fort simpson

Fort Simpson Traffic

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Since working in Fort Simpson, I have tried to describe what it is like. I’ve told you about the town, but now I thought I would talk about my work a little.

I am an Observer/Communicator, or, as I usually just say “I work at the CARS station.” CARS stands for Community Aerodrome Radio Station, and they are spread throughout the Northern airports. What I do is actually quite similar to my work as a Flight Service Specialist for Nav Canada. There are a few minor differences I won’t go into here, but suffice it to say, my training for FSS is serving me very well here in Fort Simpson.

And why is that, you say? Well, we have some very interesting aircraft traffic! I work at the main airport, a paved strip 6000 ft long located about 11 km southeast of the village (abbreviated YFS). Right in the village there is a second airport, a gravel strip only 3000 ft long and two charter companies operate out of it. We just refer to it as “the Island” (nothing like the movie). Then, there are the float planes which use the Mackenzie River day and night (mostly day), and a couple of helipads. I made a diagram to help you picture it all (thank you Google for the background image)!

Did I forget to mention the ferry crossing? This becomes important when the ferry is not operating (or the ice crossing is closed) because people and groceries have to be brought across by helicopters (just across the river, or back to the helipads), like this:

Add in the other helicopter traffic, mostly pipeline patrols (NW-SE) and points to the southwest, and it looks like this:

Here at the main airport, most of our aircraft go either northeast (Yellowknife), southeast (Trout Lake), southwest (Nahanni Butte, the Nahanni National Park), or northwest (Wrigley, Norman Wells) like this:

At the island, it’s pretty similar, except they hardly ever go to Yellowknife, and they often come over to pick people up at the main airport in order to fly them home (to Nahanni Butte or Trout Lake, for example, which are fly-in-only communities at this time of year). Check it out:

Floatplanes almost exclusively go to the Nahanni National Park — which I hope to go visit sometime soon! — or lakes and rivers in the mountains. Their traffic pattern is something like this:

So, can you imagine what happens when there are guys going every which way, more of less all at once? Here you go!

That’s why pilots have to make sure they make radio contact with us and keep their eyes out for other planes and helicopters. It can be quite a zoo out there! :)

As for species in the zoo, we have Cessna 172’s, Cessna 206’s on wheels and on floats, a twin otter, a beaver on floats, the usual helicopters (JetRangers, AStars), and our scheduled air carriers generally operate with Cessna Caravans, Beech 1900’s or an ATR-42. Sorry, I don’t have photos of them all, but here’s the ATR-42, which you might be the least familiar with:

Nice plane, eh? So, let me just say that I am so happy I took this job! I am having a blast, I enjoy my work every day, and when it’s not busy, I get paid to write or knit! :) The best of all worlds! In fact, I did all the Photoshop work and wrote this article while at work! Night shifts!

I wish the same for each and every one of you (ok, you might not want to write or knit… but you know what I mean). May you love what you do, find it interesting and not overly stressful, and feel like money is coming easily to you. :)

Fort Simpson

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So, let me tell you more about this lovely village I live in. I drove up from High Level, a distance of 660 km, two days after a big snowstorm had come through. Up until the NWT border, it was all good, and I have a new personal record for price-of-gas purchased — $1.389/L at Indian Cabins — it felt like highway robbery!! After crossing into the NWT, the roads were not the greatest, and it was sketchy going for 40 km or so before Enterprise. I stopped at Alexandra Falls, which was amazing and looked other-worldly with the ice formations all around it. Around Enterprise, it was still snowing and the snowplows weren’t keeping up terribly well. I stopped to ask a trucker his opinion of the roads I was heading onto and it didn’t sound too bad.
After the turnoff to Yellowknife, the road was quite a bit narrower and there was just two tracks down it for the whole way – nothing like driving down the middle of the road!
It was like this for about 400 km, with varying amounts of snow and ice and compacted snow. At long last, I got to the ice bridge across the Liard River!
The river looked quite a bit narrower than the Peace River crossing at Tompkin’s, but looking at maps, I can see that this is a pretty narrow spot in the Liard.
The airport, where I work, is really nice! They have a small-ish terminal building, but it’s quite nice and the CARS station is very spacious. Our equipment is similar to what I used at the Flight Service Station in High Level. So far, I only have a picture of the terminal:

The airport has a 6000′ runway, which is longer than High Level’s, and the Mandatory Frequency (MF) area (the zone in which pilots have to talk to me on the radio) is a radius of 15 nautical miles. Most airports of this size have only a 5 mile MF, but because we have helipads, float planes in summer, and a second airport nearby, we talk to everybody. The second airport is an unpaved strip just on the edge of town, and the town itself is on an island in the Mackenzie River! I love it. It’s so picturesque! And I love being here in spring, so I can see the transition into summer. Plus, the days are getting longer every day by about 5-6 minutes. I live in a spot with a beautiful view of the confluence of the Liard and Mackenzie, overlooking a snye (dried up channel between the island and the main bank).

The sun rising over the Mackenzie (view out my living room window)

When I had a day off, I took a walk around town. Fort Simpson has a population of about 1200 people, so it’s pretty small. There is a low-lying flat near the Liard River where there is a ceremonial circle and a large tee pee. I gather this area is used for Canada Day celebrations and the like. Locals call it the papal ground, because the Pope John Paul II visited Fort Simpson here in 1987.

Doesn’t this sign just remind you of being a kid again!? Tobogganning! Beyond the sign, you can see the river bank on the other side of the Liard in the distance.

I love this sign (below)! Click for a larger version to see the little embers running away from the campfire. Too funny! This one is near the campground, which is near the papal flat.

Wow. This sign really hit it home….

More to come!