Xavier, November, 2005

My first trip as a Soleica employee happened exactly 2 years ago. I was on my way to Nemaska. Now, it has become a routine trip and preparing to travel to Nemaska has become a habit. This time, I will be driving down. It isn’t the fastest or more relaxing way to travel, but surely the most economical in terms of cutting costs for transporting material – and I have a lot of material for the Nemaska Sports Complex and Recreation Center’s new networks.

I leave early in the morning from Montreal to arrive later that night in Nemaska to give me time to unload all the material. I take advantage of this time to pick up the server at the Band Office that will be used in the new Sports Complex. At the technical level, everything goes smoothly with the server – ditto for the PCs. Everything is going well until I encounter some problems with the cabling. As usual, these problems take a little time to be resolved, but everything falls into place.

complexe sportifThe weather is beginning to get cold and ice starts to appear on the lake. The lake looks like a mirror with the snow blown off by the wind. It really is beautiful. I am also doing some work for the CRA and the Band Office. My days are filled and the week just flies by.

During the weekend, we had two power failures. One at 6PM on Friday night. We figured that it was just temporary and that it would be back within an hour. I was hoping to get some work done that evening. This power outage gives me the opportunity to really test the UPS devices. After an hour and a half of testing, and still no power, I returned to my hotel room. Without electricity, there isn’t much to do : cold meals, and no lights to do anything productive – and no heating in the rooms. Thankfully, this wasn’t the coldest periods of the winter. By 6AM the power is finally back.

Departure day finally arrives. It has been snowing for two days now and I am not too keen on driving back on 4 all-season tires. I know what’s ahead of me – the roads are all white and slick with ice. I drive cautiously on the road that was gravel just several days earlier. I am hoping for better road conditions on the Route de la Baie James. But, to no avail, they’re in the same condition. Only in Matagami do the roads become less threatening. I have just finished 400km of challenging road conditions and although I enjoyed the spectacle of furry white rabbits running alongside the roads, I am happy to finally be able to drive at reasonable speeds. I still have 800km of road to do!

Xavier, October, 2005

I have been working for about a week now on configuring Nemaska First Nation’s band office server. Approximately forty users will be connecting to this new server. It will act as the main server for all e-mails, files, applications, backups, security. This is the centerpiece for the Nemaska band office’s new system infrastructure.

A week prior to my departure for Nemaska, we bring the boxes to be shipped by Purolator. The boxes are large and heavy, but not as much as the shipping price proposed. The price exceeds – by far – what we had predicted. After mulling over the situation and thinking of various options, we find that it is cheaper to rent a car and drive to Nemaska with the server in the backseat.

Sunday, 3AM. My alarm clock rings. I have a big day ahead of me. At 4AM, the car is packed and I’m off. As I drive up St-Laurent Boulevard, I come across people who are just making their way home from a night out in the Main’s various bars. I, on the other hand, have a very different agenda.

The drive is pleasant and I even get the opportunity to spot a moose slowly walking in front of the car. Just before arriving to Nemaska I am greeted by a black bear. I arrive at the Nemaska Motel at 5:30PM. I struggle a little to unload the car of its very heavy contents and store everything for the night in my home for 2 weeks.

Patrick arrives in the middle of the night. We find each other in the morning for a good breakfast. We walk over to the Band Office where Brenda welcomes us and leads us to what will be the future server room. My first reflex was to take a picture of the room’s current condition. I must admit that I was a little discouraged at the sight of this space. This is where the advantages of having two people working together – one lags, the other picks up and motivates. Patrick and I immediately began working on tidying up the space for the new server. It took time to do, but the results are quickly visible. We started setting up to install the new server. And off to work we went!

The advantage of having to replace an entire system with a new one is that it is less time consuming than a transfer of data from one machine to the next. Once the server was connected we were able to quickly begin authenticating user PCs onto the new server. The Finance Department was a little more tedious because of the specific applications they use in their everyday tasks. But, it still went as planned without too many hitches.


Outside of work, we were able to find Peter who was also in Nemaska. We met Martin Sureau, the new Director of the brand new sports complex in Nemaska. Martin took us on a tour and we were able to see all of the facilities’ features; bowling, pool, ball courts, golf simulator, the future fitness room. All very impressive! Patrick and Peter left after one week. I took advantage of the weekend to redo the entire cabling in the new server room. Everything is all nice and neat now.

My second week in Nemaska consisted of connecting all departments of the Band Office; Fire Department, Wellness Center, Police Department, Municipal Garage. There is still a lot of cabling left to do and I sometimes ran out of equipment to be able to connect all the computers. But, I’ve taken note and will be connecting them next time I’m in Nemaska.

The second week went by quite quickly. As of Wednesday, everything was closed. I stayed an extra day to ensure that all was working smoothly. I left Thursday around noon. The return trip was not as pleasant as the inbound one. A steady rain fell the whole way to Val d’Or making the first 120 km of gravel road wet and unsteady. I could feel the car pulling to the sides as I took in the curves. It was with much relief that I finally found myself on asphalt road again that led me to Matagami. I arrived in Montreal at around 2AM, happy to be able to go to sleep – without having to unload massive boxes! Everything was delivered and is now working smoothly.

