"One night I'm watching, and Regina, who is a dwarf who had been in some trouble around here, comes out the door of The Mad Trapper. You can tell she sees someone she doesn't want to see, because she hides at the side of the building in a hurry. Into the screen comes this big guy from the RCMR. He goes right to where she is hiding and picks her up by the back of the neck. Carries her away. Just like that. I saw it all on TV Live. It was the best television I ever saw, and no one was even manning the camera."
The one-camera television show is gone, a victim of technology, and The Mad Trapper also is gone, a victim of the economy, but the every-day, every-night lure of Mackenzie Road remains. This is where you go. This is where you have to go. There is no place else. Especially in the winter.
Housewives shop on Mackenzie Road and try to keep a budget despite prices that may run as high as $5.62 Canadian (about $4.30 U.S.) for a-two-liter carton of milk. Kids from the Sir Alexander Mackenzie School play on the metal slides and jungle gyms during recess in the—30° C temperature as if they had antifreeze in their blood. Bureaucrats call Ottawa, dialing direct from government offices. Tourists take pictures of Our Lady of Victory, the Roman Catholic igloo church, the only igloo in town, built of wood, not ice blocks, with an electric cross on the top. Townspeople talk in the cold about the problems of alcoholism, domestic strife, poverty, unemployment, boredom and adjusting to this modern life.
"We still get trappers who will come here and rent a room and then bring out fish that they have brought with them in a bag," says Hildegard Willkomm, co-owner of the Mackenzie Hotel, where there is a Dodge City sort of bar called The Zoo. "They will start scaling the fish on the coffee table, cleaning it right there, then eating it raw. I will go up and tell them to stop. They will ask me what's wrong. They say they will pay for any damage. They don't understand. They are from a different life-style."
The bulk of the town is residential and basic. The houses are built on stilts. The ground never thaws deep enough to let one dig a cellar, so wooden pilings are driven into the permafrost, and the houses are built on top. They are no-nonsense structures that mostly resemble beach houses. Some are painted in pastels that stand out against the darkness and the white snow as if they were run on batteries. Lime-green houses. Pink houses. Lavender. Antlers are hung outside over many of the front doors. The rest of the animal is often indoors in a freezer.
Sewer pipes and water pipes and utility pipes also cannot be placed underground, so they are put together inside one long tin box that snakes through the town. Each house is attached. The contraption looks like something out of a bad science fiction movie at first sight, this tin box traveling everywhere, but it seems normal after 15 minutes: That? Oh, that's the sewer pipe. Why do you ask?
"Everyone has the image of us up here freezing in the dark," Hill says. "That's not exactly the case. We're a small town more than we are anything else. We just happen to have nine months of winter."
There are some people who come here and cannot stand the darkness and the cold. They are gone in a hurry. There are some who are drawn to it, the outdoors somehow screaming inside of them, making them come here. There are some who are born to it. Who think it is absolutely natural. Who never could leave.
Snowmobiles cut through the night sounding as if they were outboards in the middle of summer. Dog teams can be seen every now and then. Trappers are flown to remote locations by ski-plane. Traffic on Mackenzie Road. All of this activity on the edge of the wilderness. A touch of Kansas above the Arctic Circle.