Northern Exposure


It’s been a while since I’ve posted, which is kind of sad, but indicative of the whirlwind that has been our lives for the past few months. I know, who cares, right?

As I’m typing this, Riccardo is packing his bags and then we’re heading straight to bed to rest up for tomorrow’s mission: a ten-hour trek due north from Montreal to the First Nations community of Obedjiwan, Quebec (population 2,031). I don’t know much about the place, except that the main language in Obedjiwan is Atikamekw (but I believe most people speak French) and that the temperature there right now is -27C. It’s primarily a business trip – Riccardo has been hired to take photos for my company, and I’m tagging along as the liaison, art director, and moral support. We adore working together, and I can’t think of anyone else I’d like to spend ten hours in the car with – with the possible exception of Bruce Springsteen. We have no idea where we’re staying, whether there is anywhere to get food, or if we’ll have internet access –  but I’m assured all will be taken care of when we get there. I’m assuming we will stay at the forestry camp, which is a sparse, male-dominated environment – not unlike a prison. I can’t wait!

For anyone interested in my job (if not, skip ahead to the next paragraph), it’s a very cool project. My company, Resolute Forest Products, has a joint venture partnership with the Atikamekw Band Council in Obedjiwan – we helped build a sawmill there about 14 years ago, and it’s still going strong. The Band Council owns 55% of the sawmill and we own the rest. Last fall, the sawmill won the Canadian Council on Aboriginal Business’ prestigious Aboriginal Forest Products Business Leadership Award, which was very exciting. Our mandate, in a nutshell, is to photograph the sawmill and interview one of the employees for a feature in our annual report. Having worked closely with the guys at the mill on a number of occasions (always by phone), I’m really looking forward to meeting them, touring the mill, and visiting the community.

Google Maps, in its infinite wisdom, thinks it will take us 12 hours to get up there. However, I have it on good authority (from my forester colleagues) that we can make it in about ten. The last 2 hours of the drive are on treacherous, snowy, one-lane forest roads, hence our early departure time (we don’t want to be doing those roads in the dark). We’ll actually have to stop at our sawmill in Roberval to get fitted with an FM radio, so we can call our position to the chip trucks coming towards us from the opposite direction. So, not really a leisurely cruise.

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Our original plan was to take our trusty car which has served well on so many other road trips. But today we decided to rent the monstrous vehicle pictured below – a much better match for moose and other errant wildlife. One of my forester colleagues called me twice tonight – once to remind me to bring along a sleeping bag and warm clothes in case the car breaks down, and again to suggest we pack candles (?!). Check and check. If we were to get stuck (God forbid), we’d be sort of screwed – we could be nowhere near any type of civilization.

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But we’re well equipped. In addition to the essentials recommended by my colleague, we have a shovel, a well-stocked cooler, two portable batteries (to power our computers and phones), an iPod full of podcasts, a glow-in-the-dark rosary, and of course, an espresso machine. (Riccardo is unconvinced he will be able to get decent coffee beyond Montreal city limits, and he’s probably right. Thanks to the portable battery, we won’t even have to slow down to fuel up.)

Truth be told, I’m a little nervous, but Riccardo is as calm and collected as if we were just going to Toronto. It’s only 11:30 pm and going to sleep now seems unnatural – but necessary if I’m going to keep him company on the road tomorrow. We packed most of our things earlier tonight, before venturing out to celebrate the anniversary of our favourite restaurant, L’Orignal – and feeling very responsible coming home just as the party was getting started! So good night, and I’ll write more tomorrow if I can get online.

3 thoughts on “Northern Exposure

  1. Pingback: 24 Hours in the Atikamekw Community of Obedjiwan, Quebec | Montreal, and Beyond

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