By Tatiana Bogdanov
April 25th, 2017, is a grey day in Moosonee, Ontario, as the Polar Bear Express rolls into Moosonee station. Snow piles up beside the dirt roads, maintained by the chilly -5ºC weather, a stark contrast from Toronto’s warm, wet spring. Thirty tired grade eights file out of the train and are immediately enveloped by the love that seems to rule the kids from Bishop Belleau Catholic School.
They were all about to be shocked by the difference between living in a remote community in Ontario, and in a big, sparkly city.
There are few words to describe the surrealism of seeing the conditions in a remote community. It is almost like entering a different country, though you are only a mere fourteen hours (nine by bus, and five by train) away from Toronto. Though the trip was life-changing in the way it has made me see the world and my life, it had also ignited a fury.
A remote community is a place that is “cut off” from most other populated areas. Moosonee is an example; the only way to get there is either by train or plane. Or, if one is coming down from even further north, the ice road (and that is only in the winter). The nearest city is Timmins, and even then, the distance between the two is 315 km.
In fact, Moosonee is so far away from everything that it does not even get proper cell service. It has “Rogers extended coverage,” which is way slower than any cell signals we get here.
Nonetheless, it is truly a charming town, right on the edge of James Bay. If you look across the shore there, you can see islands owned by Nunavut. In the bush (the locals’ word for the forest), plant life runs wild. You can find trees felled by beavers, wild cranberry, and even tamarack trees. The locals are some of the nicest people you will ever meet and welcomed us to their home with wide-open arms. Their winters are bitterly cold, in a way that is only found in Canada.
But, as with all remote communities, it faces a barrage of problems. From unemployment to alcoholism, to the struggle to keep their culture alive; life is not easy for the 3,500 residents of Moosonee, nor for residents of any remote community.
The children of Attawapiskat (a community even further north from Moosonee) went to school in portables for fourteen years because the main building was condemned. Many who live in remote communities struggle to receive quality healthcare. Prices are often exorbitant for basic things such as diapers, or apples. Education is generally worse. There is more poverty.
In 2011, 52% of deaths in the Island Lake community of Manitoba went uncategorized, because they simply did not have the amenities to document them.
In 2011, 52% of deaths in the Island Lake community of Manitoba went uncategorized, because they simply did not have the amenities to document them. In 2012, statistics showed that Island Lake people had more premature deaths, digestive disorders, and teenage pregnancies than other Manitobans.
Another study showed that Canadians in remote communities often have higher death rates, infant mortality rates, and lower life expectancies than those that live in Canada’s urban communities.
Of course, there is a pattern, a cycle of the struggles of remote communities. The lack of people creates a lack of jobs, which creates a lack of money, which then creates the lack of resources to change the situation. The Canadian government is not doing much to help. There are few popular charities dedicated to aiding these communities.
It seems like there is no winning. The government is not helping, and most Canadians are not either.
That raises the question; why are we not doing anything? Why are we not hearing about this on the news? These are Canadians, living in Canada. If we faced these problems in Toronto, there would protest in the streets. People would be rightfully outraged; it would likely be broadcast nationally.
Yet, we live on in our practical urban utopia, while people live unnecessarily hard lives in one of the most developed countries in the world.
And that is pretty damn scary to me.
So this Halloween, consider the way people live in remote communities and think about supporting a charity like the Frontiers Foundation or True North Aid, to help bring some relief.