Tuktoyaktuk RCMP boat builds bridges
By Robert Frizzell and Nicholas Brame
As the Northwest Passage continues to open up for longer periods each year, marine traffic and patrolling is top of mind for RCMP in Tuktoyaktuk (Tuk), a small northern community situated on the Arctic Ocean in the Northwest Territories.
By Robert Frizzell and Nicholas Brame
The marine environment, vibrant with wildlife like Arctic char, beluga and bowhead whales, plays a vital role in the daily life of many of the locals, as well as for tourism. In the summer months, marine activities range from day trips from Inuvik to Tuk, up the surging Mackenzie River, to sailing large vessels through the Northwest Passage. And there to monitor all this movement is the Tuk RCMP, responsible for policing this vast territory, which includes the Arctic coastline stretching along the Alaskan and Yukon borders, and east of Tuk for more than 100 kilometres.
This slice of land was rarely touched by tourism until more recently, the RCMP says, as environmental changes opened it up, allowing more vessels to transit the once untouchable waterways in the summer.
Tuk is also home to large saltwater lakes that are accessible by boat via the Arctic Ocean. Within the Tuk RCMP’s jurisdiction are two large islands: Herschel Island — situated north of the Arctic coastline in Yukon, about a one-day sail from Tuk — and Henderickson Island, nestled in Kugmallit Bay and home to the traditional whaling grounds of the Inuvialuit people. These grounds are still used today, located about a 30-minute boat ride west of the community.
As a result of its small size and remote location, Tuk does not currently house agencies, like Canada Border Services Agency, to deal with the growing boat traffic. But RCMP say they have built strong partnerships with the CBSA and the Canadian Coast Guard station based in Iqaluit, Nunavut, which monitors the Arctic Ocean’s marine radio and traffic. In fact, Tuk RCMP says it regularly assists the CBSA in dealing with international marine travellers coming from Alaska, as Tuk is the first Canadian community travellers arrive at on their trip east through the Northwest Passage and the Arctic Ocean.
Tuk Mounties have assisted travellers from all over the world, clearing Canadian customs and registering foreign firearms that are being brought into the country for wildlife defence. As the Northwest Passage continues to remain open longer, RCMP detachments situated along the coastline are becoming more important with respect to Arctic sovereignty and the security of Canada’s most northern and remote border.
“Summer 2016 was great,” recalls Const. Nick Brame. “You never knew when a sail boat would arrive and almost weekly we would hear from the community that a new boat had landed somewhere in town. We would go out and speak with the crew and do the border inspection. Everyone was very friendly and often invited us below deck for coffee and shared stories about their trip along the passage so far. I have to say there was more than one boat that looked bigger and had nicer furniture than my house!”
Tuk RCMP has an ocean-rated, enclosed cabin Lifetimer boat, custom built for the rigours of the high Arctic. With two 115-horsepower outboard engines, it is one of the fastest boats in the community, according to RCMP, allowing officers to travel large distances quickly and intercept other vessels if necessary. The added horsepower also helps when the detachment is called for other duties, such as tugboat service or passenger shuttling.
Last fall a large barge became stuck on a sand bar and with winter setting in, the company responsible for it decided to send a large tugboat up from Vancouver to pull it out. However, one of its props became tangled in lines and it was sent adrift.
“We just happened to be out on the water patrolling when we were called to assist the tug that was getting dangerously close to beaching itself,” Brame says. “We attached a towline that was as thick as my leg to our boat. A little 16-foot Lund took another line and we tugged that tugboat out to sea for a few hours, where it could safely anchor.”
Due to the wind and the size of the other boat helping with the pull, Brame says they were “zigzagging all over the place” and, while it seemed like they were moving that ship for hours, after looking at the GPS, Brame says “we realized we only moved it about one and a half kilometers.”
The boat is an “exceptional tool operationally” but also a “great bridge when it comes to building community support and lasting relationships,” notes detachment commander Sgt. Marco Papillon. “We annually help out the junior Rangers by bringing them supplies for their summer camp — we can carry quite a bit due to the size of our boat and the Rangers really appreciate it.”
The Auxiliary Coast Guard also uses the RCMP boat for search and rescues on the Arctic Ocean.
“The Coast Guard volunteers are very active, be it getting the boat ready in the spring/fall to regular maintenance to doing exercises and actual searches,” Papillon says. “During that time, the officers are working side by side with local community members and that has a positive effect for both the officers and the volunteers, and it’s well received by the rest of the community.”
Const. Robert Frizzell hails from P.E.I. and has been posted in Behchoko, Tuktoyatuk and now Aklavik, N.W.T.
Const. Nicholas Brame has served in Tuk for a year and a half. Prior to this post, he was an auxiliary constable with the West Shore RCMP in B.C.