Billy Connolly Journey To The Edge Of The World

Thursday, 12 March 2009, 9:00PM on ITV1

As Billy nears the end of his 10,000 mile journey he heads even further south towards Vancouver Island through the isolated White Pass Mountains which are below freezing for most of the year.

He learns how literally to stake a claim on a piece of the Yukon, goes hunting for a moose, sees a bear in the wild, takes part in a Native American sweat lodge ceremony, hangs out with some real cowboys and fulfils an ambition to fall a tree.

Billy starts the final leg of his journey meeting mineral prospector, Shawn Ryder, who studies geological data to predict where lucrative mineral deposits might be. He then stakes a claim on these pieces of land for mining.

Shawn shows Billy how to do this by making a post from a tree before signing and dating it and putting it in the ground. This can be sold to the highest bidder if minerals are subsequently found.

Billy then flies south to Ice Lakes where he meets two friends who spend their annual holidays moose hunting. Romeo and Carolee show Billy how they use a decoy, which they spray with scent, and a horn to try to lure a moose out. Romeo calls the moose while Carolee hides in a camouflage tent with a bow and arrow to shoot their target. The pair tell Billy they will wait as long as it takes to catch one to take home for the winter, and it could take two months.

Next Billy flies into British Columbia to Telegraph Creek, the scene of a 19th Century gold rush. Billy explains that the creek was once like something from a wild west movie – but is now deserted: “A ghost town with no ghosts,” says Billy.

To the south of Telegraph Creek, Billy then meets Nancy Ball, a 75-year-old woman running her remote 480 acre remote guest ranch all by herself. Armed with a shotgun in case they run into any bears, Nancy gives Billy a tour of her land before taking him home for moose stew.

After meeting her Billy tells the programme: “That was brilliant, that’s one of the nicest days I’ve spent in many, many years, with a delightful person. Other people’s enthusiasm is like a magnet, you can feel theirs and it does you good.

“And I really hope that this is seen by people of 75, to see her chopping wood and her attitude to life, and having the gun on her shoulder ready to defend herself. What a wonderful person.
That was a life changing experience. I don’t know quite how it’s going to change my life, but I know it has.”

Billy then moves on to a First Nations or “Indian” settlement called New Aiyansh, home to the Nisga’a tribe who invite him to take part in one of their traditional, spiritual rituals – a sweat lodge. The lodges are incredibly hot tents which push people to the edge of endurance as they pray, chant and discuss emotionally and physically hurtful experiences.

Billy joins the tribe members in their pitch black tent-like lodge where the only light is from the glow of the rocks. As they pour the water on him, Billy says he feels like he has been ‘struck by lightening’ and doubts whether his body can take the heat.

Emerging from the lodge, Billy says: “That was one of the most moving things I ever did in my life. It’s very difficult to talk. That was lovely, suddenly I feel so much at home, it’s difficult to explain.”

Reflecting later on the intensity of his experience, he adds: “I am closed off to anything remotely supernatural, or anything that mediums do, or ghost hunters and all that. I think it’s all cobblers. But this was an outpouring of honesty and the strength of it, there’s a beauty in it that has come to live with me and I hope it sticks around because I rather like it.”

Billy travels 800 miles south to the Mitchell River where he faces his fears and goes looking for a bear. The river is full of migrating salmon and bear-spotter Gary Zorn takes Billy in a boat on the trail of the creature he jokingly calls his ‘nemesis’.

Before he finishes his journey, Billy gets kitted up and heads into the forest with a group of loggers who show him how to chop down a tree – before letting him loose with a chainsaw himself. Self-confessed ‘nice, tree-hugging hippy’ Billy’s guilt at such a destructive act is assuaged by the fact that the trees are being felled to prevent the spread of the pine beetles they are infested with. Conscience clear, his thrill at fulfilling a lifetime ambition to fell a tree is matched only by his disappointment that none of the loggers shout ‘timber’ as the trunks crash to the forest floor. And that none of them are wearing lumberjack shirts.

Then it’s more boyhood fantasy as he goes riding with cowboys as they go lassoing and rounding up cattle.

Finally Billy concludes his journey on Vancouver Island at Friendly Cove – a place discovered by Captain Cook when he was looking for the Northwest Passage.

Billy says: “What an epic journey. There’s a size to everything in Canada that just takes your breath away. It’s big and beautiful. Mile after mile after mile of it… The ice in the legendary North West Passage melted, allowing me to take a route from ocean to ocean that many explorers before me had failed to find. It was a chance for me to see some extraordinary places in the Arctic summer.

“Scenery’s one thing, but it’s the people I’ve met that will stay with me forever. I’ve met impressively optimistic characters who are shaped by the unforgiving landscape and climate. People who know who and what they are, and wouldn’t live anywhere else. I’ve been touched by how contented they are with their lives at the edge of the world. They aren’t chasing short-lived pleasures of material things, they’ve found a longer-lasting contentment.”

