Dogsledding in Canada, April 2013

If good trips are evaluated on adversity this was one of the very best trips ever.
Frank Turner

The Plan

Dogsledding - again?

I had already asked that myself when I went dogsledding for the second time in 2010. Now it's suddenly the fifth year where my vacation in March or April was spent dogsledding. (Well, depending on the definition used, it's the sixth year of dogsledding, but in 2008 I was only a passenger on a dog sled trip and didn't interact with the dogs myself.)

And it remains a fun way to travel through amazing landscapes!

So, yes, it seemed like a good idea to go dogsledding again.

And, to a certain extent, it was a 'back to the beginning' as well as a culmination of dog sledding trips.

My first real dog sledding trip (where I got my 'own' sled) was a trip from Herschel Island to Aklavik. Back in 2009 they split the journey from Aklavik to Herschel Island and back into two tours. So one group of clients drove the dogs from Aklavik to Herschel Island and then a plane flew in from Inuvik, brought in new supplies and new clients, replacing those from the first half of the journey.

Well, not all the clients. One of them had booked both trips, so he went all the way from Aklavik to Herschel Island and back again.

As it was my first dog sledding trip, I wouldn't have dared to attempt this. (I didn't even know how I would manage to get through the return trip. Luckily quite well, otherwise I wouldn't have gone dogsledding ever since...) But the idea of spending more than two weeks dogsledding was intriguing.

And last year during the trip (well, more while sitting around at the 'dog ranch' afterwards) there was talk of maybe doing a longer tour some day.

Which turned into the suggestion: How about doing another trip to Herschel Island. This time going all the way and back in one journey, without any 'air support'.

Seemed like a good idea...


The tour would start for me in Inuvik (others were starting in Whitehorse and drive with the dog truck up the Dempster Highway, while I would fly to Inuvik and join them there). Talking with the travel agency, they noticed that there was a flight via Edmonton. Since I already have flown via Vancouver and Calgary on previous trips, I wanted to try something new and go via Edmonton instead.

As it doesn't make much sense just to got via a different airport and see nothing else in a city, I added another vacation day, so I had a full day to spend in Edmonton.

I didn't know much about Edmonton (except that they have the largest shopping mall in North America), but I assumed that there would be enough attractions and interesting things that would keep me occupied for a day.


Central Edmonton Skyline

Closer to the start of the trip I looked for things to do in Edmonton. I then started to worry a bit, since most 'Lists of things to do in Edmonton' started with 'Visit the mall' and then immediately turned to such exciting things as 'Visit the Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village' (closed until May), 'Visit Fort Edmonton Park' (also closed until May), or 'Visit the Legislative Assembly of Alberta' (probably a hoot if your childhood dream was to become a politician, but seems dreary otherwise - at least they are open all year round...)

In short, the tourist information seemed to say "There's the mall. Visit it. And if you're done with that - well, some of the trees probably look rather nice in April."

Luckily, Edmonton isn't as dull as I feared it would be.

For one thing, the mall turned out to be ok. (Yes, of course I went to the mall - after all, everyone agreed it is the main attraction of Edmonton.) I knew that there were all kinds of things (in addition to shops) in the mall. A rollercoaster, a hockey rink (this means an ice hockey rink - this is Canada after all), a water park and some other attractions. But I assumed these were just 'add-ons', so there would be a standard mall and some side buildings would contain an indoor sports/amusement center.

So it came as a nice suprise that the other things are pretty much integrated into the mall. There is the hockey rink and the stores are all around it. Same with the 'lake' with the sea lion show and the Santa Maria replica, surrounded by shops on two floors. (The Galaxyland amusement park and the waterpark are a bit more to the sides, but still quite open to the mall side.) It really is an interesting environment to walk through.

Edmonton Mall Santa Maria replica Edmonton Mall sea lions Edmonton Mall Ice Hockey Rink

One thing I hadn't seen before was a very compact three-level indoor ropes course. Usually these things are somewhere outside in the woods and take up a fair amount of space. The one at the mall had three levels and the individual 'rope trails' were places side-by-side (in forests, they tend to be one after the other, so they form a longer 'challenge course').

Here they were all reachable from two walkways at the ends of the short 'rope trails', so that you could just go and pick one that you liked or that had the fewest people waiting. And you could do them in any order or just do the fun ones again (the belay system was via connected overhead grooves; so that you could also let people pass by while on the walkways). I liked that system a lot!

Edmonton Mall rope climbing Edmonton Mall rope climbing

But even with the mall being better than expected, it's not really enough to fill a day.

So I went on to the science museum, which also turned out to be better than expected. (I had been fairly disappointed with the science museum in Ottawa back in December.) While not very large, some of the presentations were cleverly done. (To be fair, the museum is reasonably large, but a lot of it was dedicated to stuff that required extra tickets, like the IMAX or the "Star Wars: Identities" presentation (an additional $10 charge). As the access to that was limited (75 people per show), it was already sold out for most of the day anyway - the next open seat would have been available in about six hours.)

