Avaala Family, Baker Lake
Text: Adam Smith, Photos: Jean-Louis Martin
We met John and Vera Avala at the end of a 7 week canoe trip down the Thelon River in 2006. At the end of a magnificent trip, we got weather-bound for 6 days, near the inflow of Shultz Lake. The wind was blowing too strong for us to make any head-way on the lake. After a few quick calls on the satellite phone, we got in touch with John and by 8:00pm that evening he arrived at our campsite with his boat to bring us and our equipment the rest of the way to Baker Lake. Since the wind had picked up a bit that evening, John and his nephew Kevin took us to one of their favorite camp sites and we all spent the night there waiting for better weather to make the trip to town. That evening camped with John and Kevin became one of our most cherished memories from our trip. The stories, pleasant company, and fantastic fishing were great and all against the backdrop of literally thousands of caribou moving along side the river. Oh, and the fishing was particularly memorable. John had taken us to one of the few places in the area where it is possible to catch arctic char at that time of year. I am a HUGE fan of sushi and let me tell you, nothing can beat the taste of Arctic Char sushi, just minutes after it was caught. What an experience!
The next day, the wind had dropped some and John drove us all to Baker Lake. I was impressed with his skill and with the care he took in making the trip so safe. Shultz is a big lake and the waves were impressive but I felt perfectly safe the entire time. John made a few stops along the way to point out some interesting sites on shore and we were even lucky enough to spend some time watching a pack of wolves chase a huge herd of caribou.
After arriving back in Baker Lake we had one day left before we were scheduled to fly home and we spent much of that day at John and Vera’s house. They invited us in for tea and we ended up spending most of day chatting. We shared stories about our trip and what we do in Ottawa and they shared stories of their lives, their history, and the land that we had just traveled through. It was so interesting to learn so much about how they hunt and prepare fish and caribou, the caribou skin tent that Vera was making, their summer camp where they dry their caribou meat (which we sampled and highly recommend), their lives growing up in the north, their winter camp that we had passed further up the river, and to meet some of their family and to hear about their lives today in Baker Lake.
Their hospitality and kindness was a fitting end to a wonderful summer spent on the tundra. Their flexibility, helpfulness, concern for safety, and the rich heritage that they are willing to share with visitors make it very easy for us to highly recommend John and Vera’s services to anyone visiting the Baker Lake region.
Adam Smith, 03/09/2008
John and Vera were born on the land. John is from Garry Lake and Vera is from Yatthyed lake. They settled in Baker Lake in 1960. John and Vera have kept a strong connection with the land. They have a cabin in Shultz lake and another one 5 miles from the hamlet.
Vera has a traditional caribou tent next to her cabin overlooking the Thelon river. You can sleep overnight on a caribou skin like before. Vera will take you fishing and you will visit an archeological site nearby with tent rings and meat cache. She will show you how her people used to live on the land. We go there by Honda from town. This is a 40 mn ride.
John can pick up canoeist and kayakers anywhere on the Thelon river on Beverly, Aberdeen or Shultz lake and also at the mouth of the Kazan river. You can spend sometime with John at his cabin in Shultz Lake and in August you might have a chance to see the big herd of caribou crossing over the narrows in front of his cabin. John has 2 boats, one of 20 feet and another one of 22 feet and can carry 2 canoes and 4 people at a time.
Back in town, John and Vera can host you at their house and introduce you to the community. Depending on the season, you might have a chance to participate in dies game, square dances, and anglican church service on Sundays.
Baker Lake is the only inland Inuit community in Nunavut and surrounding by several caribou herd. They still depend on caribou livelihood.
Please, contact them for a pick up on the Thelon or on the Kazan or a stay at the camp in the Caribou tent.
Avaala & Sons Expediting
Thelon River transport
Kazan River Pickup
P.O. Box 101, Baker Lake
Nunavut, Canada XOC OAO
Tel; (1) 867-793-2103