First summer job: Wild child in the Arctic

Do you remember your first summer job?

I was one of a group of reporters and editors asked to write short pieces — “no more than 300 words” — about our first summer jobs for an article that was posted online June 23 (in print the day after).

I couldn’t write all I wanted to write because my first summer job adventures — which stretched into two summers — were just too wild and crazy to document in such a short word count. So, Gazette readers got the abbreviated — and clean — version of my first summer in Frobisher Bay, now called Iqaluit, in the Baffin Islands.

What Gazette readers didn’t get — and it may be just as well, eh? — were the details about my leisure time activities to all hours of the early morning and how I came face to face with Queen Elizabeth and partied afterward with members of Canada’s navy. More on that in a bit . . .

I can’t copy and paste my Gazette piece here, because it would be plagiarism, even though I wrote it. So, you can tap onto the above link and read it there for yourself, and see a photo of Frobisher Bay taken less than a month after I had left; it’s the sixth item there under the headline “Beware of Arctic mosquitoes.”

In the Gazette piece, I mentioned that I assisted a surveyor as a rod person as he surveyed the land for an apartment building and hotel that was to be constructed before Queen Elizabeth arrived there as part of her Arctic tour the following summer. In the accompanying photo with the Gazette article, you can see the skeletons of those buildings taking shape, and in the above photo here, you can see the finished versions (in the centre).

I stayed with my father and stepmother the first summer, in 1969, I was in Frobisher Bay, even if I was seldom at home. But they had moved on to Cape Dorset by the following summer, so I ended up staying with a male friend a couple of years older than me when I returned to Frobisher Bay to work for the same company.

Yes, I was 17, still below the legal age limit to drink alcohol and such — but you gotta know that didn’t stop me, eh? It would be a summer of debauchery extraordinaire, undoubtedly the wildest summer of my life. I’m not even going to talk about the work part of it here because, well, I don’t remember much about that part of it all.

What I do remember are the, umm, romantic adventures with a few individuals and drinking a lot of straight whiskey — yuck! — for the buzz.

My friend Paul and I started the summer by sharing his apartment in the very complex that I had helped survey the land for the preceding summer. (No, we didn’t have any sexual dalliances that summer; we were just friends.) But we soon moved into a little place in the village, a shack, really, with an oil-burning stove and a front door that wouldn’t close properly — a fact semi-wild dogs took advantage of by bursting into the place at all hours looking for a handout. Hey, semi-wild dogs and semi-wild teens . . . what could go wrong?

The townsfolk were abuzz that summer with great expectations of the Royal tour that would bring Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip (and Charles, too, if I recall correctly) along with Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau and a navy escort in the form of a submarine and a battle ship. They gussied up the town the best they could, but honestly, there was not much that could be done with this little village of wooden structures that housed a mere 2,500 people. The aforementioned apartment building and hotel were the pride of the village, and the Queen and company would be seeing these marvels of architecture in the Canadian Arctic.

I remember a lot from that big day — and night — in the summer of 1970. Current Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau should take note: his dad loved posing for selfies with the locals, too, snapped with Polaroid cameras and such, that is. Like father, like son. It didn’t seem a big deal for me, so I made no effort to meet Pierre (and years later I saw him around town in Montreal).

But my Inuit pals and I knew the Queen and company would be strolling along the wooden outdoor walkway from the apartment complex to the hotel, so we leaned against the walkway’s railing to watch the procession. Those were days of innocence; there was little security and no terrorism threats. So, there I was, a picture of 1960s hippiedom with my long flower-child blonde hair, fringed/tassled suede jacket (which I still have), jeans and pointy boots, hanging over the railing with my friends when the Queen came strolling along and stopped right in front of me. She gave me a withering look of disgust before moving on.

I didn’t think much of it. I mean, the Queen meant nothing to me, and I shrugged off “the look.” But it was the talk of some in the town afterward, and somebody told me he snapped a picture of it. And I didn’t even take it personally later when news reports of the visit quoted somebody from the Royal party as saying Frobisher Bay looked like “a garbage dump.”

Hey, it was an Arctic community made up mostly of Inuit people who relied on hunting and fishing for their main source of food, and the odd hippie kid working there for the summer. No trees, no gardens: this was the barren land of the ice and snow and the midnight sun in summertime.

That night my friend Paul went off to the hotel bar to hoist a few with the locals and some of the visitors, i.e. navy types. I was back at the shack, behaving myself for a change (and because I was too young to go to the bar), when Paul showed up with several navy guys. Yes, there proceeded to be much drinking and partying in our little shack, and a couple of the submarine guys decided Frobisher Bay — and that shack — was they place they were going to spend the rest of their lives. So, they decided to go AWOL, and didn’t return to their vessels along with the other merrymaking sailors.

Alas, it was not to be for our drunken AWOL sailor friends. Sometime after we had all passed out, we were awoken by the sounds and lights of vehicles outside our shack. Several shore patrol navy types barged in, picked up their errant colleagues, and carted them away.

The next day, some of the sailors came back to our shack and invited us to visit their ship and their sub. They took us out by barge and we got the tour: I peered through the periscope in the sub, and got the tour of the sleeping quarters. I could hardly blame the sub guys for wanting to go AWOL; I could not imagine living in a submarine for months on end.

I could go on and on about my partying days in Frobisher Bay, but I think you get the picture. I drank a lot, I had a lot of sex, and I even had some tender romance.

But there is one other thing I wanted to mention in the Gazette piece that I couldn’t because of the short word count.

The first summer in Frobisher Bay produced another first for me: It was where I got turned on to Led Zeppelin for what would become a lifelong love of that band. A British DJ at the local CBC radio station played a cut from Zep’s first album on air. It blew me away, but I didn’t catch the name of the band. So I strolled over to the station and asked him about it. He told me, and he said I might find the album in the Brian Pearson’s general store. I checked the next day, and yup, there was one copy, which I bought and played over and over and over again that summer. It was the soundtrack to my summer of ’69 . . .

OK, your turn. What was your first summer job? And did it produce any interesting extra-curricular activities?

— Jillian

Photo: Waterfront of Iqaluit (a.k.a. Frobisher Bay) with fisher boats in the foreground and the cityscape of the town in the background in August 2100. (Sebastian Kasten/Wikimedia Commons) 

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