweed, a single malt new make spirit with a cube of carefully selected oak for home maturation, and a three-year-old whiskey that’ll be ready in, well, three years.” (Inside Hook)
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