Norman Wells First Impressions

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Hi everyone!! Well, I’ve been in Norman Wells now for a whole week, and I’ve learned a lot about how the locals live up here! My first impressions were that it was pretty small – the population is only about 800 – and, well, very “northern.” By this I guess I mean that there are a lot of ATCO trailers, and not much attention paid to how things look. The only paved road in town in at the airport (besides the runway, which is paved) and all the other roads are compressed gravel, which they had recently sprayed with oil to keep the dust down. All the buildings are up on stilts. Some of the stilts are quite tall (approx 4 feet) others are only a foot or so – I’m not sure why! Most of the stilts are covered by plywood, painted to match the house or building, so they don’t look so obvious! And you thought only people in Winnipeg should live on stilts, due to the spring flood each year! Here, the stilts are because of the permafrost. You can’t dig a basement, or put in a normal foundation, because it would melt the permafrost, and the ground would become gooey (technical term) and your house would shift/sink/become very unpleasant! So, even the apartment building Steve lives in is on stilts, and when someone is doing laundry and the spin cycle starts, we can feel the couch vibrate, because the motion gets transmitted up to the living room! And the laundry room is downstairs on the far side of the building! As far as ATCO trailers go, the grocery store, only gas station in town, convenience store, post office, police station, a couple of small hotels, restaurants, the only bar in town, and the health centre are all made of a type of ATCO trailer, attached to other ones or standing alone. The post office is the cutest one I’d say – I’m sure there are RV’s that are twice the size!! Quite a few people live in house trailers, but about half the population, I would guess, is in more permanent housing.

The Mackenzie River is awesome!! Norman Wells is built right along the edge of it, and it’s so wide and high and fast-moving! The locals are saying that it’s quite high for this time of year. 🙂 It’s pretty amazing. There are 6 man-made islands in the river, built for drilling oil that is below the river. They are pretty big, and shaped sort of like ice breakers, so that when the ice breaks up in the spring, it won’t take out the islands! Steve and I went for a walk along the shore, and found a couple large blocks of ice, still melting from the spring thaw. Pretty cool. The oil company uses boat-taxis to take workers to/from the islands, and during break up, they use helicopters. Neat, eh? It creates a lot of extra work for the FSS here, though, when the helis are back and forth all day!

The other neat thing about Norman Wells are the two mountain ranges. There’s one to the east and one to the west, so whichever way you look, you have a great view. 🙂 We went on a hike the day after I arrived, so I’ll blog about that next!! Take care, everyone!

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