Betting on break-up
River pools a guessing game

Richard Gleeson
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (May 08/00) - It's break-up season along the Mackenzie Valley, a sure sign of spring and also a chance to pick up a little extra spending money.

The spectacular phenomenon of hundreds of tons of river ice, as stable as bedrock for months, that suddenly groan and crack then start sliding downriver amazes even those who have seen it many times before.

"When the ice moves, everybody runs down to the river to watch it go," said Aklavik rec co-ordinator Dean McLeod.

Most river communities hold break-up pools. Residents enter their best guesses on the date and time the ice will begin moving. The closest one wins.

Break-up pools are nowhere more popular than they are at Fort Simpson, where the Liard River joins the mighty Mackenzie. Last year in Fort Simpson there were five different break-up pools. This year Archie Villeneuve predicted break-up on a pool run as a fund-raiser for the school within a few minutes.

"It was just a guessing game for me," said Villeneuve modestly. "I just got lucky, I guess." A lifetime resident of the community, Villeneuve said this is the first year he's seen the Mackenzie break up before the Liard.

He bought his $2 two-minute block about a week before break-up occurred and collected the $372 prize last Thursday. Officially, break-up occurred in Simpson last Tuesday at 3:33:40 p.m.

A few hundred miles up the Liard, break-up pools aren't quite as popular.

"There are some, but it's not a regular thing, not like Simpson," said Fort Liard senior administrative officer John McKee. "This year it was just a non-event we really didn't even hear much talk about it."

McKee said the later the ice goes out the more interest seems to develop in organizing a pool.

The Mackenzie River is clear of ice in Fort Simpson, but they were still driving on the Peel River last Thursday.

In Aklavik, the hamlet and recreation committee sponsors the free raffle there. They started accepting predictions Friday, but people have until May 19 to enter the third annual David Husky Memorial Ice Pool Contest.

The winner gets a plaque, his or her name on the event trophy, plus $100.

"We put a marker out on the ice near the water treatment plant, and that's got to pass another marker at the point," said McLeod.

He said he's not quite sure yet what his prediction will be.

"I'm not going to guess yet," McLeod said. "I'm going to wait until around the 19th to guess. That's usually when most people come in, the last day."