In hindsight it was fun, exciting, new. While I lived it, meh….not so much.
Being married to a mountie (A member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police) and being posted (AKA, transferred) from one small northern settlement to another was anything but dull.
We arrived in the Beaufort Delta town of Inuvik on August 3rd. On August 18th, it snowed…and I cried. It seemed the harder I cried, the more it snowed. I had been tricked. Promised a life of adventure…living where few had ever had the opportunity. Seeing the vastness of our great country and all the opportunities that the Canadian north held for me; for us. All I saw was snow.
A few weeks after we arrived, the Canadian base…and the Canex… closed. Canex, for those who don’t know, is a outlet for retail stores and services for members of the Canadian Forces and RCMP members have had access to those services.
Prior to closing the base, they had offered for the RCMP members to put in a ‘barge’ order from a grocery supply wholesaler in Edmonton, but rather than ship the order up the MacKenzie River by barge the next summer, they would actually fly it in on a Hercules aircraft within three weeks, prior to the final shutdown.
This seemed like a great plan given that shopping locally was extremely expensive (think $18 for a two litre jug of milk and about $13 for a 5 lb bag of potatoes) Problem was, there was one catalogue that we got for six hours per family. This ‘catalogue’ was a four inch thick photo copied listing of words and prices…no photos; not very good descriptions and vague specific information on many products. A “Box” of walnuts turned out to be a ten pound box of bulk walnuts…not packages. Oh dear…this was going to be a challenge.
Not only placing the order was a challenge. We had just driven across Canada, outfitted ourselves in northern winter garb and two preteens in school clothes and supplies. Where would we get the money for this food order that was supposed to last a year?!
After my amazing children offered to count the squares of TP they used on each ‘go’, (I graciously declined the offer) we had a rough calculation of how much we’d need for a year, along with boxed scalloped potatoes, canned fruit (the Franklin Expedition sprang to mind during that particular computation) , popping corn, yeast and other baking supplies. WHEW!!! What an exercise! All we could do was hope I actually knew how many packages of spaghetti I would cook in the coming months. Our order would be supplemented with fresh produce from The Bay store….not the one you are probably familiar with…the locally run grocery/drygood/build supply store Hudson’s Bay Trading Company.
Fortunately the housing we were supplied with had a storage room on the second floor specifically for the purpose of ‘barge’ orders…a walk in larder of sorts.
Off to the bank we went and took out a loan…yes a bank loan for food….for $3000. A HUGE amount of money for us now, but in 1986 that was a car! Crazy! I had surely fallen through the looking glass and my name was Alice. I couldn’t believe we were borrowing money for groceries!
Soon after, the mighty Herc engines roared overhead and the plane landed with our orders which were then transferred to an aircraft hanger. I had already volunteered to help sort everything. Our orders were all mixed together on pallets, and needed to be sorted by family using lists they supplied that we checked against the manifest.
I remember driving home in our Toyota Landcruiser with our $3,000 worth of groceries in the back. I felt sick to my stomach. I thought for sure we’d at least need a cube van to transport it all….but no…..it all fit in our little truck.
We did okay that first year, although by the time June arrived I was sick of popcorn and my family never wanted to see another fruit jumble cookie again. (I had ordered vast amounts of dried fruit for Christmas baking that lasted well into Canada Day weekend). We didn’t get rickets…or tin poisoning… from the canned fruit, and those walnuts? I traded about half with other wives that had too many chocolate chips or baking beans.
Oh, and the TP? We made out just fine and never did have to use the Sears catalogue. 😉