Celebrate spring in the Arctic! Image courtesy of Toonik Tyme.
People often ask me, “When should I visit Iqaluit?” and I always answer, “During Toonik Tyme“. First, the spring festival takes place in the middle of April, just as the temperatures are rising to a balmy -10 degrees Celsius (14 degrees Fahrenheit). The warmer weather is coupled with longer days and lots of sunshine, making it the absolute best time of year to explore the town and tundra by foot or snowmobile. Secondly, the week-long Toonik Tyme festivities give attendees the ability to experience each and every Arctic-themed activity you could think of, from iglu building to dog sled races to ice fishing. For those who want to learn about Nunavut’s culture and heritage, Toonik Tyme is an opportunity to experience it all, all at once.
Taking all of the above into account, it’s not surprising that we have had visitors in town for Toonik Tyme for the last two years: my boyfriend Justin’s mother, father, and sister in 2013; and my mother, brother, and Justin’s brother just this past week. In both years our relatives were treated to bright blue skies, lots of snow, and more activities than we could fit into our schedules. Here are some of the standouts from this year.
Toonik Tyme Opening Ceremony
The Opening Ceremony ushers in the official start of Toonik Tyme. Very much a community event, the performers include local musicians as well as some Nunavut superstars, like the wonderful Kelly Fraser. As always, the Inuksuk Drum Dancers, a group of music students from Iqaluit’s high school who perform contemporary and traditional Inuit songs, were a highlight. My mother was especially enamoured by their beautiful amautiit (the red parkas in the photo below).
Giant Craft Sale
Similar to the Christmas Craft Sale that I previously wrote about, the Toonik Tyme Giant Craft Sale is a very popular event. We were in line well before the 10:00 opening time to ensure we had first dibs on fur, jewellery, and other locally made crafts. For tourists especially, the Craft Sale is a great opportunity to pick up a few northern trinkets and gifts to take back home. That being said, local Iqalummiut are just as interested in the sale: You can see me inspecting a pair of sealskin mitts made by the wonderful Aaju Peter in the photo below.
Outdoor Inuit Games
Harpoon throw. High kick. Some game wherein participants must crawl under and through a net. All held outside in the cold. The best part of the Outdoor Inuit Games is that you do not need to pre-register for any event, meaning anyone can join in on the fun – including my brother, seen in the centre of the photo below (silver parka), as he gets set to compete in the aforementioned get-through-the-net game.
It doesn’t get more Arctic than this. A handful of teams take off from the starting line on the frozen bay and weave their way through the tundra track. This year’s winners were the all-female duo of Maxine Carroll and Sarah McNair-Landry and of course, the beautiful dog team they were driving.
These races are about as badass as you can get. For the drag races, competitors roll up in little machines that were built only for racing: no shocks, no windshield, nothing but whatever you need for speed and something that makes them sound like little machine guns going off in an empty cave. It’s fast, it can get furious, and it’s really, really fun to watch. But be careful, sometimes those ice racers go off course!.
The best part of any community event is the feast. Country food is all that’s on the menu, with some hot tea or coffee to wash it down. This year the real treat was a big ol’ hunk of polar bear meat, which proved a logistical issue: It’s big and frozen and hard to cut (unless you have an ax, which, thankfully, someone did) and also can’t be eaten raw in case of trichinosis.
Those are just some of many highlights from the 49th annual Toonik Tyme festival. I am already looking forward to next year’s half-century celebrations; I wonder who will visit me for those?!