When Zena Sheppard and Max Kinden first got together, they’d search for driftwood up and down the coast on the Northern Peninsula.
One sea-bleached piece looked like a polar bear. Another had the twist and snarl of a dragon’s head. Sheppard and Kinden would lug their spoils home to Roddickton, building bookshelves and refinishing their kitchen with the driftwood they’d found.
“Driftwood is something that binds us together and binds us to the woods,” Kinden said.
So when the time came for Sheppard and Kinden to name their business, “Titjaluk Logistics” felt like a natural fit. Sheppard, an Inuk originally from Postville, explained that titjaluk means driftwood in Inuktitut.
Now, Titjaluk Logistics is repurposing wood that’s a little more freshly fallen — this time, as firewood for Nunatsiavut’s north coast.
The pair are purchasing smaller byproduct wood too thin to use as lumber from local sawmills on the Northern Peninsula. They then split and dry the wood — getting it wood-stove ready — and send it up by boat to Labrador.
For now, they’re primarily sending wood to Hopedale and Nain, as both communities lie north of the tree line in Nunatsiavut.
With the support of the Nunatsiavut Government and Natural Resources Canada, Sheppard and Kinden completed a pilot project two years ago. COVID-19 brought their plans to a halt last year, but the pair are gearing up now to secure a two-year supply of wood for Nunatsiavut.
Heat insecurity ‘a massive public health challenge’
Nick Mercer, the Nunatsiavut government’s Regional Energy Coordinator, said many people in Nunatsiavut’s off-grid, largely diesel-powered communities are really struggling to heat their homes.
According to a 2017 energy report from Nunatsiavut, 57 per cent of dwellings in Nain and 63 per cent of dwellings in Hopedale are inadequately heated. Across all of Nunatsiavut, the plan found that 43 per cent of homes lack access to clean, reliable, affordable heat.
“This is a massive public health challenge,” Mercer said. “There’s a great deal of research out there that suggests that if you live in a poorly heated home — below room temperature, on average — this can lead to a vast array of physical and mental effects.”
Last summer, the Nunatsiavut government surveyed community members on their preferred source of home heating. Mercer said residents ranked wood heating “far, far above” any other option.
“And the reason folks were so tremendously excited about the potential for sustainable wood heating is it’s an integral part of Inuit culture in Labrador,” he said. “Wood harvesting is how people get out on the land. It’s how people spend time with their families.”
To address heat insecurity, the Nunatsiavut government is helping 200 members replace existing wood stoves with more energy-efficient models. These upgraded wood stoves will burn about one-third less wood than conventional wood stoves, and could nearly eliminate particulate matter emissions.
But in communities like Hopedale and Nain, it can be difficult for some residents to travel up to 100 kilometres by snowmobile to harvest their winter’s wood. And with the rapidly thinning sea ice in coastal Labrador, Sheppard and Kinden said wood harvesting is becoming increasingly dangerous.
“We are talking to people that live back there,” Sheppard said. “They are saying, you know, you only have a certain amount of time that you can go and get your firewood on the sea ice because of climate change.”
For these reasons, Mercer knows energy-efficient wood stoves don’t offer a complete solution.
“It could be the most efficient wood stove in the world. But if you can’t access the wood to put into it, then we really haven’t made considerable progress in addressing the challenge,” he said.
“We also know in northern Labrador and in Inuit communities, generally, that this heat insecurity risk is not evenly distributed. It has greater risk for certain segments of the population — mainly seniors, women, those with childcare responsibilities, those with mobility or health challenges.”
Building a steady supply chain
Sheppard and Kinden sold out of firewood fast during Titjaluk Logistics’ pilot project. Sheppard said the Inuit Community Governments in Nain and Hopedale purchased many of their pallets as Christmas gifts for elders and single mothers.
“I was really, really appreciative of that,” she said.
The pair estimate the pilot project saved 26,240 litres of diesel, and in the coming months, the company is eyeing a way to combine sawdust and cardboard waste from local businesses to make pellets and briquettes.
Eventually, they’re aiming to supply all communities in the region.
“I love my culture, I love my community,” Sheppard said. “I just love, love Labrador.”