Where 'tweeting' is for the birds

How to unplug from the commonplace


Need a digital detox? In the Northwest Territories, you can make a deeper connection 

While paddling the epic waters of Aulavik National Park, or trekking in remote Tuktut Nogait, you probably won’t be concerned about how many “likes” you’ll receive on your Facebook photos. When you hear the word “following,” you’ll think of the river and or the trail. And “tweets”? They’ll be from birds.

Parks Canada caused a stir in 2014 when it announced plans to offer wireless Internet in several parks down south –  but up in the Northwest Territories, you’ll be lucky to see another human being, much less a cellphone tower. “You are definitely disconnected here,” laughs Sarah Culley, Parks Canada’s external relations manager for the Western Arctic Field Unit. “There’s no wi-fi or anything in the parks. We keep in twice-daily contact when out in the field, but that’s primarily through sat phone and radio.”

While logistics are the main reason behind the decidedly digital-free experience in Northern parks, demand is also key. The opportunity to disconnect from technology is something that many visitors, especially from the hyperlinked south, are seeking.

Peggy Jay, with the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation and ex-officio member of the Aboriginal Tourism Champions Advisory Committee, had the chance to visit the territory’s northern national parks and says she welcomes technology-free tourism. “I think it’s wonderful to do without wi-fi and be able to kind of focus on the moment; you can drink in the beauty of what that place has to offer. I think what’s great about the Northwest Territories is you’ve got choices, you’ve got options, you have the option to lose yourself.”

Unplug and look around

Photographs of Blachford Lake Lodge, near Yellowknife, show the blue, green and pink streaks of the Northern Lights radiating above the opulent lodge. “Who needs television when you’ve got the Aurora?” says Katherine Johnson, sales and marketing manager at the lodge.

Not only is there no TV here, there’s no cell reception either. And the Internet is very – Johnson emphasizes very – basic. In fact, that’s one of their selling points. “Probably 50 per cent of people, before they get there, actually mention that they want to disconnect,” says Johnson. “I think when you talk to them, generally people’s phones are going off all the time and it’s so nice to be somewhere that you don’t have to make an excuse for why you’re not answering your emails right away.”

That clientele, she says, tend to be working professionals who just need a break. “I think it’s a rejuvenating feeling, once you’ve had your detox from your cellphone,” she says.

While some people come out to the lodge thinking they might run out of things to do, Johnson says that’s rarely the case. If anything, they leave wishing they had even more time to ski, hike or track wildlife. “We have everything they need around them to make them kind of reconnect with nature,” she says. “Perhaps it’s a bit of that camp feeling as a grown-up – getting back that comfort and the freedom of being able to explore.”​

A different kind of connection

The name of the North Nahanni Naturalist Lodge, a short bushplane flight from Fort Simpson, is a pretty clear indicator of the place’s ties to the land. Once upon a time, says owner Loyal Letcher, he offered satellite television and Internet – but no more. “We decided to take that away because, you know, people don’t want to go out to the Nahanni area and the wilderness and be online.”

With the digital world generally, Letcher says being cut off can be a bit of a shock, but people tend to quickly come around to the idea. “After a while they’re thankful for it. They’re not checking emails every five minutes, somebody’s not calling them or sending them a text,” he says. “They prefer just to have nature, listen to the birds, go see the Northern Lights in the evening.”

Up in the Mackenzie Delta, it’s that connection to the land and local culture that guide Gerry Kisoun, with Tundra North Tours, focuses on. “I’ve been on trips where people would say, ‘Wow, it’s so nice to sit with Aboriginal people from here, people from the land, born and raised here, and listen to your stories as you travel,’” he says. “That’s an experience. The iPhone and iPad, all those things – it’s good to get away from them.”

While there are patches of cell service in the region where Tundra North operates, there are still vast stretches with no signal. Kisoun says guests often come up with the expectation of being completely without Internet or cell service. “It gets them away from living beside that iPad or living beside their cellphone day in and day out, because a lot of them do.”

That dependence on technology is something Letcher says is good to escape – even briefly. “I think it’s positive for people to re-energize. Sometimes it takes a day or two for people to wind down, especially from down south. They’re always busy, high energy, but by the time they leave here they’re well rested, they’ve eaten good food, explored nature had a relaxing sauna or hot tub, canoed around and just enjoyed. In today’s fast-paced world, it’s good to get out on the land and enjoy nature and enjoy the beautiful country we have. It rejuvenates people.”

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