April 3, 2020

A delusional Quebec couple flees to Old Crow. Plus, recording beluga whale soundscapes in the High Arctic, a lost continent is found in Baffin Island’s kimberlite and Iceland’s almost out of cocaine. All in this week’s Up Here newsletter.

Photographer Todd Mintz caught this walrus at the floe edge near Grise Fiord, Nunavut. (via Instagram)


So here's where we stand at Up Here. The May/June issue, which was scheduled to be sent to the printer today, has been put on hold indefinitely until the magazine and the North and the global economy can all recover from COVID-19. I imagine we'll have to make some adjustments to its contents before we do send it out the door, but it's largely finalized, proofed and ready to go. We'll adjust the rest of our 2020 production schedule to make up for the delay. 

The office here in Yellowknife is effectively shut down for the immediate future. I'll still be handling social media and putting out this newsletter, and maybe doing some blogging over on the website. 

On a personal note, last week I wrote "
Are you OK?" as the subject line of this newsletter and it was heartwarming that some of you took the time to reply and share how you and your family are doing. It's one of the reasons I want to continue writing this newsletter. I hope this offers something small to help you fill the long days until we're all able to see each other again in person.

Thanks for reading,
Jacob Boon 

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A Quebec couple sold all their possessions, drove to Whitehorse and flew north to Old Crow last week, all in a misguided attempt to escape COVID-19. The couple claimed they "had a dream" about where to go to avoid the pandemic. They showed up in the tiny fly-in community with no warning, no plan, no place to stay, no gloves, and no idea what they were doing.

“We were busy dealing with a life-altering pandemic, and this couple just strolls off the plane like cartoon characters,”
said chief Dana Tizya-Tramm

Officials in the Vuntut Gwitchin community quickly sent the couple packing, but the outrage continues over how southern Canadians could so callously put a northern Indigenous community (with one nurse and a single doctor who visits every few months) at incredible risk.

“We do not have the capacity to deal with a very robust outbreak of the COVID-19,” Tizya-Tramm later 
told Politico. “Our community, albeit remote, is not a life raft for the rest of the world.”

“I truly cannot comprehend the selfishness of some,”
tweets Kris Statnyk.

“I know this Quebec couple in the Arctic story has a quirky factor to it, but please realize Old Crow has a population of 300 because the population was reduced by almost 90 per cent during a pandemic introduced by Russians,” says

Expect to hear more stories of clueless 
white folks choosing remote communities to try and survive the impacts of coronavirus. It's cliché, but also sadly true, that whenever some societal doomsday scenario comes around survivalist weirdos look to the Arctic. It's literally the plot of the new Gerard Butler disaster flick, Greenland.

The North, in particular, is viewed by many Canadians as some sort of mystical refuge without any real inhabitants—a place of wide-open spaces where mankind can rebuild after society's collapse and humanity can live in harmony with nature or whatever. But the reality is that hundreds of lives and an irreplaceable community were endangered by two jerks from Quebec whose on-the-land skills are probably limited to Uber Eats delivery. 

There's nowhere to run from this virus. The North is not a safe haven for you. Stay home and don't put others at risk. (Various)
A conspiracy of ravens fights over food scraps left for an unimpressed sled dog in Iqaluit. (via @mac_visual)
Bootleggers are an old problem in the NWT. COVID-19 is a new worry. Indigenous leaders across the territory are imploring the bootleggers to stay away from their communities. (Cabin Radio)

Agnico Eagle has gone into
“lockdown” mode after a worker at its Rankin Inlet gold mine joked that there was no testing in place for contract employees and so “the coronavirus is ganna (sic) spreand (sic) all over Nunavut. LOL.” Now is the time to ask, says the Tyee, whether mining and petroleum workers are essential” or an “enormous risk.” (Various)

Spanish Flu shook Labrador Inuit for generations. I’m not sure we’re ready for COVID-19.” (Huffington Post)

