Next Stop: Old Crow

It was 8 a.m. My wife Melinda, our two-year-old daughter Emily, and I were at the Whitehorse airport terminal waiting for an Air North flight headed for Old Crow.

Melinda is a nurse and was offered a one-year term running the Old Crow health centre. She accepted the offer and soon we had rented out our newly bought home in Whitehorse and were on our way.

An attendant for Air North told us the flight was “unsecure” and that we wouldn’t need to go through security. We, with a hand full of other people, were waiting for what seemed like forever, which unnerved Melinda a bit. We were so used to flying under strict security that it seemed odd not to be prodded and poked a little. If I had known I wasn’t going through security I would have brought juice, just for the joy of having my own liquid.

After 40 minutes of waiting we all were led outside onto a half-cargo, 28-person plane. The seats were small, uncomfortable, and cramped, but we were on our way. Bring on the muffins and coffee!

We had just started what I thought was the longest descent in airline history only to discover it was much too foggy to land at our first stop, Dawson City. Instead we flew past Dawson and Old Crow to land in Inuvik, NWT for a quick fuel stop, then try again on the way back.

I’m not a big airplane lavatory guy; for me it’s second only to going into one of those rest stop Porta Potties on the highway. But I had to go, and Inuvik was more than an hour away. I walked to the back, but found the flight attendant standing beside the bathroom door. Seeing her, it was apparent we weren’t the only ones who felt cramped. I think I would have had more space had I mailed myself to Old Crow.

With my bowels gurgling, I kind of winked at her and said, “duty calls.”

It was a terrible joke with an awkward acknowledgement that I was going to conduct lavatory business, while she stood behind a thin wall a few feet from me.

As I sat on the throne, the first thing I noticed was a 3-inch gap at the top of door. I froze solid with fear, because I’m not prone to getting that personal with an Air North flight attendant. I have no idea how I did it, but I literally willed what was inside me to reverse its course and become stationary. Later, I declined that third cup of coffee and bran muffin.

A few minutes later, the pilot spoke on the intercom saying something to the effect of, “We couldn’t land in Dawson due to fog, but we should have enough fuel to get to Inuvik. No, no we definitely have enough fuel.”

Of all the things you don’t want to hear on a flight, a pilot correcting himself about fuel consumption is at the top of the list.

We landed in Inuvik without a hitch, though. I’ve always wanted to go there — unfortunately the layover was only long enough for me to see the stuffed polar bear and the bathroom at the little airport terminal. However, I did notice a busy little restaurant that smelled of delicious barbecue.

The flight was now heading back to Whitehorse with its first stop being Old Crow. Because we didn’t land in Dawson and bypassed Old Crow on the way up, the plane felt like a crowded elevator. I really hoped they could land in Old Crow.

Luckily, we did. It was quite a landing, though, because it was a windy day and I’m not used to a small plane weaving and bobbing like we were in some sort of dogfight.

The Old Crow terminal was small but cozy, and a good-natured, elderly man named Joseph, who represented the health centre, was there to escort us to our new home. Joseph turned to me and said, “I need your help to pick up your cargo.” I said “no problem,” since it was our stuff and I’m a hands-on kind of guy.

But then Joseph said, “Let’s get on my ski-doo and get the cargo from the plane.”

At that moment my face said, “Sure,” but my brain went “Dude! It’s -40°C with the wind chill and you’re wearing jeans and an old toque that’s thinner than a napkin.”

I didn’t want to look like a baby and let this nice gentleman do all the work, so off I went. The first two minutes were actually fairly warm; it was the other 25 minutes that stung like I was being repeatedly beaten with little clubs.

I had more than 20 items to pick up that day, including full crates of canned goods, a crib, and a change table with nothing but a ski-doo and an oversize sled to haul it with.

On our first trip to the health centre with our freight, my body and mind were screaming in freezing agony while I put up a tough front. I couldn’t help but think, “After six years of being in the North, freezing on a ski-doo in Old Crow must make me a full-fledged Yukoner.”

The second trip was equally agonizing, but I was able to man-up and get through it without losing any limbs. We got our items into our new apartment in the upper part of the health centre.

After I thawed out and caught my breath, I looked out my living room window, which showed an unhindered view of the Porcupine River and a blowing stream of snow. It was at that moment I realized, “holy smokes I’m living in Old Crow, there’s no turning back and I think it may be fun.”

Jason Westover is a newly arrived Old Crow-based freelance writer

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