Xavier, July, 2005

One year…that’s how long it had been since I was last in this situation – August & 7 o’clock in the morning - waiting for Air Creebec flight 927. It had been a long time since my last visit to Nemaska. It’s not as though I haven’t seen or met up with anyone, because I regularly bump into people in Montreal, but rather it all links with community. It is the flying over of vast forests and gliding smoothly past innumerable lakes just prior to landing in Nemaska. The water, the feel of the village, and the people I’m beginning to know better…all of this was what I had been missing.

Unfortunately, since my departure from Montreal right up until my return, the weather was more than disappointing. It was either grey or rainy the whole trip. I barely managed to slip in a few snapshots with the rare occurrence of a sunny break, which, I tell you, lasted mere minutes at a time! Curiously, from one visit to another, it seemed to me that I always took the same photograph over and over - the little cabin with the lake and sand island in the background. This shot, I do believe, I’ve taken it in each season of the year as well as all times of the day. I never tire of the aforementioned shot and still find this little spot very beautiful. Let me tell you, dear readers, whether it is the change of seasons or light during the day, each time, it is as though it is a whole new location each & every time.

However, my week-long visits are very booked & busy, so time spent wandering languidly are unfortunately, few and far between. This week alone, between work and the rain, I’ve hardly even been out! Work wise, it has been very successful and I’ve completed all assigned tasks within the given time frame. Impressively, with time and gained experience with the C.R.A., there are no more technical ‘surprises’ to deal with. Things are smooth, stable and grave train-wreck-like situations are pretty much non-existant (I touch wood as I write these lines!)

One evening when there was a rare clear moment during the week, I went for a stroll along the lakefront. Swimmers were in the midst of training for the following week’s ‘fitness challenge’. I watched them intently, impressed by their courage to swim in such frigid waters coupled with a soft, but chilling breeze that swirled across the lake. A popular triathlon event was slated for the following week-end. Swim, bike, run, as well as canoeing and portage were all goodies to be found on the event’s menu.

Alas, my departure day dad arrived. So, I went for a stroll through the village to meet some of the good folks at the band office that I’d worked with over the past year. The Wellness Centre also welcomed my visit, as did George at the Fire Department who had a minor PC problem. I offered him a Soleica mug and mouse pad. All went well, but it was I who left with gifts. A Nemaska Firefighters mug and a Nemaska Search & Rescue baseball cap. Next up was the sports complex. Brand new with a magnificent design in the form of a wave! I will try to stop here again for sure next year.

Xavier, August 20, 2004

After I have postponed for some reasons my trip to Nemaska, it's with pleasure that I stand up this morning at 5:30 a.m. to go to the airport. My plane takes off at 7:50 a.m.. I was initially due to arrive in Nemaska at 10:30 a.m. but it's finally at 1:30 p.m. that I reach the Nemiscau airport after two stops, the first one at Val D'or and the second at Waskaganish. Even though I'm looking forward to seeing Nemaska with the sun (I saw it only with some snow) I have to change my mind because the clouds are numerous... as well as the showers.

Upon my arrival I visit the offices to greet people whom I'm getting close to. I also make a drop by at the Band Office. I feel confortable in this village even if I have been here only 3 times. Then, very quickly I'm buckling down to the list of tasks that I have to achieve. As a result of being used to travels and of mastering the technical environment, everything goes well and the work goes on efficently. However a bad surprise might happen such as that of this morning when one server hard disk broke down.

nemaska lotissementThe sun shines occasionally. I take the opportunity of a sun break to go for a walk around the village. The number of houses on construction is high... as well as the village's growth. I have been told about the construction of a new sport center including a swimming pool, a bowling... Finally, plenty of activities in Nemaska for the young people. As I am walking, some people I cross, ask me what I'm doing here and since when I am here...

There are many people in the streets as if everyone was feeling that the autumn was to arrive quickly and that everyone was trying to enjoy the last moments of the summer. That is precisely that I hear the next day whereas a strong West wind was blowing up in the village and the showers were numerous. Then until my departure the weather remains bad and rainny. All the work that I had to do is completed and I am about to leave and take off. However because things are moving at a high pace and the dynamism is high, I hope to return here soon to operate the modifications.

Xavier, February 10, 2004

7 am at the Dorval airport waiting for my flight to Nemaska : I am half asleep waiting to board when I hear Peter's voice asking me what I am doing here. Like me, Peter is heading north. We are traveling together for the first part of the trip, since he goes to Chibougamau. We take the opportunity to discuss the enormous trees cuts in the forest. Their size is nothing in comparison with those in Europe. They are done in proportion with the forest's vastness which end cannot bee seen. In Chibougamau, I leave Peter who proceeds toward Mistissini. I continue my trip alone and 45 minutes later my flight lands in Nemaska. Here everybody wears gorgeous mittens made of caribou skin. They are decorated with embroideries and with beaver fur on the sleeves. On my arrival at the hotel, I ask the owner where I could find some. Unfortunately in Nemaska, there is no shop to buy these. The inhabitants make them according to their needs.

