The Sanikiluaq Sea Urchin Expedition

Someone told me it’s Spring. I don’t believe them. Spring means tulips and lambs frolicking in meadows. I see neither. I see snow. Still, so much snow.

But, not as much snow as what was in Sanikiluaq, Nunavut where we were a few days ago. So for that I can be thankful.

Now, that’s snow!
  My contribution to building the igloo.
Beautiful “downtown” Sanikiluaq, Nunavut.
Population 800, located on the eastern side of Hudson Bay, in the Belcher Islands.
 $20 for a case of pop.
 And $7 for a head of lettuce. Ouch.
 The “marina”. Those boats aren’t going anywhere for a while.
The purpose of this trip was to harvest mussels and sea urchin from the saltwater inlet that flows to Hudson Bay. Sanikiluaq is the most southerly community in Nunavut; it’s about 1300 kms north of Montreal.

Our crew that day consisted of a couple of Inuit elders and their niece. We traveled by snowmobile for about 20 minutes to get to the inlet. Joe, the elder in charge of this little expedition, was born 60 years ago in an igloo on the land near the inlet.

Joe peers down into the clear waters. The ice was about 4.5 feet deep and we could see fish, mussels and urchin 15 feet down.
That’s hard work taking pictures in -28 Celsius weather. I needed a break.

 Joe’s technique comes from over 50 years of experience.

He was way better at it than I was. His net is loaded with mussels and urchin.

Mine, not so much.

That’s sea urchin, and we ate it right then and there. It doesn’t get fresher than that!

A good haul of mussels and sea urchin. Our northern food night this year is going to be extra special.

 Even starfish…who knew?

And sea cucumber! Elizabeth (above) holds one in her hand.  They gave me one to try, which I did. I popped it right into my mouth and bit down. Saltwater and “stuff” spurted into my mouth, I chewed…crunchy bits. What were those? Then I got through the rubbery flesh, and swallowed, grimacing just a little bit (okay, a lot actually), but I smiled and said, “Interesting!” Then they told me I was supposed to spit out the salty juicy stuff and the crunchy bits. Thanks guys. That would’ve been good to know before I swallowed all that.

They also neglected to tell me we were fishing right in polar bear hunting grounds and that you need to continually scan the horizon, because “polar bears can come out of nowhere…all of a sudden, they’re right there!” I scanned the horizon a lot that day.

Just to be safe, I was never far from the ice chipper, a 10 lb rebar pole with a razor sharp blade on the end that could split ice blocks with one whack.

I asked Elizabeth if she was a fast runner. She said no, and I hung on to that because you know what they say: if a bear chases you, you don’t have to run fast; you just need to be ahead of the slowest person in the group.

Next week we travel to the western side of Hudson Bay–to the community of Arviat. I wonder if it’ll be warmer there. God, I hope so.

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