True North Calling offers unflinching look at lives of northern Canadians

I’m fascinated with the Canadian north. Perhaps it’s because my father’s side of the family is in Cochrane, Ont., a place I visited as a child and remember snow and sub-zero temperatures with glee. I devour history books devoted to the English navy attempting to map and navigate the land and sea long ago. And while the north holds me in thrall, I’m not sure I’m of the steely stuff necessary to call the area my home, especially after watching the first episode of True North Calling.

Debuting Friday at 8:30 p.m. on CBC and from Proper Television—the company behind MasterChef Canada, Canada’s Worst Driver and Yukon For Sale—each half-hour episode of True North Calling spends time with Canadians who call the North home. In the first, viewers are introduced to Franco Buscemi, general manager of a fuel plant in Iqaluit. One of Franco’s responsibilities is to make sure the fuel needed to keep the city running—especially during the winter months—is not only flowing but there’s plenty of it to flow. The fuel is used to power generators that create the electricity and keep water running needed for citizens to survive. Additionally, supplies are flown into Iqaluit and planes need fuel. Suffice it to say, fuel is the lifeblood of Iqaluit. It’s easy to forget, living in Southern Ontario, that not everyone has pipes sending natural gas and water and wires supplying electricity with a mere flick of the switch. Aside from outlining Franco’s job, True North Calling visits his home to spotlight family life. It’s there viewers are given access to Franco’s culture, beliefs and love of his community, and the sacrifice he’s willing to make to address issues like substance abuse and suicide.

Then it’s off to Inuvik, NWT, to catch up with Kylik Kisoun Taylor. After being raised in Ontario by parents who were born in Inuvik, Kylik hopped on a plane at 16 and moved to their hometown. “I feel like I’m where I’m supposed to be,” he says. And who can blame him? Shots of Kylik mountain biking in the snow or straddling a snowmobile are interspersed with him describing a day job as a tour guide operator portrays a man in his element. Sadly, an important part of his life is still back in Ontario and Kylik is struggling to keep things together financially and emotionally.

True North Calling isn’t a glowing triptych of the area. Yes, there are glorious views of frozen land, drifts of snow and eyelashes dusted with frost. But to live in this area of Canada is a struggle to survive, literally, and the program successfully presents that too. It takes a special kind of person to want to call this part of Canada home. These folks do.

My only complaint? I wish each episode was 60 minutes instead of 30.

True North Calling airs Fridays at 8:30 p.m. on CBC.

Images courtesy of CBC.