Sunday, May 13, 2012

The last ice bridge?

The snow has melted in Yellowknife, and the ice is starting to pull away from the shores of the big lake (Great Slave) and all the little lakes that dot the area.

Over the years, the accumulation of semi-trailers in the parking lots of local stores was a sure sign that winter was about to start . . . and later, that it was about to end. Highway 3, which travels up from Alberta and curves around the west shore of Great Slave Lake to Yellowknife, crosses the Mackenzie River at Fort Providence. In the summer, the mighty Merv Hardie Ferry brings vehicles across the river; in the winter, vehicles make the crossing on an ice bridge. But twice a year, during freeze up and break up, the communities on the far side of the river (Fort Providence, Behchoko and Yellowknife) are cut off. This is problematic for people who want to drive in or out - if you don't make it across the ice bridge/ferry in time, you ain't going nowhere for a while. A northern phenomenon, the race for the ice bridge is featured in "Leaving Yellowknife," the final story in my book. (You'll have to pick up a copy if you want to know if my heroine makes it out in time.)

Hence the accumulation of semi-trailers in parking lots across Yellowknife, which house extra stock as store owners try to ensure they have enough stuff to carry us through until the traffic flows once again. The trucks also bring perishables up the highway from the Mackenzie River crossing, where the goods are flown over from the other side. Even so, there are a lot of gaps on store shelves at this point in the proceedings. By next fall, however, the Deh Cho Bridge could be finished, meaning that this could be the last ice crossing at the Mackenzie River. Stockpiling, empty store shelves, and racing for the last ferry of the season will all become a thing of the past. More convenient, for sure, but Yellowknife will feel a little less northern to me.