Thursday, 5 March 2009, 9:00PM on ITV1

On the third leg of his adventure, Billy goes onboard a cruise ship to make the eight day journey through the Northwest Passage and he meets the people who live in this remote, isolated part of the world which spends nine months of the year surrounded by frozen sea.

He learns about the explorers whose footsteps he is following in and visits the sites where they lived and died. He then moves south and hitches a lift with an ice-trucker before panning for gold at the site of a great gold rush.

Billy starts the third part of the series in Resolute Bay – a weather station that is so cold that snow is on the ground at the height of summer. Here he boards the Akademik Ioffe, a Russian cruise ship with 100 tourists to begin the voyage at the heart of his journey – through the Northwest Passage.

He stops off at Beechey Island, a popular spot with polar bears, where the first explorer to look for the Northwest Passage, Sir John Franklin, became stranded for two years due to the harsh weather conditions.

Franklin and his men had to make a home on the island, trapped by ice. Three of the man died there and Billy explains how their graves were exhumed and one of them was found to have lead poisoning in his blood, indicating that he could have been killed by eating too much food from cans containing lead.

Billy says: “What a grim little place, awful and cold even now, in summer. Franklin and his men were held prisoner by the winter ice here. Three of his men died and were buried. They thought ‘If I can just sit the winter out then it will get there and we’ll be the boys.’

“Can you imagine, standing here and going ‘Oh my God – will I never go home again?’ I can’t imagine what that must feel like. I’ve never found myself in that position, I hope I never do.”

Billy visits a bird sanctuary during the cruise and the ship is forced to change direction due to the Bellot Strait they were going to go through being frozen.

Billy says: “I just love the fact that it isn’t a given that you can do the Northwest Passage…I can see lots of ice up ahead too. The wind has moved the ice over and we can’t get through because they tried to get in touch with an ice breaker to come and break the ice which would have been brilliant. So we’ve had a change of plans.”

And there is great excitement onboard the ship when a polar bear is spotted on a nearby island.

Next Billy moves onto King William Island and tells how Franklin and his men set up camp there after being forced to abandon their ships. One hundred and twenty six men are presumed to have died on the island and ten years later Victorian Britain was shocked when stories of cannibalism were suggested.

Billy visits Gjoa Haven, the only settlement on King William Island, where, 50 years after Franklin and his men had been there, another explorer stopped off on his way to find the Northwest Passage.

Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen was the first person to successfully get through the passage, but before he did it he stopped off at Gjoa Haven for over a year to learn all about the people living there.

When Billy arrives at the village his cruise ship is only the second one to stop there in six years and the natives are delighted, showing off their traditional dancing and their furs.

As he leaves the cruise ship, Billy’s next stop is a town on the edge of a continent – Tuktoyaktuk. The town is self-sufficient as only in winter does it have an ice road so supplies have to be either shipped or flown in and any fresh food has to be caught.

Billy goes fishing with James Pokiak and then helps him to store their catch in a man-made fridge dug deep into the frozen ground. He also finds out about a more contemporary leisure activity popular among the community – interactive bingo which is beamed live into television sets in residents’ homes. To claim ‘house’, winners telephone the caller in the hut from which the game is broadcast. Another highlight is a trip out to climb a pingo, which is a small hill formed from ice.

As he starts his journey south, Billy hitches a lift along the spectacular Dempster Highway with Bill Rutherford an ice-road trucker who makes regular 5000 mile round trips delivering fruit and vegetables on roads which are frozen for most of the year.

They stop off at Fort McPherson a trading post where Billy visits the graves of four Mounties who died after getting lost in temperatures of -48 degrees in 1910. Before their deaths they were forced to eat eight of the 15 dogs they had with them to try to stay alive.

In 1897 George Carmack dipped his pan in the river at Dawson City and found gold. Word spread prompting a gold rush as 100,000 people headed to the area, with only roughly a third completing the arduous journey. The town became known as the ‘Paris of the north’ and Billy takes an interest in the history of the brothels that once operated there.

He also visits the site of the rush and looks at a dredging machine which was used to extract as much as 50 lbs of gold every two days. He meets local miner David Millar whose father made half a million dollars a year finding gold. David shows Billy the process of extracting gold and shows him a cup containing about an ounce of gold, which he says, is worth a staggering $1200 as he jealously guards it from an eager looking Billy.

Thursday, 26 February 2009, 9:00PM on ITV1

In the second part of his journey Billy moves into bleaker and tougher terrain as he heads north to Baffin Island.

He meets the Inuit communities that live there to find out what it’s like to live on the edge of the world. He samples their food, gets a seal-skin suit made and learns about the local trades and hobbies.

