Hot weather was never a problem when I was growing up in my home community of Attawapiskat. During most of the year dealing with the weather meant putting on more clothes to keep warm. We Cree from the James Bay coast have grown accustomed to the cold weather of the north and feel most comfortable when it is cool. In the summer months there is only a short period when the weather has an opportunity to rise to temperatures to make people uncomfortable in the heat.
I have many memories of these hot summer days in my community. During these few days, people spent time outdoors and on the land. People walked the streets in the summer heat to spend time with neighbours and friends and to catch up on the local news. Usually most of these wanderers ended up by the river to sit and take in the view of the flowing water from the high bank. A little breeze could always be counted on at this location. Elders and older men playing cards also lined the high bank which stretches the length of the community. Most of the younger people, children and teenagers took to the water to swim and wade in the cool water of the river.
As young boys, my friends and I also wandered the community on our bicycles, riding as fast as possible to try to find relief from the heat. Those who owned vehicles used their trucks or cars to drive around the community and cool off while driving fast along the short dusty roads of town. Thinking back on this it all seems so silly now considering there are a series of short streets in town and a single gravel road that runs through the community, out to the treatment centre, to the airport and the sewage lagoon. In all there might be six or seven kilometres of road.
Although everyone in the community enjoys summer, the gravel roads in town become a real problem for everyone. During really long dry spells when there is no rain, the gravel roads turn into fine dust which can be whipped up by cars, trucks, motorcycles and four wheelers. When the weather is really dry, a single four wheeler can whip up a dust cloud stretching for blocks that can blow across the community.
On some of the hottest days when the wind settled and no relief could be found from the heat, we would make the decision to head out on the family freighter canoe. There was little preparation for these short rides. The outboard motor and a tank of gas was all that was needed. Everyone boarded an empty canoe and found places to sit or knee inside the hull. Speeding across the river and heading out towards the bay was always exciting and everyone enjoyed the relief of leaving the heat and the community. The cold was never far away. Once out on the bay the cold winds from the icy waters of the great James Bay always offered a cool relief. Riding away from the hordes of black flies, mosquitoes and other biting insects was another advantage to being out on the freighter canoe.
The most difficult time during the hot weather came in the evenings when everyone went to bed. As a young boy I recall some sleepless nights during the middle of summer. We were never able to afford any kind of air conditioning and two or three fans for a large family of nine children and two parents was all the relief we had during hot summer nights. We left the windows open to let any cool breeze blow into our rooms. The open windows also let in the sound of thousands of frogs and crickets that filled the hot night air with their music. As we lay half awake in our beds we also listened to the steady hum of mosquitoes flying about our heads.
Even though we had a hard time with the heat we knew that it would not last long. In the north, the cold is never far away. The cold is much preferred by my people and if given the choice everyone I know up the coast would rather be riding a snowmobile at 20 below zero than fighting the black flies at 28 above zero. Come to think of it that does make sense to me.