'That's where we want to keep it.'
The lodge where time has stopped
BATHURST INLET – "Help us preserve a strong Inuit culture" reads the sign under the kayak that hangs from the living room wall inside Bathurst Inlet Lodge.
The lodge's display of Inuit artifacts, all registered with the Prince of Wales Heritage Centre in Yellowknife, includes common items such as ulus and scrapers as well as unique pieces – a bow and arrow set and a curved wooden stick used to pry carrot-like tubers called licorice roots out of the ground in the spring.
At the lodge's cultural evening held weekly during the summer season, Sam Kapolak, 49, tells guests about how each object was used. How else would they know that the wooden plug can stop up bullet holes in a seal?
His niece, Ovik Akoluk, 23, lights a qulliq as kids crowd around her to tend the wick.
Along with a fashion show of caribou clothing and demonstrations of drum dancing and Inuit games, the evening involves nearly everyone in Bathurst Inlet, including one-year-old Sanisha.
Sanisha shows how she rides in the amautik of her mother Bella Kapolak. Esker, a large white samoyed dog, wears a harness made for nursing sled dogs.
Colin Fraser, 31, the grandson of the Bathurst Inlet Lodge's founder, Glenn Warner, models a caribou-skin hunting parka made for Warner long ago by Bathurst Inlet's matriarch, Jessie Kapolak, now 82.
People who aren't actually part of the evening's program sit in the audience, watching and clapping.
The cultural evening reflects what Warner calls the "perfect partnership" between his family and the people of Bathurst Inlet, which has endured for nearly 40 years and spans five generations.
Everyone feels pride in owning the lodge, says 75-year-old Warner, an ex-Mountie, who says he fell in love with Bathurst Inlet when he first toured the area in the early 1960s.
When the Hudson Bay Co. and the Catholic Church wanted to sell their land and buildings, he and his wife Trish grabbed the opportunity.
Later, they sold half the lodge to the Kingaunmiut Ltd. , owned by the people of Bathurst Inlet or Kingaun, as it's called in Innuinaqtun.
Since 1969, the lodge has been open for a few weeks every summer where visitors spend their time out on the land, learning about Bathurst Inlet's plants, wildlife and people.
Little has changed from those early days. The lodge tries to hold time at bay, to the period after contact with Qallunaat, but before the culture and society had changed.
"This is phase one," says Warner. "That's where we want to keep it."
The lodge and church are painted the typical red and white colours of 40 years ago. Inside the lodge's main building, formerly the trading post, the orange rug and shag-covered pillows echo the 1960s.
Along with the period décor come representatives of Qallunaat who peopled the North during those years: the Mountie (Warner) and the minister (Jack Sperry, the former bishop of the Arctic, now retired).
Fluent in Innuinaqtun, Sperry, 84, lived in Coppermine, now known as Kugluktuk, during the 1950s and 1960s, travelling 3,000 kilometres a year throughout the Kitikmeot. He first came to Bathurst Inlet by dog team 50 years ago, holding services in the largest snow house around.
History remains Sperry's passion, even though he can no longer see well. Every summer he comes to the lodge where he holds an impromptu church service in the living room and speaks to guests about the North he remembers.
Sperry shares tales from the golden era when Inuit had some material comforts due to contact with the outside world, but no drugs, booze or depression.
During the week, Sperry and the Warners show slides from when Coppermine and Cambridge Bay were just a handful of houses and dog teams were still the preferred way to travel in the winter.
Their audience is comprised of guests who pay about $5,000 for a one-week stay at the lodge, not including the charter flight in from Yellowknife.
The daily routine includes trips around the inlet in a 40-foot by 16-foot pontoon boat with a honey bucket-equipped outhouse on board. It's nicknamed the "Blue Loo" and flies a Nunavut flag.
At each stop, naturalist Page Burt, a Rankin Inlet resident who has worked at the lodge for 30 years, talks about the area's plants and wildlife.
"We've been doing eco-tourism before there was even a word for it," she says.
Despite legions of mosquitoes, guests are drawn to the sweeping views across the inlet, the chance sighting of a bald eagle and carefully-supervised stops to visit remote sites where Inuit once lived.
For lodge guest Bill Tweed, a former national park ranger from California, the lodge captures the North as it was 40 years ago.
But this period was a transitory moment, notes Tweed, with lots of choices and change lying ahead.
New technology has already arrived: there's internet at the lodge and teenagers walk around with iPods.
In the future, the triple whammy of climate change, mining development and cripplingly high fuel costs may contribute to destroying the low-key, communal life at the lodge, Tweed says.
For now, the residents of Bathurst Inlet and the Warner family work together on everything from cooking to driving the boat to guiding visitors.
After 40 years of togetherness, the lives of the Warners, Kingaunmiut and long-time staffers like Burt and Sperry are intertwined.
They're attendants at each other's weddings and often exchange memories of the past, like the unexpected Bathurst Inlet birth of Bernice Kapolak 12 years ago (a doctor who was a guest at the lodge helped out).
All in all, 2008 has been a harder-than-average year for the lodge, with the cancellation of one large group due to rising fuel costs. The long-term stay of a mining exploration team balanced off the loss.
Soon, the lodge's windows will be boarded up, followed by the first frost and the staff can look forward to next summer, which will mark Bathurst Inlet Lodge's 40th year of operation.