He takes in jaw-dropping scenery as he flies by helicopter into a national park in the Arctic Circle and he goes on a stomach-churning seal hunt with an Inuit family.

His first stop is Iqaluit, an old whaling town which is one of a handful of towns on Baffin Island only accessible by boat and air as none have roads leading to them. There he meets Nicole Pauze a local taxi driver who shows him The Road to Nowhere and teaches him how to give a traditional ‘Eskimo Kiss’.

The area has no snow at the time of year Billy is there and he tells the programme the barren land and the pre-fab, shed-like homes make the town feel temporary. He visits the local museum where a film recorded when the inhabitants of Iqaluit lived a traditional lifestyle plays, showing Inuits in seal-skin suits using dog sleds. He also meets Tookie Pootoogook who watches the film every week because his deceased relations are in it.

Billy says: “I’ve just come out of the museum and it’s the saddest thing because they look so happy. They look so complete and their clothes look right, they look right. They look happy with their kids, happy is the word. They know where they are, and they’re in total control over it.

“And it’s funny when you come out and you see, and you see this, they don’t seem to be in control of this. Because I don’t know what to make of this, this isn’t home sweet home to me. Those sheds and these buildings that look as if they’ve arrived in a parcel…there’s something not right about it. But just seeing them has moved me deeply, especially that wee man Tookie. His life was something else, and I was just told a minute ago that he lives at the Salvation Army here and it’s made a wee hole in my heart.”

Before leaving Iqaluit Billy eats a caribou burger with Rebecca Veevee, an Inuit woman who has her own television show in which she encourages people to stick to traditional food instead of junk food. And Billy is reminded of his own people’s traditions when he meets local accordion player, Simeonie Keenainak, who learned Scottish music from the whalers when he was a little boy.

Billy then makes a two day trek into one of the most unspoilt and unexplored places in the world – the Aiyuittuq National Park in the Arctic Circle carved out in the Ice Age two million years ago. Billy fords the glacial rivers caused by global warming before camping overnight. By helicopter he’s taken even further into the park’s wilderness and dropped on the glacier itself which he can actually hear melting beneath his feet.

He says: “I never heard a glacier melt before – what a jolly noise. It’s supposed to be frightening when you hear all this stuff about global warming, you’re supposed to be kind of scared, but I think I’m too stupid to be scared, I get carried away with the beauty of it, the grandeur of the thing. I don’t remember being in a more extraordinary place. It’s like being on another planet. I’ve never seen anything remotely like this in my life.”

Next Billy flies into Iqloolik, a town deep inside the Arctic Circle with temperatures as low as minus 36 degrees in winter, where he meets Rhoda Kunuk and Mary Taukie who perform Inuit throat singing for him and Damian Tulugarjuk and Silas Qulaut who show him some Inuit games such as high-kicking and mouth pulling.

He gets a seal-skin suit made by Atuat Akkitirq an Inuit woman who measures his feet using her kitchen tiles and uses her teeth to soften the skin for the suit.

And he meets tribal elder Abraham Ulayuruluf born in an igloo 70 years ago who now has cable TV and double glazing. It’s his job in the community to preserve the language, teach others about the history of the town and to pass on hunting skills.

On the last leg of his journey through Baffin Island Billy visits Pond Inlet which is his final stop-off before he journeys through the Northwest Passage. At Pond Inlet he joins Inuit couple David Suqslak and his wife Maggie Qanguq and their children; baby May and sons Curtis and Eric, on a family outing at the heart of their culture – a seal hunt.

The family take him on a boat among the icebergs and through the wilderness to a piece of land in the middle of nowhere where they set up camp for the night. Billy chats to Eric who, at just five-years-old, has already hunted a seal with his father. The next day the family and Billy venture out in the boat again and shoot a seal which they take back to camp and skin before eating it raw.

Billy tells the programme he feels guilty. He says: “I thought I had changed since I came here, I haven’t. I’m still a big bleeding heart hippy liberal. I thought I’d become all Inuit and used to it and I understand, well I don’t understand at all. I don’t understand it in the bloody least. I get it, of course I do, and I am all for it, I am all for them being allowed to kill their quota of animals and carry on as they have done for centuries, and even as we speak it’s being eaten behind me and being enjoyed immensely, raw; its eyes are being eaten, its red bits and white bits.

“It really brought it home to me what the Inuit are and what I am – we’re completely foreign to each other and I love their foreignness and I love them, I thought I was getting close, no I’m not.

“It was a real reminder of how the world actually works. Some people shoot things and some people go to the butchers and buy things. I’m the guy who goes to the butchers and they’re the people who shoot stuff – I think it’s as simple as that.”

