Karen McColl

Freelance Reporter at CBC Yukon

Bachelor of Journalism, 2014

Once I dipped my paddle in the water it was all good.

Karen McColl was anxious. She had to find the right gear, contact the right people and she had to find a travelling companion. She had a little more than a month to do it all. “But,” she says, “Once I dipped my paddle in the water it was all good.”

The anxiety was gone, but the real hard work was still ahead - more than a thousand kilometres of canoeing in the Northwest Territories, from Fort Simpson to Inuvik on the historic Mackenzie River. Mix with that dozens of interviews, live reports on CBC Radio, a feature newspaper article, and indeed, the hard work was still ahead.

Karen was the 2014 Gordon Sinclair Roving Reporter Bursary recipient. It provides fifteen thousand dollars to a new Canadian journalist to help them “get off the beaten path” and report on issues and events from a region that doesn’t get much media coverage. That pretty much describes the Mackenzie Valley. And when Karen, who had spent time living and working in the NWT, began thinking about applying for the bursary she says, “I thought: ‘Hey I could canoe the river because that is the best way to access the area and it shows the remoteness of it.’” She was sure it was the sort of trip Gordon Sinclair himself would have taken.

While the trip logistics were complicated finding a companion was actually quite easy. She put out a call on Facebook and another King’s grad got back to her. Daniel Campbell (BJ ’13) was just who she needed. He had the journalistic chops to help her and he had experience camping and canoeing in the Arctic. The two of them put their canoe in the water in Fort Simpson and over the next month and a half visited ten communities along the river, places such as Wrigley, Tulita and Fort Good Hope.

Karen interviewed leaders and regular folk about the changes that are coming to the Valley. They are changes that will affect everyone. There’s oil and gas exploration and plans for an all-weather road from Wrigley all the way to Inuvik where it would meet up with the Dempster Highway. It promises gargantuan change and in her article for the Toronto Star she takes readers into the complicated reality of life in the North.

“Tulita,” she writes, “Relies on the seasonal ice road, air cargo and the river to bring in food and supplies. Barges run the length of the Mackenzie River during the ice free season delivering fuel, equipment for oil and gas companies, cars and other supplies, but not passengers. Families usually drive out on the ice road once every year to stock up in Yellowknife or Northern Alberta…”

The trip helped her grow the journalistic confidence that she says King’s planted. And it helped her find work with the CBC. But it also gave her a lifetime of memories: a muskox near Fort Good Hope, a magnificent gorge with limestone cliffs bordering the river and the kindness of two nuns who love playing cards.

They found out later the nuns were famous for their cleverness at cards and Karen laughs: “They did also beat us at cards. Very politely of course.”

Posted: Aug. 2016

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