There is no shortage of words when it comes to what one may be feeling as they take the first few tentative steps toward a new chapter in their life, but it only takes two to describe what Jim and Laurel Kreuger knew they were leaving behind as they boarded the plane in Baker Lake on June 11 – their community.
Jim, 60, and Laurel, 61, spent 27 years in Baker Lake; Jim a teacher and Laurel the manager of the community’s prenatal nutrition program.
They raised their two children – a daughter, Emma (three when they arrived and now 30), and a son, Teal (one when they arrived and now 28) – in Baker Lake, immersed themselves in a new culture, and built the type of friendships and relationships that last a lifetime.
Both were heavily involved with their community, Jim a staple of Baker’s minor hockey program for a large part of those 27 years, and one would be hard pressed to find anyone in the community of more than 2,200 who didn’t recognize the Kreugers on sight and greet them with a smile.
Jim could write a book on education during his time in Baker and rarely misses a chance to point out the importance of the relationships formed between teachers, their students and the parents in the community – all wanting a strong, successful education program in place, and all having to remind themselves at one time or another that such programs can often take a long time to develop.
Another book could also be written on the changes they’ve seen during their time in Baker.
“Sometimes, when the kids see the hockey equipment I brought with me 27 years ago and played with for 10 years after my arrival – including my old skates that look like they’re out of the 1800s and now hang at my daughter’s place – they really see the age and the changes that have taken place in a rather unique type of way, even though I don’t see myself as aging that much,” Jim points out with a chuckle.
“When we first arrived, Laurel and I were amazed by how the town seemed to be dominated by ATVs – mostly three-wheelers at that time – and Ski-Doos in the winter time, and how the hamlet catered to those, as the parking lots were built with that kind of size of machine in mind, and there wasn’t a lot of sand spread on the streets because it ruins the ski-rods and the ski-skins.
“And then came the transformation towards car and trucks. It was probably similar to when the West made the transition to cars from towns that were all dominated by horses. We see that now because the parking lots are all too small and can’t hold the big trucks and SUVs that are around now.”
Jim notes it’s been no less of a huge transformation seen in schools and classrooms.
The chuckle returns to his voice as he points out that the kids in school today all assume cellphones and iPads have been around forever.
“Today is a mind-blowing difference from the internet being brand new when we first came up. In the office I was in, the only person who had the internet and e-mails was our director and he used something called a Gopher server (a system that predates the World Wide Web for organizing and displaying files on internet servers).
“At that time, we couldn’t even figure out an educational application for it. He was using it to get the scores from Scottish soccer leagues.
“It looked like a typewriter. Everything you typed in looked like a typewriter font and the messages came back almost like a Telex.
“Just imagine how different it is now for kids. They can’t imagine it.”
People in the hamlet arranged a special goodbye for Jim and Laurel in the form of a community parade of sorts and the couple being trucked around to wave their emotional goodbyes (for now).
The community hid the event well from the couple, which is no small feat in Kivalliq communities, and Jim and Laurel were more than a little overwhelmed by the outpouring of affection.
The goodbyes, once again, touched their hearts in a way only a true sense of community can do.
“We’ve always tried to look at the community, buy into the community, be part of the community and support it because the community supports us in so many ways and we all need that.
“We can’t all be individuals just doing our own thing. There’s value added by a community and, therefore, you have to commit and put something back into that community because we take so much out of it that we don’t even realize.
“When I look at everything – my work, my life and our home – community is central to all, whether it’s the Kivalliq Science Educator’s Community, the community of the Nunavut Teacher’s Association, the Nunavut Youth Abroad community, the community that is minor hockey and the community of Baker Lake.
“Nunavut education is the three Cs: community, culture and curriculum, and if we don’t give our constant attention to all three, it stalls.
“It has to be a community. Family has to see the school as theirs, just as Laurel and I will always see Baker as ours.”