Then starts a busy work week but all goes well. I happily meet the custumers who I had seen some months earlier. Trust is here. People come to ask me questions that they had not dared to ask when I was here the first time. As I am progressing in my sheduled tasks, I have to deal with more and more requests from the users : advices, new needs, technical support.. after that, I take advantage to bring some improvements in the existing network configuration. A wireless network is set up, the server backups are completely automatized, new computers are configurated. doing all that, time is flying.

The week end is quiet. I work most of the day and I also take time for a walk around the lake. Temperatures approach the - 40 ¨C but walking in the snow warms up. The scenery is spectacular. Everything is white, silent. There are no traces. Feeling the cold on the tip of my fingers and not wanting to walk too far from the village, I decide to return. My second week in Nemaska is filled with routine work and I have to wait for a CD to go on with my work. The day before my departure it arrives and I can proceed with its installation on the server. I even have enough time to perform some tests.

Around 2 pm I see Willie coming with mittens around his neck. he is walking in my direction and gives them to me saying that it is a gift from the Office for thanks for the work done. I am extremely touched by this gesture, as much for the meaning of it as for the beauty of the present. One hour later, James arrives with a big piece of caribou. It has been killed the day before and was cooked bogg-fire in the morning. It tastes excellent with some goose fat and gives energy for the rest of the day. We discuss with Eddie and Mark the products of the hunt that we tasted. Compared with beef feeded with animal wheat and parked in paddocks, it can easily be said that no comparaison is possible. The next day, it is the return. The return trip is via Waskaganish and Val d'Or, to land finally in Montreal later in the evening. This itinary is conditioned by the fact that the regular flight to Montreal can not land in Nemaska due to a problem with the airstrip' lights. The way back, slightly longer, enables me, on the arrival in Waskaganish, to admire James Bay fully closed with ice.

After experiencing a couple of funny events during the flight, our plane landed in Nemaska at the beginning of the afternoon. If you're curious, the exit door stubbornly refused to close after our stop at Chibougamau. James was waiting for us at the airport to take us in his huge pick-up to the center of the village. That was a short ride, but we were able to witness a sad view: the forest on the left-hand side of the road was charred. This is the consequence of the huge forest fires that occurred the past two years.

CRA's offices look like they're almost new and very well equipped. We visited the whole site to meet the employees and familiarize ourselves not only with the users but also with the spot. Our job is quite exciting: to redesign the IT architecture of the whole site, including replacing the server, reconfiguring all the workstations and training the users. The implementation of this highly secure architecture will be based on the same model as what we did in the Montreal office.

This is a nice challenge: I'm in charge of this project. Of course, Antoine is still around because I'll need his experience and advice. Anyway, we got pretty straight to the point. Server configuration proceeds really quickly. By the way, this machine is a real "monster" and working on it is a real pleasure.

Life on the spot gets organized step-by-step. We go back to our chalet (often late at night), and after an intense workday, sleep comes pretty quickly. Our very first night, we had the chance to see awesome Northern Lights. I definitely found it wonderful: that was my first one!

The path to the CRA office goes along the lakeshore, passing through the trees. After arriving at the office, we resume our tasks and start another long workday. We are doing well as far as configuring the server.

In order to give us some more energy, and to satisfy our will to taste local products, James shows up with a big smoked fish. He told us he had caught it, and his daughter-in-law had smoked it and added some home-made goose-fat. The "end" product is a real delight for the taste buds.

Antoine has to back to Montreal. James and I continue to work on the most time-consuming task: reconfiguring all the PC's and training the users.

Day after day, while the number of reconfigured PC's increases, the surface of the lake transforms into ice. In just a few days, I notice the transition into wintertime: the ground is now covered with a thick layer of snow, and the lapping of the water is being replaced by a thin layer of soft and uniform snow. James tells me we have to wait over a week before we can even think about walking on the ice. Later in the winter, there's no more question about it, though. So much so, that one can even drive its skidoo on the frozen lake, with no more worries than they were walking on the ground.

The weather is amazingly variable : one can enjoy a sunny interval, and 15 minutes later, see the snow fall diagonally, pushed away by a strong wind. The close lake gets then covered with a thick fog created by the blown snow.

The "done" list gets bigger as the to-do one. However, workdays are pretty long, and there's very little time left to really enjoy the outdoor fun. I promise I'll catch up on that next time I come here.

After spending three intense weeks, I felt the satisfaction of having done a good job there. Now is the time to go back to Montreal. James takes me full-blow to the airport (100km/h on the snow-covered road...). I try to soothe myself by asking him if his trucks is fitted with winter tyres... The answer is... "no"!

The view of this charred forest impresses me as much as the very first time I saw it. After waiting a couple of minutes, I see my plane landing, check my luggage in, and heads to the tarmac with five other passengers. After a strong acceleration, our twin-engined aircraft takes off. Three hours later, I see a very different world again: Montréal.