There was one area about various aspects of the human body. Most of the presentations and interactive attractions were fairly standard, but the whole thing was styled in a fun fair / freak show look with colourful and stylish posters, so it was more interesting than the usual science museums presentation style.

Fairly clever and innovative in style as well as in concept was the 'Forensic Gallery', which I liked a lot. It presented a 'crime scene' a couple of possible suspects and various 'forensic science lab stations' that provided information and clues. The obvious purpose of the exhibition was to take one of the note sheets, go through the exhibition and figure out the culprit.

The underlying idea, however, was that forensic work (if shorn of the TV drama and chases) is a fairly good stand-in for science in general. There is one 'truth' that you may (or may not) find out in the end. You make up various hypotheses, compare to observations, rule out some hypotheses that are contradicted by evidence, try to find out which of the hypotheses do not contradict any of the observations. And so on. So trying to solve a crime by applying forensic (as opposed to interrogating suspects or talking to bartenders) is a good way to learn and apply the 'scientific method', without ever talking about 'science' in an abstract way. (There are, of course, a number of things that don't match - in forensic, you can't really do any repetition of the 'experiment' (i.e. crime). If you want to know which way a mouse moves through a labyrinth, you might use a camera or put some sand on the floor to see the footprints, but if criminals didn't leave any camera evidence or convenient footprints, it's kind of difficult to go and ask them to commit the crime again after you prepared the crime scene with some recording method.)

And the whole 'crime scene investigation' set-up is a good thing for a museum presentation, since it allows to present physical things and clues to investigate (instead of just having a presentation on a computer screen). I really liked the whole idea. A lot.

On other thing I liked about Edmonton and which I hadn't seen on any attraction list was the Rapid Fire Theatre. It's a group doing improv theatre and they are very, very good at it. I had seen some players from that group at an Improv festival in Berlin a couple of years ago, but hadn't known that they were from Edmonton. Luckily I specifically looked for improv show in Edmonton and noticed that Rapid Fire Theatre is based there. Even better, I was in Edmonton on a Saturday, so there was a show that evening.

Saturdays has Chimprov, which is a bit different from Theatresports (which is on Fridays). Theatresports tends to have more players (often two teams with three players each, plus a games host) and shorter segments (about seven 'games' for both teams, so you tend to get fourteen improvised scenes in a show).

Chimprov is more a 'long form' with only three different scenes, so the focus is more on continuity, characters and 'throwing a ball in the air' and catching that half an hour later to give the scene some unexpected spin.

Chimprov is risky, especially in the form that they presented it. They had three different scenes with only two players each and no overlap between the scenes.

Now, usually on improv, three players are ideal. In most cases only two players interact, so the third one has some time to come up with a new idea, jump into a scene that gets too long or too predictable and put some new spin into it. With just two players, there's always the risk that they get too comfortable in some standard situation and just go through stereotypes until the scene becomes as boring and predictable as a soap opera scene. And that's already a risk if a scene just lasts five minutes. And if two players have half an hour to go, they'd better be good in not getting repetitive or boring. And they have to do some decent acting and still be able to come up with new ideas at the same time.

So it's a good thing that the Rapid Fire Theatre players are mostly very good at what they do. (The first scene was very good, the third one slightly below par, but the second one was incredibly brilliant. Clever set-up. Absurd story twists. And a healthy one-upmanship and raising of the stakes when stuff seems just difficult. "And there was this song playing on the radio, which just happened to perfectly describe our feelings in this situation." (Keyboarder plays some tune; other player gets ready to sing. Before he starts, the first player adds:) "Funny, the only thing I recall about it now was that it had this weird limerick rhyme scheme." So suddenly the other player not only has to come up with an impromptu song that fits the scene, but also needs to come up with it in limerick aabba rhyme scheme. And there was quite a lot of stuff like this. Very, very good improv.

I had to fly to Whitehorse the next afternoon, but had some time in the morning to visit the Aviation Museum. A fairly decent selection of airplanes. Not quite as extensive as the one in Ottawa, but some nice planes.

Aviation Museum Edmonton Aviation Museum Edmonton Aviation Museum Edmonton

They also had some interesting stuff about early flights in the Canadian Arctic, which was where I was heading to. I Back in 2009 I had been in Aklavik and visited the grave of the 'Mad Trapper', but I hadn't been aware that he was the first criminal who was pursued with 'air support'.

Aklavik air history

I had also picked an interesting moment to visit, since they had recently received a Lockheed F-104 from Belgium (the plane originally belonged to the Canadian Forces, was later sold to Belgium, where it ended up in a museum and had now been sold back to the museum in Edmonton) and so far it had been in a container and this was the first time they 'unboxed' the plane.

F-104 unboxing

But anyway, I had to leave and get to the airport and fly to Whitehorse. And next morning onwards to Inuvik.

But before I get to this, here's the obligatory squirrel picture.
For some reasons squirrels are much more ubiquitous in Canada than they are in most places of Europe, so it has become a bit of a tradition to have one squirrel picture. Similar to Greece, where you can't not do a cat picture.

Edmonton squirrel

But now onwards to Inuvik.

Or back to other travels