As he leaves the island behind, Billy says: “The overwhelming memory I have of Baffin Island is the people, the kindest nicest people I’ve come across in a long, long time and there is one who virtually haunts me. He’s a little man I met in a museum in Iqaluit and he goes in every week to watch this rerun of a film. His grandfather is in it, his grandfather’s brother, his uncle is in it and his whole world has radically changed, it’s gone from the dog sled to the internet, and to me he represents this whole part of the world.”

Thursday, 19 February 2009, 9:00PM on ITV1

The first part of Billy’s epic ten-week journey sees him arriving in Nova Scotia then heading north to Newfoundland.

His journey by boat, motorbike, aeroplane and car takes him to the towns where European immigrants first settled, the graveyard where victims of the Titanic disaster are buried and to meet the man who earns a living making scarecrows.

He also meets the hospitable townspeople who took in airline passengers stranded by the 9/11 tragedy and goes in search of whales and icebergs.

Billy begins his journey at sea aboard the historic Bluenose II schooner, the symbol of which appears on all Nova Scotian number plates, before arriving at Halifax – the town to which almost two million Europeans migrated to start a new life on the edge of the world. Cruise ships now regularly dock at the town and are greeted by pipers and the town crier. Billy looks around Pier 21, now a memorial to immigration, and discovers that 30 William Connollys were among those who emigrated there.

He also visits the Titanic graveyard where he is amused to discover cruise ship passengers are taken as part of their tour. Among the graves is that of ‘J Dawson’, which many tourists believe to be Leonardo DiCaprio’s character, Jack, in the Hollywood movie, ‘Titanic’. But Billy explains that the grave is actually that of a man named Joseph Dawson.

Billy says: “The grave just said J Dawson, but it’s a guy called Joseph Dawson. But nobody seems to be bothered too much about that. So in death he became sexy and Hollywood. Good on him, I say.”

Billy’s next stop is Lunenburg which was once North America’s fishing capital, but years of over-fishing means the cod supply has almost gone and the town now relies on tourism to survive. Commercial cod fishing is now banned, but fishing with a hook and line is permitted so Billy takes to the seas with two fishermen, Ralph Church and Bobby Beringer, to see what they can catch. Bobby tells Billy how he almost died when his boat froze over and started to capsize.

People have been moving to New Brunswick from Scotland since 1753 and the locals have retained their Scottish culture. Billy admits to mixed feelings as he watches the pipers and dancers at their Highland Games and says: “I think it’s a New World thing, a need for something old, and they seem to assume that old means good. There are bits of Scottish culture I just love, and it’s hard for me not to get carried away by it all.”

“The band of Scots that landed here has clung on to its highland traditions and kept them remarkably intact. I think culture should be constantly on the move, forever changing; but people here seem to relish being more Scottish than the Scots themselves.”

The next place Billy visits is Chéticamp where the residents speak French because of the 17th century French colonists who settled there. Billy meets Chester Delaney, a scarecrow maker, in his field of scarecrows which are all made to look like famous people or people he knows.

Next on the agenda Billy dodges wandering moose as he rides a motorbike around Cape Britain’s western shore on the Cabot Trail – one of the top five motorcycle rides in the world.

When he gets to St John’s in Newfoundland, Billy is met with a traditional seafaring way of welcoming outsiders to become honorary Newfies – a ‘Screeching In’ ceremony. The comedian wears a fisherman’s hat, chants, and kisses a fish – by tradition it should be a cod, but since they are in such short supply, a trout has to suffice. Before he gets a certificate proclaiming him a Newfie, Billy takes a swig of a substitute for the Jamaican rum ‘screech’, which is usually drunk at the ceremony. Now a teetotaller, Billy says: “I made do with pop.”

Next Billy visits Gander, a town with a population of just 10,000 which took in 6,500 people stranded when their planes were forced to land there after the 9/11 tragedy. The passengers were there for six days and locals let them stay in their homes and looked after them. Billy meets the mayor when he attends the town’s 50th birthday party, and goes fishing for salmon on the River Gander with hunter/fisherman Dave Brake.

Billy flies to St Anthony where he goes on the hunt for his first sighting of an iceberg. When he finds one he is mesmerised by its colour and says he thinks it looks almost edible, like a meringue.

He says: “The native Inuit, who live in Arctic Canada, believe that icebergs contain the spirits of their ancestors who come back to see them every spring. I love that. I just saw a face. That’s the nose on the left there the upper lips see it coming up and there’s hair at the back, just above the nose you see the eye. See, that’s the way they get you.

“Do you know what I would love to do? I’d love to tow it up the Clyde or up the Thames or the Tyne or the Mersey and let all those kids see it.”

Finally, before he heads further towards the Northwest Passage, Billy stays over at the Quipon Lighthouse which is the most northerly point in Newfoundland and is famous for whale spotting. En route to the lighthouse, in a choppy Atlantic, he is treated to a glimpse of a whale.

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