Friday, November 2, 2007

Piano Bar at the Top of The World

Here is an article I wrote for a local paper here, about the world's most northern Steinway Piano. Enjoy:

Piano bar at the top of the world
Kent Driscoll

Monday, April 16, 2007

EUREKA WEATHER STATION - If you were lost on the land and stumbled across the Eureka Weather Station, you would think you were hallucinating.

Who would expect to find a fully-stocked lounge complete with a Second World War-era piano at 79.59 degrees North?

"It is like living in National Geographic," said Al Gaudet, who works three months on and three months off at the station.

The station has been around since the early 1950s, and with that long a history, a few heirlooms have gathered. In the lounge sits a drab, olive green piano, which has seen its share of parties.

In 1999, a pair of visitors took a closer look and found it was a Steinway. They recorded the serial numbers and contacted the Steinway Company.

The company wrote back, declaring the piano the world's most northern Steinway. It was constructed in New York City in 1948, and is known as the Victory model. From the Second World War until the end of the Korean War, this was the model that American soldiers listened to in lounges all over the world.

Gaudet suspects that it may have been a part of the Alert station, but somehow was transferred to Eureka.

"It still carries a tune, even though it has a few dead spots. That thing has seen a lot of parties, and has been roughed up pretty well. Last year, when we moved buildings, it was bumped up a little," said Gaudet.

Gaudet has been coming to Eureka for years, and has had many run-ins with the local wildlife. Problem bears are scared off with a shotgun blast, but wolves are harder to deal with, as they roam in packs.

"I had read that there has never been a recorded case of wolves attacking a human. I'm walking back here, and I look around, and I'm surrounded by 12 wolves. I said to them, 'I hope you guys have read the book,'" said Gaudet.

The wolves must have been up on their reading as they didn't touch Gaudet. Though wolves are a nuisance, polar bears can be scary.

"In the old building, the bears used to look right in the windows. They are smart too; they never come to the camp the same way twice. Last year, we had one chasing guys between buildings," said Gaudet.

Usually, a shotgun blast will frighten the bears, and only once has a problem bear been shot in the almost 60-year history of the station.

"We have to phone a lot of people before we shoot a bear," explains Gaudet.

Weather balloons leave Eureka twice a day, and atmospheric studies are conducted around the clock. If bad weather is heading for southern Canada, it usually passes through Eureka.

The station has reached -55.3 C twice - once in 1987 and once in 1979 - and their record high temperature is 20 C in 2003.

"We monitor the ice conditions, and the ice here isn't as thick as it was before," said Gaudet, the closest he will come to commenting on global warming.

Working at Eureka since 1999, Gaudet is convinced that his job isn't for everyone. "Not everybody can live in the high Arctic, I firmly believe that."