A postcard from the (northern) edge

From the northern edge of the world, specifically: the town of Inuvik NWT in Canada, from which a postcard showing this welcoming billboard:


The card was from Chris Waigl (bought in Dawson City YT), who mailed it from the extremely small town of Chicken AK.

And now there’s a surprising lot of stuff to say about the card.

The places. A map showing the larger territory, including Fairbanks AK, where Chris lives with her wife Melinda Shore, and Inuvik NWT, at the northern edge of North America, under the Beaufort Sea (a section of the Arctic Ocean, frozen for most of the year):


Part of this area closer up, showing Chicken AK and Dawson City YK as well as Farbanks and Inuvik:


About Inuvik, from Wikipedia:

(#4) Inuvik in the summer

Inuvik (‘place of man’) is a town in the Northwest Territories of Canada and is the administrative centre for the Inuvik Region.

… Inuvik achieved village status in 1967 and became a full town in 1979 with an elected mayor and council. In 1979, with the completion of the Dempster Highway, Inuvik became connected to Canada’s highway system, and simultaneously the most northerly town to which one could drive in the summer months — although an ice road through the Mackenzie River delta connects the town to Tuktoyaktuk, on the coast of the Arctic Ocean, and Aklavik, in the winter, and an all-weather road connecting Inuvik and Tuktoyaktuk opened in November 2017, replacing that portion of the ice road.

… The population as of the 2016 Census was 3,243

… The Dempster Highway provides access to Inuvik for the majority of the year. However, the highway relies on ferries and ice bridges to get across the rivers. It is thus closed during the time of freeze-up (roughly late-October to mid-December), for ice to form and allow ice bridges, and thaw (roughly mid-May to mid-June) to allow the ferry to run. At these times, there is air access only.

And about Chicken, from the Quirky Travel Guy blog, “Visiting the Quirky Town of Chicken, Alaska” by Scott Shetler on 5/30/19:

(#5) Panoptic view of the town

Things you need to know about Chicken, Alaska right off the bat:

– The official population is 7, according to census figures.

– There’s no bathroom in downtown Chicken, but there is an outhouse.

– The town got its name because its early residents didn’t know how to spell “Ptarmigan.”

On the title of this posting. From Wikipedia, about the book (and the movie):

Postcards from the Edge is a semi-autobiographical novel by Carrie Fisher, first published in 1987. It was later adapted by Fisher herself into a motion picture of the same name, which was directed by Mike Nichols and released by Columbia Pictures in 1990.

And from NOAD:

noun edge: 1 [a] the outside limit of an object, area, or surface; a place or part farthest away from the center of something: a willow tree at the water’s edge | figurative:  these measures are merely tinkering at the edges of a wider issue. [b] an area next to a steep drop: the cliff edge. [c] [in singular] the point or state immediately before something unpleasant or momentous occurs: the economy was teetering on the edge of recession. [metaphorical development from sense b] …

Fisher’s book is about being on the edge in sense c: she was addicted and seen as teetering on the brink of insanity. Inuvik is on the edge in sense a — just about as far away as you can get from the center of North America.

What’s on the billboard. From a HuffPo piece,”Inuvik, Where the Welcome Sign Is Billed as Top Attraction: Canada’s Northwest Territories on the Looney Front, Part 1″ by Mike Arkus on 10/22/2015, about:

the colourful board with a polar bear, sled dogs, indigenous people and a grizzly catching a salmon – and Welcome to Inuvik NWT (Northwest Territories) in English, Nedanihi Nanazgee in Gwichi’in, and Quyanuk Kikuffi in Inuit – is at the end of the Dempster Highway after its 417-mile gravelly sweep through the Arctic wilderness.

(The highway is, as Chris said on her postcard, an “adventurous road”.  Prospective travelers should carefully read the available pages of advice before undertaking the adventure.)

The board was designed and painted by Maxin Morin (then an RCMP officer) in 1992.

What is #1 a picture of? What do we call the thing depicted in #1? Above, I’ve called it a billboard and a board; sign or signboard would have done as well. (notice, poster, or logo might also be possible in some settings, but those four are pretty much the simple options). By function, it’s a welcoming or welcome billboard / board / sign / signboard. In principle, any one of these eight expressions (and perhaps some others) would serve equally well to refer to the thing in #1.

But when I searched for information about what was on that thing, referring to it as the Inuvit (welcome) billboard, I came up with nothing useful — just information about other billboards in the town (and there are several). More or less by accident, I discovered that welcome sign was the magic expression. Of a number of possible expressons for referring to this folk artwork, apparently the one everybody uses for everyday purposes is the (Inuvitwelcome sign. The compound welcome sign is then, in the local usage of Inuvit, not just a description of a particular sort of object (of which there happens to be just one in Inuvit), but serves as a locally fixed name.

Presumably, locals would understand you if you asked about what was on their town billboard or welcoming board, though it might take them a moment of extra processing time. But asking them about their welcome sign would be instantly understood. ‘Cause that’s what they call it there.

One Response to “A postcard from the (northern) edge”

  1. chryss Says:

    Thanks for the lovely post. I thought you’d like a card!

    The story about Chicken being named Chicken because the gold miners of the time couldn’t figure out how to spell ptarmigan is exactly the kind of thing that smells of etymythology, but in this particular case I almost can believe it’s actually true.

    The day I came through Chicken was the day before Chicken’s biggest summer event, Chickenstock. (Obviously a music festival.) I had several friends that were en route to it, but seeing the large accumulation of RVs and a budding tent city

    “Downtown Chicken” is actually a business, consisting of three separate establishments: A gift shop, an alcohol-serving bar and a café. They do indeed only have (perfectly fine, including ADA compliant) outhouses. The RV park offices and bigger gift shop nearby, though presumably have indoor plumbing. The “post office” (probably a USPS contract office, though I couldn’t 100% ascertain this — could be, someone takes the letters to Tok every day) was closed, but I left the card in a hard-to-find box with hopes it would be dispatched somehow.

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