Arctic Side Trips and Sideslips

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Arctic Side Trips and Sideslips

Posted on September 25 by Danielle Metcalfe-Chenail
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Standing in front of the giant map, I’m struck by the reach of the Mackenzie Delta. Flying overhead a few days earlier in an Air North Hawker Siddeley 748, I’d certainly noticed the expanse of water and earth. The tributaries and lakes, the dead ends where the water is trying to push into new territory; they had all caught my attention as I tried to memorize the topography of a foreign land. On the ground in Inuvik in the Northwest Territories, though, it’s easy to forget this place is more water than terra firma. Staring at the map tacked to the back wall of the Gwich’in Helicopters hangar, I’m reminded.

I’m learning more than just the physical geography of the region, however. My new friend and guide, Chris Lennie, stands next to me pointing out the trapper’s cabins, the old Dew Line sites, and other aviation markers. Chris is a young rotary and fixed-wing pilot who’s spent much of the last ten years working summers in and around Inuvik airport, and getting his ratings in Victoria and Toronto. Like about forty per cent of the people in Inuvik, Chris is also Inuvialuit, and as he talks, he points at different spots on the map – Sachs Harbour, Whitefish Station, Herschel Island – telling me the history and importance of these places to the peoples of the Delta. 

It’s his day off but he’s happy to show me the hangar and the company’s two helicopters as his boss, Chuck Grandy, washes the company pick-up truck between flights. Gwich’in, a partnership between Great Slave Helicopters and the Gwich’in Development Corporation, mostly runs charter operations for oil and gas companies, but they also tell stories of flying people to their trap lines, botulism mercy flights, and slinging out marooned aircraft.