Happily stranded in Rigolet

8 May 2013

View Source Article Here
By Sandra Phinney 

It’s shortly after 6 p.m. early in September. I’m walking on a 4.4 km (2.6 mi.) boardwalk along the coast in Rigolet, the oldest Inuit community in Labrador. This region is part of Nunatsiavut—“our beautiful land”—and is only accessible by ship or plane (dog sled and skidoos in the winter.) I’m going to meet Benoit Havard, owner of White Bear Adventures, here on a kayaking expedition.  

I had arrived in Rigolet early in the morning, having spent the night in a comfy berth on the Northern Ranger from Happy Valley-Goose Bay (a weekly service that sails up the coast of Labrador to Rigolet, Makkovik, Postville, Hopedale, Natuashish, Nain and back.) My plan was to visit the first four Nunatsiavut communities over a period of six days then fly back to Goose Bay. 

I had a full day ahead. That morning, Inuit women showed me how to make beaded jewellery and how to pleat moccasins (10 times harder than pulling a drawstring through to gather the toe.) I was hopeless, but gained an appreciation for the level of artistry involved.  

I ate lunch at The Grub Box, the only place to get hot food in the community. It has one small table, and does a brisk take-out business. My chicken burger was so good I had seconds. I smiled when I saw spark plugs listed at the end of the menu. Puts into perspective what’s important besides food in this part of the world.

After lunch, Martin Shiwak brought me scalloping in his small boat. We motored for about an hour, and dropped a home-made metal rig which filled with scallops after a short drag. Then we headed to shore to sort the catch, shuck scallops and eat some “au naturel.” We did this three times before returning to Rigolet. Parting, Martin gave me a bag full of shucked scallops. For supper, I seared a batch, then another, and another … until they were all gone. 

By the time I found myself on the boardwalk mentioned earlier, I was stuffed, so I welcomed walking a couple of kilometres to my rendezvous. Eventually, I spotted brightly coloured kayaks sitting on shore; Benoit’s campsite. 

After a round of introductions, he invited me to join him for supper which consisted of salmon and trout—stuffed with corn, green peppers and onions—cooked on top of flat rocks over a fire next to the shore. “Love to!” I blurted, not letting on I had just eaten. As dusk started to fall, and the fish sizzled on the rocks, a full moon seeped over the horizon. Simultaneously, minke whales surfaced. Locally called “grumpus,” they huffed and puffed their way around the harbour. I had to remind myself to breathe. An hour later we dined on fish so heavenly that I would not have been surprised to see a choir of angels float out of the forest. 

I retired to my room at the Sinittavik B&B. So ended day one in Nunatsiavut.  

If I told you that Days 2-6 were just as magical, you might think I was on some funny stuff—but it’s true. Mind you, there was a wee glitch. I never did get to Makkovik or Postville as planned. You see, the ferry didn’t show up two nights later for the 9 p.m. departure. Nor the next morning. Nor the next night. When it was evident that mechanical issues could tie things up for weeks, I decided to fly to Hopedale on Day five (see “…”And Up the coast,” at right in source article). 

Meanwhile, being stranded in Rigolet was a blast. You might wonder: What else is there to do in a wee community of 300 people? The answer is: plenty. For starters, I visited the Hudson Bay Company Net Loft Museum and the Lord Strathcona Interpretation Centre where volunteers love to share their history and culture. Rigolet is also famous for its “grass work” baskets, bowls and mats. At the craft shop, Jane Shiwak showed me how these are made from continuous coils of “goose grass.” 

And so it went—I wandered around, meeting folks like Florence Faulkner, the local garden guru (yes, you can grow vegetables in northern Labrador!) and Holman Campbell, a seasoned trapper and fine storyteller. After meeting Holman the first time, I was so smitten that I returned, and was offered an amazing meal of moose stew.

Speaking of hospitality, it was late when we heard that the ship was still AWOL and I couldn’t leave for the third night in a row. That part didn’t faze me, but the fact that I wouldn’t have bed was a bit disconcerting. (My room had previously been booked as I should have been in Postville by now.) “No problem,” says the owner, Sandi Michelin, “You can spend the night at my house.” Sweet.

The Inuktitut word for tourism is silakKijattisinik. It means “the place you go to enjoy yourselves.” It’s all about going with the flow in this big land.