I didn’t know beforehand that Irma Miron’s story would grace that Fort Smith stage. (And by “stage” I mean a historic hall with chairs lining the sides, but I think that fits the mood better.) Earlier that day, my grandparents and great-aunt ushered me towards Mission Park to see a mystery performance: Stuck in a Snowbank Theatre’s A Taste of the Wildcat.
Featuring ten vignettes based on real stories from the territory, the play toured that summer of 2014 at the same time I’d come to visit my northern family before university. Based on numerous recommendations from my grandmother’s Hay River friends, where the play had performed previously, we decided to check it out.
We all got a jolt at vignette number eight, “My Little Channel Side Caboose,” as the actress donned an Irma-esque cardigan and re-enacted a family story from 1949.
That year, my great-grandmother had followed my great-grandfather north as he chased the region’s budding commercial fishing industry. When she arrived in Hay River, my great-grandfather introduced a reeking, gear-filled shack as their home for the summer. Irma Miron almost chose to sleep outside. But, with what must’ve been all the bleach in the territories, she cleaned it out and made a proper home.
Admittedly, it’s not my favourite Irma Miron story. I prefer ones that are told with that pitch-perfect impression, since it’s as close as I can get now to hearing her speak. Like how she protected a forest from bulldozers by yelling at the workers until they went home, or when she cheerfully scared my dad as a child by relaying, during a thunderstorm, the story of a girl who was melted by lightning. Or simply the way she used to say “nice is nice.”
But “My Little Channel Side Caboose” is still sentimental because Stuck in a Snowbank got it from West Channel Memories, a book my great-grandmother wrote in 1989. I have that book. It’s a little, blue, homemade thing that more resembles a pamphlet than a novel. I still remember when my dad casually asked if I wanted a copy.
Later, I’d find out that West Channel Memories is catalogued in the National Library of Canada. Which is a hint as to why I wasn’t totally surprised when Irma Miron popped up in that northern production.
Because I remember, when we visited Hay River as children, my brother and I gawking at a road sign labelled Miron Drive—named after our family. And because, before arriving in Fort Smith that summer, I stopped to visit the Irma Miron Memorial Walkway—which wound through the same forest she protected by accosting those workers decades ago.
Despite growing up a southerner, my dad and his family always made sure we knew about our northern roots. And those roots are hefty and far reaching, thanks to my great-grandparents. They’ve woven my story into this place, even though it’s a place I’m only just beginning to know.
I’m not a Northerner, obviously. I’ve inherited stories and connections but have few lived memories, and I continually wonder where that leaves me and the North. But I also can’t shake that feeling when I do come up, when I’m always reminded—whether it’s by my excited family or an unexpected theatre production—that this isn’t some personal new travel frontier. When I come to the Northwest Territories, it’s a form of familial return.