High Arctic Haulers: “The work they do is so necessary and important”

Last week, I wrote a preview about the debut of High Arctic Haulers. The documentary series, broadcast Sundays at 8 p.m. on CBC, spotlights the captains and crews of ships delivering supplies to communities in Canada’s far north, as well as the people who rely on those supplies to arrive.

It turns out I previewed the wrong episode. Networks swap episodes all the time, and that was the case with High Arctic Haulers. The bad news? Anyone who read last week’s story and tuned into the debut was probably a little confused what they watched didn’t match what I wrote. The good news? It gave me the opportunity to cover the show again, this time by chatting with High Arctic Haulers‘ director and production consultant, Indigenous filmmaker Kelvin Redvers.

You grew up not only hearing the stories but also witnessing these ships coming in, right?
Kelvin Redvers: Sort of. The community that I grew up in was one of the starting points for some of the deliveries that went to the Arctic. And so that company doesn’t exist anymore, called NTCL. But it was a main industry in my town, which was the summer deliveries to the Arctic community. When I was a teenager, I’d actually done some documentary work on the boats that deliver up to the Arctic and I’ve always been amazed at the story. The work that they do is so necessary and important and, often, southerners know very little about this mode of delivery and actually just very little about the north in general.

It’s so foreign for someone living in Toronto to learn what these communities really rely on and if the weather’s bad, maybe they don’t get this stuff.
KR: It’s full of little small things as well too. What I love about the show is each episode kind of opens up a new layer of the complexity of challenges that we wouldn’t ever really think about. There are just so many different aspects to what these ships do and what makes it challenging that this format of having seven episodes is really fantastic. Each one opens up a new puzzle that these crew members have to solve. I love watching people who are really good at their job have to solve very difficult challenges.

What are some of the specific challenges that you had to deal with, with regard to equipment or production or weather just wreaking havoc?
KR: The production team, the team in the office figuring out logistics, had some of the hardest jobs out there in media because everything would change constantly. From day to day, even within a day, there’d be changes in terms of weather, in terms of when a ship is due to arrive. At one point we had, I think, 25 crew members spread out across five different communities in the Arctic.

And in each of those places, there are flight delays. Sometimes a bag doesn’t come in. There was a team that got stuck in for, I think, four or five days. I was stuck trying to get to Cape Dorset because there were flight delays there. Everything would change constantly. We sort of had to be really nimble and in the show you see the ship’s crew having to make decisions about where to go and what they can do based on the weather.

Even with all those challenges, anytime footage came back to the production office, it was emotional, it was moving, it was funny. It had all the elements that you would need under some of the most incredible pressures that you could ever face in a documentary series.

Can you give me a little bit of background on We Matter?
KR: My sister and I started, back in 2016, a nonprofit designed to support Indigenous youth who are going through mental health issues. And one of the main reasons is there is a lot of mental health challenges for Indigenous young people across Canada, the First Nation community and Inuits. And one of the reasons we started that was because of our own experiences being Indigenous folks growing up in the North, feeling that there weren’t many resources for Indigenous youth, but also there just weren’t many portraits of positive Indigenous role models in the media generally.

We never got to watch ourselves on TV in dramas or even the superheroes. The organization uses videos, predominantly on social media, of people talking about mental health issues and talking about positivity, overcoming challenges.

I think that affects some of the work that I do in media. And I think the sort of crossover between what this show does is that it really does present Indigenous folks, Indigenous young people, and Northerners in such a positive, inspirational way. In the premiere episode, one of the main stories is these Inuit high schoolers learning how to build kayaks and they are so excited about building kayaks and bringing in some of the materials that they need. Through the stories of what it takes to get material out, you also get to spend time with these young people and hear their humour and learn a little bit about them and see them on screen and their excitement and happiness to get these materials.

And I think that that has an impact in our country, generally, both for Indigenous folks to get to see ourselves in our homes and in our areas presented in such a positive way. But also it helps people in the suburbs or in Toronto to see a different side that you might not normally see in a news article or something more negative slanted and at the same time it’s also just a part of this incredible story that’s exciting and interesting in itself. It brings people to the table because the stories are so captivating. Then along the way, we’re teaching Canadians about themselves, showing others that yes, this is a part of your country. These are people who are contributing to what it means to be a Canadian in unique and interesting ways and really powerful ways.

High Arctic Haulers airs Sundays at 8 p.m. on CBC.

Images courtesy of CBC.

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