Register Wednesday | June 12 | 2024

Houseboat Days

The bliss and perils of life on Canada’s northern waters.

LIKE BUNGALOWS MATED TO BARGES THEN AIR-DROPPED into meters-thick ice, the thirty or so houseboats on Great Slave Lake outside Yellowknife are a metaphor for the town itself: here gleaming and polished, there mottled, ramshackle and jerry-rigged.

Popping up in the late 1970s, these homes on the water attract misfits, transients, bohemians, artists, tramps and libertarians. You come to Yellowknife when you don’t quite fit in the rest of Canada. You move to a houseboat when you don’t fit in Yellowknife.

Living on a lake in winter, however, requires that every extruded nugget of your existence be ferried to terra firma. Today, I’m on waste disposal duty with twenty-two-year-old Jeremy Emerson. We’re pulling toboggans heaped with garbage bags full of urine, excrement and fouled toilet paper.

As Jeremy appears, his neighbours serenely hand over swollen pouches from their “honey buckets” (a pail topped with a toilet ...

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