Monthly Archives: Nov 2013



After the last rather verbose post, I figure a photo-exposé of our out-of-school fun is in order.

We begin with Movember, which this town has embraced with open handlebars. We cheered on our students, and some friends as well, at the Movember hockey tournament, skipped out on the Movember prime rib dinner (cheap students gotta draw the line somewhere), and tore up the rug (er, concrete rec centre floor) at the Movember social. If I had a baby, I would’ve entered him (or, more humorously, her) in the Moustached Baby Competition, but alas, that will be another visit.

They take their hockey pretty seriously here.
Cold War vestige or Olympic hockey grudge?

You don’t go to Movember without a mo’!

The familiar ham and cheese of Southern socials will just never compete with the Northern tradition of having camp-sized roasters full of bacon. We were fairly liberal with out take-out plates.

The next day was Saturday, so we took the opportunity to catch a bit of the town in daylight. Here’s the highlights:

Let’s go to THE MALL!
…or the grocery store…
…or, for basically anything else, the Trappers’ Shack!
Where I spend the majority of each day.
Where I spend the remainder of each day.

On Monday, then, we received a generous offer from Reid’s high school buddy who is here working for Hydro: an after-hours tour of Kettle Dam, the second largest generating station in western Canada. He kindly accommodated our desire to ride in the supply bikes, and put up with our repeated statements that this would make a great set for a shoot-out in a Bond film.

Karl, whose referred to his position at Hydro simply as ‘nerd’. He’d make a good tour guide too, though!
The generating station floor, aka the set for our fantastical James Bond action sequences.
The turbine pit: That steel pillar next to me is spinning at a zillion miles an hour, powering the computer you are reading this on.
Bicycle carts are used to carry heavy equipment long distances, or stupid tourists short unnecessary distances.
Kettle Dam by night.
Manitoba Hydro is a complicated subject here, responsible for devastating changes to the natural environment, but also for the huge employment level that keeps Gillam out of the poverty that many northern communities experience. Regardless, this was a great opportunity to see where many of my students’ parents go everyday. Thanks, Karl, for befriending us Southerners and showing us around!

Finally, the Christmas fairy left a fully decorated tree on my balcony when I arrived, so Reid, Sitara, and I snuck it into the Grade 1 classroom, where it will be far more appreciated. Oh to be in Grade 1 again!

A thousand words is worth a picture (right?)


So, I was going to wait til I had a few more photos before writing another post, but as taking pictures in schools is generally frowned upon, and my non-school hours are generally not accompanied by daylight, I thought I’d give a verbal description of life at Gillam School. So here it is, a Top 10 of my first ten days:

10. Northern hospitality: Less than 24 hours after my arrival in Gillam, my roommate and I were dining on caribou roast at our CT’s (collaborating teacher) house, talking about family and quoting Fubar (that’s big here). And tomorrow we’ll be heading one block away to my other CT’s house for a Grey Cup party (as such, any bits of CFL trivia you want to pass along would be muchly appreciated!). Thanks Julie, Jen, and Joe for such an incredible welcome to the community!

9. Sports: As the least athletic person in my graduating class, I never envied the sports teams that had to spend every evening being shuttled to some school across the city for games. In the North, however, since the games are generally about 8 hours away by train, you gotta make ’em count. Gillam hosted Volleyball Zones last week, meaning school was cancelled for two days while students from Churchill, Lynn Lake, and many other communities all slept in our classrooms. It felt more like a youth retreat than a tournament, as I had the honour of supervising the games room, working on my killer ping pong skills.

8. DIY Catering: Of course, a sports tournament needs a canteen. But whereas a city school would have all kinds of regulations about what could be sold in said canteen, here the student council just spends their evenings cooking pizzas and hamburger meat in the Home Ec room. Better still, they’re very generous with student-teachers who are willing to stay late cleaning pans!

7. Technology: While there are a handful of smartboards in the school (which I have likened to having a motion-activated toilet flusher in your bathroom…looks cool, saves a tiny bit of effort, but is not worth the $1000 investment), teachers are not afraid to bust out the ol’ overhead, and they do so with an enthusiasm that keeps students (and me!) engaged. That’s my kind of school!

6. Small town neighbours: My roommate (who is technically not my roommate since at the last minute we were placed in adjacent apartments rather than a house) is a super solid guy, and we have a pretty great open-door, open-fridge policy. We’ve also made friends with some of the other teachers and EAs, one of whom lives in our building also and showed up the other day with a bowl full of curried rice and chicken. So good!