Remembering Marilyn Hinchey, northern computer pioneer: “I’d sit there and speak plain English because I didn't know the technical talk, so I didn't scare the clients away. They figured, 'If this sort of middle-aged lady can understand this stuff then I can understand it.’” (

Whitehorse’s city council might spend half a million dollars to buy an empty house and then tear it down. (CBC)

“Tips for fighting boredom from polar explorers who survived months of isolation.” (PBS)

The summer soundscape of a beluga whale estuary in the Canadian Arctic. (Research Press)
A rainbow of shipping containers under the northern lights in Iqaluit. (via @juststunts)
Fragments of an ancient lost continent have been discovered in kimberlite samples from Baffin Island. (IFLScience)

Sleepwalking and hallucinations are just some of the perils faced on one Canadian’s Arctic journey in the world’s toughest footrace. (
Canadian Geographic)

Related satire: “Yukon athlete completes ambitious expedition to grocery store.” (

Speaking of Eva Holland (see above link), the author shares with Reader's Digest an excerpt from her new book, Nerve: A Personal Journey Through the Science of Fear, wherein she goes skydiving over Carcross. (
Reader’s Digest)

Thermal imaging from low-altitude drones turns out to be remarkably effective in identifying archeological sites in the Arctic. A case study in the Foxe Basin region detected several previously unidentified subsurface features. Researchers theorize it could also allow for the visualization of internal structures from long-ago buried Dorset dwellings. (
Journal of Archaeological Science)
Eric and Pam Bealer, quoting from Richard Bach in their suicide note, wrote: “Why, instead of suffering and fighting it, don’t people reach a time when they decide, ‘Done! We’ve finished everything we came to do. There are no mountains we haven’t pretty well climbed, nothing unlearned we wanted to learn, we’ve lived a nice life.’” (via Outside Magazine)


Artist Eric Bealer was living in remote coastal Alaska with his wife, Pam, an MS sufferer, when they made a dramatic decision: “To exit this world together, leaving behind precise instructions for whoever entered their cabin first.” Eva Holland investigates “the frontier couple who chose death over life apart.” (Outside Magazine)

I hope your day is going better than the person in Iceland who’s been infected by two different types of COVID-19. It’s interesting that genetic testing of the virus is allowing scientists to trace mutations geographically. One strain has come from those infected in Italy; one can be traced all the way to a soccer match in England. (

Coronavirus travel bans have also had an impact on black markets. Iceland, for one, is almost out of cocaine. (
Reykjavik Grapevine)

I have no idea what’s happening in this oddly translated story from Lødingen, Norway. It seems to be about a bus shelter that regularly floods with seawater? The auto-translated text, however, reads like poetry: “When the wind blows filled shower cubicle with seaweed and crabs—still no solution in sight” (

“Fat polar bear that is 190kg overweight gets unflattering nickname from locals” (
Daily Mirror)
The Arctic has acquired its first hole in the ozone layer. Scientists say the atmospheric thinning is a result of this past winter’s exceptionally strong polar vortex. (AAP)

On the same day an Arctic chess tournament was to be held in Murmansk, the local governor banned all international gatherings due to COVID-19 fears. The tournament continued, attended by political leaders, media and 100 young chess players—including one from Ireland who had coronavirus. How one small gathering has caused untold chaos in this northern Russian city. (
Barents Observer)

Remember the two women overwintering in remote Svalbard? Hilde Fålun Strøm and Sunniva Sorby were supposed to pack it up and head south to their families next month. Instead, due to COVID-19, the two women might be stuck in the High Arctic indefinitely. (Science News)

Too often Alaska is reduced to a colour prop of climate clichés, says this piece in the Columbia Journalism Review, all with little context and impact. “The basic story is, ‘We’re all going to die, but meanwhile here are some beautiful photos.’ We’ve heard this too many times,” says lifelong Alaskan reporter Julia O’Malley. “We are living in what to me feels like an emergency. We have to make stories that connect because they feel true and move people to see what we all have at stake, or we aren’t doing our jobs. I kind of think, right now, we aren’t doing our jobs.” (
Columbia Journalism Review)
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