The annual sealift has finally come and gone here in Baker Lake. The lake was busy the last couple of months with many cargo ships and barges coming and going through Chesterfield inlet to Baker Lake to bring in barges or also known as the sealift loaded with equipment, gear, fuel, supplies and goods needed for the year for both the community of Bake Lake and for the mining company, Agnico-Eagle Mines, located about 80 kilometres north of us.
The sealift is a vital link for many of the northern coastal communities in Canada, especially for those communities that can only get their supplies and goods via air or marine transportation. The sealift can take place between late June and late October depending on the ice conditions throughout the Northwest Passage. Many people in the communities take advantage of the sealift to ship up a year’s supply of household items, dried goods such as toilet paper, dog food or food, equipment or supplies like trucks, boats and building supplies that are too expensive and/or not very easy to obtain from the stores in the community. Unfortunately, in order to do a barge order you have to be willing to pay up front and put down a large sum of money to pay for it all. A sealift order can range from about $2000 (usually for one person or couple) to $6000 depending on what you bring up plus the shipping amount on top of that. Many homes also have an extra room that is aptly named the barge room where you would store all the supplies you bought for the year. Imagine having to have an extra room to store your annual supply of toilet paper! Some people bring up enough supplies to fill a seacan (or sea container) which than can be turned into a shed or storage unit next to their homes.
Sealift is definitely an annual tradition for us and we have done it very year since being up in the north except for this year. In order to do a sealift, you can use one of two methods. One method is to travel to one of the major cities such as Ottawa, Winnipeg, Edmonton or Richmond where you do your own shopping at the big store such as Costco, Wal-Mart, Ikea, Superstore and then work with one of the companies that would help package your goods, crate it and then transport it to the ships that would barge it to your community. Another method is to use one of the many businesses available that can help with putting together a barge order. Some of these companies include Sealift Express, I Shop 4U, Arctic Connection, Marché Daoust, Marché Turenne Inc. and many more!
When we did our first sealift order in Cambridge Bay, we used a company located in Hay River to order our barge supplies and we really had no idea what we were doing. I ordered from the form that they supplied and basically just checked off everything I thought we would need for the year. Really, how bad could it be? Well, once we received our order I realized just how much we ordered! It took us 3 years to get through the toilet paper and we still have many of the bags of beans that I got. Apparently, I thought we were going to make a lot of soups or chili dishes. Just too bad the chocolate covered almonds did not last as long! During our time in Cambridge Bay, the only company initially that would bring in barge orders to the western Arctic was the Northern Transportation Company Ltd (NTCL) located out of Hay River, NT and Richmond, BC as this was the only company that could ship from the west to the western Arctic due to the ice conditions. However, in 2008, NEAS, a shipping company out of Montreal, decided to attempt shipping from eastern Canada to the communities in the western Arctic. People were excited as this would bring in some competition between shipping companies and variety to the type of groceries one could order. But the biggest question was would NEAS be able to sail through the Northwest Passage without getting stuck or caught in the ice! Well, they were successful and have been successful ever since except for maybe this year as there is ice buildup in many areas making it difficult for the barges to get into some of the communities.
As we did not do a barge order this year (because we are planning on leaving early spring next year to start our sailing adventure), we will have to start putting the dogs on food rations as we are running low on dog food, and we in turn will have to come up with fancy meals that include lots of beans! Just kidding!! I’ll be travelling to Cambridge Bay in the next couple of weeks and will be able to pick up a few supplies including dog food in Yellowknife on my way back home. We also know a dog sled owner in Rankin Inlet that sells dog food and if we are really desperate we will buy dog food here in town but it is very expensive, it is the cheap brand name and the dogs tend to get diarrhea from it! – Sophia