5. Food: And on the subject of food, I suppose Reid and I both processed our initial feelings of homesickness by cooking. Every evening. In bulk. So now our fridges are literally burgeoning with leftovers, and we probably won’t have to cook again until we leave.

4. Informal Faculty Advisor relationships: An ‘FA’ is the person that comes to your school 3 times during your practicum to evaluate your teaching and decide whether you’re actually going to graduate or not. OR, in the case of the north, it’s the person who you pick up at the airport, wander all over town with looking for the person who took her bag (two identical MEC bags on one tiny puddle-jumping aircraft? Seriously!?), then walk to school with each morning. Thanks, Barbara, for enjoying Gillam with us, and for all the wise teaching advice and encouragement!

3. More sports!: I was called out of the lunchroom yesterday to witness the first official trapping practice of the season. Yes, trapping is an official sport of the Frontier Games, and students must race to set and break six traps twice. The record was something like 37 seconds, held by the all-school trapping champ, and I managed to do it in 1:43, which I figured was pretty good for a beginner.

2. Cooperative learning: Through a fortuitous miscommunication (my Spanish-teaching course was titled “Teaching Aboriginal and World Languages”), I’ve been placed in a Cree classroom for the majority of this practicum. A grades 1-8 Cree classroom, no less. My CT in incredibly patient as I fumble with the 20-syllable words, and I’m learning lots about early years education as well. It’s certainly never boring, and it gives new meaning to the term ‘cooperative learning’, as I have very explicitly stated that the students are allowed to correct me if I make a mistake. It keeps them on their toes, which is good!

“Hello from Gillam!” in my homemade Cree tiles

My bathroom, like the rest of my apartment, labelled in Cree

1. Best. School. Ever.:The school has 300 students, K-12, and as of yet I have not heard a single one disrespect a teacher or a fellow student. The positivity continues in the staff room, which has to be one of the most welcoming workplaces I’ve ever experienced. The theory is that it’s a perfect combination of expats (at least that’s how us ‘southerners’ feel) and born-n-raised Gillamites, so people have a lot invested in the community. Whatever it is, it’s an awesome place to be.

The view from my bedroom window

Overall an incredible experience so far. As I said, I still haven’t managed to see much of the town in daylight yet, but hopefully we’ll remedy that this weekend.

Northward Bound (part 2)


I fall asleep for four hours and the whole world changes!

Golden wheat fields Several feet of snow.
Endless rolling prairie Towering fir trees occasionally slapping against the windows.
Foreign retiree tourists Half a dozen rather rowdy individuals who, one by one, informed me that they’d just been released from The Pas penitentiary.

Thompson is now fading away to the southwest. Our stop there was shortened considerably, so now we’re back on schedule. I enjoyed a brief tour of the very frozen town in a cab that I was sharing with a friendly guy who, I discovered as I was getting in to the backseat, had also just got out of the slammer. Seriously?? Well, no judgment here: he was very pleasant, and even refused to accept the $5 I offered him for the cab.

I holed myself up in a McDonalds and called my much-missed wife, then trekked back to the train. It was about a half hour walk, and my toes have only just regained sensation. This is going to take some getting used to!

All things considered, though, the train still rocks.

No amount of winter can stop this thing!

Thank goodness, I needed some packing tape and sharpies!
In memory of my Education friends.
A shameless, shivering selfy
I’m here!

Northward Bound (part 1)


Spread over not one but four reclining seats as the golden prairies roll by seems like an appropriate position from which to dust off saratreetravels (and to espouse the joys of train-travel!).

Sadly it’s a bit of a misnomer, as the ‘Sara’ portion of saratreetravels is actually remaining in Winnipeg. It’s weird to be writing Is instead of wes, but I will do my best to maintain the narrative wit and attention to detail of my dear wife.

After a thoroughly enjoyable final week in the ‘Peg, I am now heading a thousand miles north to start my 5-week teaching practicum in Gillam, where I hope to learn much, much more than I teach. My bag is full of elbow-length mittens, my Cree dictionary, and more Reese’s products than a generous mother-in-law could buy at a Halloween clearance sale (which, incidentally, is exactly what happened). My fellow passengers have come all the way from Quebec, the Maritimes, and Holland to see the polar bears. Mine is the only seat with ‘Gillam’ scrawled above it, inviting many odd glances from people wondering why on earth someone would travel this ridiculously far only to get off at the last stop before Churchill.

I’ll have an answer to that question soon. But first, I’m told there’s a lounge car toward the back…time to keep espousing the joys of train-travel!

If there had to be a farewell, this was the best one possible.

(and if you have to travel for 36 hours straight, this is definitely the way to do it!)