I was back home in Inuvik this summer and I took the opportunity to drive to Tuk for the first time. It always hits close to the bone whenever I am there.
The first time I went to Tuk, I was 12 years old. We were whaling at East Whitefish Station at the mouth of the Mackenzie River when we ran out of supplies. My dad had a whaling partner named James who had a little blue fibreglass speedboat with a 50 horsepower Mercury kicker that moved like a mustang on steroids. We made the 45-minute crossing of the Beaufort Sea in a blistering 25 minutes. I was standing the whole way, excited to be in James’ boat and at the thought of seeing Tuk for the first time. I wasn’t disappointed, as James bought me a bag of chips and a pop at The Bay.
A couple of years later, me and my two sisters, Delma and Judy, flew to Tuk on Northwards Airlines for $30 return. My sisters were spending time with their boyfriends and I was busy playing street hockey with my cousins. It was a fun weekend until we got blowed in. (Blizzard, wind-bound, snow-storm.) The storm lasted all week and I got bored hanging around Tuk while everybody was in school. I remember going to Anderson’s Store and racking up about 20 free games on a pinball machine until I got kicked out. Uncle Johnny was getting tired of us complaining about having nothing to do, so he gave me the keys to his car and said to go for a ride. I could barely see over the dash, but I knew how to drive from watching my dad. Still, I took a corner too quick and wiped out a bunch of garbage barrels. Uncle Johnny just shook his head when I brought back his old Impala with a fresh dent in the door.
When I turned 18, I got a job in Tuk during the oil boom years. We used to fly in and out of Tuk from Inuvik on a two-weeks-in-one-week-out rotation. I was working for legendary dog musher Peter Norberg, who was my mom’s cousin. He didn’t give a damn if we were related or not though. He was trying to teach me how to run a front end loader and he would swear a blue streak from Tuk to Tijuana. His cursing must have helped because, by the end of the first week, I wasn’t putting the forks through any more sea cans or bouncing loads of dynamite off the forks anymore.
Driving to Tuk was a whole different ball of wax though. We used to skidoo back that way to Husky Lakes to fish and hunt caribou, so I kinda knew the area. One time, me and my two cousins, Hans and Din, got lost while hunting in the area. We’d been chasing a herd of caribou through the hills and ended up in some unfamiliar territory. By the time we’d finished butchering our kill, it had gotten dark and we couldn’t see our landmarks anymore. I asked them if they wanted to just give up and die right on the spot, or try to make it home. We voted to live and try to make it home. Even though Hans was more experienced travelling on the open tundra, he looked at me for direction. There was just a sprinkling of light coming from the west, where the sun had set. I knew the Mackenzie Delta was to the west of us and if we just headed in that direction we would end up somewhere along the East Branch. Sure enough, about 90 minutes later, we crested a hill which dropped off down into the East Branch.
We spent all afternoon driving around and visiting old family friends. At one point, I was walking across the road from where we were visiting to see an old buddy when a tourist stopped me and asked me if I knew where to buy any arts and crafts for souvenirs. He said they’d been everywhere in town and were desperate to bring something back from the North. I told him to wait right there and I’d be right back. I ran into Billy’s house and, after a quick greeting, told him about the tourists outside his door looking for souvenirs. Billy had an old snow globe with an igloo inside and the word “Tuktoyuktuk” written on the base.
“What about this?” he said. So I brought it out to the tourists who offered to pay $60 for it. I brought Billy the three 20s and he gave me one for commission. We’re thinking of going into business next summer. If anyone knows where to order those snow globes from, Facebook me.