“Life is like a train. There are many stops along the journey.”


When I was in grade twelve, I interviewed my grandparents for my sociology class. I chose them because my brothers and I were super close with them growing up. We went on a cross- Canada road trip and spend our summers with them at their cottage. When I was speaking with him, my historian grandfather gave me an analogy. He said, “Life is like a train. There are many stops along the journey. Places you can get off, get refreshed, meet new people…but when the whistle blows it’s time to jump back on that train to see what the next station stop has to offer. Sometimes the train gets derailed or makes a wrong switch turn…it’s a dirty job, but you can get that train back on course. Don’t be discouraged, —these side trips are just part of the journey!” This analogy has stuck with me over the years.

After completing my Master’s degree in 2008. I spent ten months supporting childcare centres in Nunavut. It was a unique stop on the train with its own challenges—one of the biggest was living away from family in a small a remote community with fly in access. Understandably I had some anxiety and talked to a friend who said, “You can do anything for ten months.” I didn’t have to worry about this though.  I loved my job of supporting childcare programs doing yearly inspections.  It was so different from my life in southern Canada but also such an awesome stop along the train journey I loved it.

In the summer of 2011, I had an opportunity to return to Nunavut, I went back for four years to work a different position. I worked to support Inuit language and culture in the 0-6 age group, supported communities in starting programs & accessing funding for programming.  I worked with a team of people who helped create more Inuit materials and book into childcare programs. The goal was to have culture reflected in their childcare programs so that they can be proud to be Inuk.  It was a dream come true to go back to Nunavut.

One thing that really struck me about my time in Nunavut was how much Inuit culture centres around family and elders.  This was something that I had in common with a lot of my Inuk friends.  I grew up being very close to my extended family of great aunts, uncles.  My brothers and I spent summers my grandparent’s cottage in Haliburton and next door were other cottages owned by my great aunts and uncles and in my younger years I spent a lot of time with them. Through this experience I learned to appreciate intergenerational living as well, and I’m still close with those aunts and uncles as they enter their nineties.

I’ll never forget bundling up in negative forty-degree weather and going outside to see the northern lights.  I spent many nights photographing & just watching them dance.

Now with my teaching I carry all these experiences and share stories of my time in Nunavut. However, I can talk about my experiences only as white person who lived in Nunavut & experienced Nunavut culture through my southern lens. I’m not an expert, but I can share some of what I learned through my own bias and perspective.  I make sure to clarify that I can only offer these stories from my perspective.   Even with my young daughter now, I’ll never stop looking for adventures on the stops along the journey—just like my grandpa told me. I look for the adventure in the everyday adventure, and can’t wait for that train whistle to blow to continue on the journey!
--Sarah McMahon

(Interviewed and written up by Alya Somar; photo by Nolan Brinson)  
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