High Arctic Haulers·Video

Mr. Durrant and the future chemists of Naujaat

When this teacher came to Nunavut from Jamaica, he immediately saw similarities between his students and himself.

When this Jamaican teacher came to Nunavut, he immediately saw similarities between his students and himself

The future chemists of Naujaat

2 years ago
Duration 1:51
High school teacher, Greg Durrant, set out on a mission during his first year in Nunavut to inspire students through a new science curriculum, but first he had to get the necessary supplies to the remote community.

Gregg Durrant vividly remembers the moment he arrived in Naujaat, Nunavut, a small community on the northern shores of Hudson's Bay, in 2018. 

"I stepped outside of the plane to collect my things. It was cold, but I felt like I was on fire," laughs Durrant, who is originally from Jamaica. "It was -23 and it was my first time experiencing this kind of cold."

The weather wasn't the only new challenge he faced. He also started teaching the Tuugaalik High School's first-ever chemistry and biology classes. 

"Every student in Canada should have equal access and opportunity," says Durrant. "If you're Canadian, you're Canadian — whether you're North or South."

Science teacher Gregg Durrant adjusts a Bunsen burner for students at Tuugaalik High School in Naujaat, Nunavut. (High Arctic Haulers/CBC)

New Opportunities

The school had always offered science, but not pure and applied curriculum. Durrant's classes provided a chance for the teens to expand their knowledge and curiosity. They also opened up new opportunities for students who want to pursue post-secondary programs that require biology and chemistry. 

"I pushed for the possibility of a higher education through a higher academic program," says Durrant. "High school should prepare them to go to college."

One of Durrant's students, Ayaya Qaqqasiq, 15, is deciding whether she wants to study law or medicine after graduation. The latter might just have an edge, though, thanks to the experiments she was able to do under Durrant's guidance. 

"I never think people from Nunavut would be able to get to do that stuff because things are so hard to get up here," she says.

Every student in Canada should have equal access and opportunity. If you're Canadian, you're Canadian — whether you're North or South.- Gregg Durrant, teacher, Tuugaalik High School

The Sealift

Like other isolated hamlets in the High Arctic, Naujaat relies on cargo ships to bring in most things residents need. The vessels start to arrive with the warmer weather in July, but they only have a couple of months to complete their rounds before the snow and ice settle back in, making the waterways impassable. 

Ninety per cent of the supplies for the school are delivered on the annual sealift, which is highly anticipated by both the staff and students. (A few years ago, the ships even delivered all the building materials for the new high school.) 

"I am so excited. I'm going to jump up and down," said Ayaya as she waited for the ship carrying chemicals and measuring equipment for Durrant's class.

Students of Tuugaalik High School in Naujaat experiment in chemistry class. (High Arctic Haulers/CBC)

Arctic Youth

Durrant's students knew he was from Jamaica and had only spent a short time in Toronto before venturing north. They were also well aware Jamaica is considered a "developing" country. He remembers one student asking him: "What could someone from Jamaica bring to us?" 

How did he react? 

"I'm not thin-skinned," he says. "I treated it as curiosity. I let them know that no matter where you are from, you can make a difference. And I think I've lived up to that."

Durrant's experiences growing up in southern Jamaica are what inspired him to work in the Arctic. He spent his childhood in Clarendon, an area that, like Naujaat, was short on resources for youth. For him, dedicated teachers had a huge impact on his life. 

"I am where I'm at today because of my teachers. They didn't give up on me," says Durrant. "My teachers were my inspiration and that's what I want... to do here. The kids are resilient."

Half of Naujaat's 1,100 residents are under the age of 17.  While many young people embrace their remote community, they can get frustrated over the lack of supplies and opportunities compared to other areas. 

"I love Naujaat, but sometimes I just want to fly away and go somewhere else," says Ayaya. "But then I'd only find myself coming back here."

Ayaya spends a lot of time with her little sister, skating at the local arena. They look forward to the day when the facility can be open year-round so they can play other sports. 

"It's really important for the community," says Ayaya. "Without these kinds of activities, I think a lot of the kids can fall into the wrong path."

Some youth have found their passion in traditional activities. James Alaralak, for example, spent a year and a half raising and training his dog team so he can explore the land of his ancestors. He even built his own sled. 

"My favourite thing about dog sledding is going fast," says the 13-year-old.

Tugaalik High School in Naujaat, Nunavut. (High Arctic Haulers/CBC)

Next Steps

After completing his first year of teaching in Naujaat, Durrant decided to stay in the north. He was even promoted to vice-principal at a school in Arctic Bay on Baffin Island. 

"I want to make a difference," says Durrant. "Changes do take time. If I want to be an agent of change, one year isn't enough."

Even though he has moved to a different community, Durrant will never forget Ayaya and the rest of the youth in Naujaat. 

"I really want them to advance," he says. "I want them to succeed."

Meet Durrant and join the classroom as they wait for supplies to arrive on the Taïga Desgagnés in the third episode of High Arctic Haulers, only on CBC Gem.