There is a frontier excitement to Iqaluit that put me in mind of traveling to Whitehorse about 30 years ago. The same feeling of removal from the world of the south, in a foreign place of discovery and change. The gravel streets, the small low set square houses, the sandy gravel yards, the dogs and the hills of rounded rock were so unlike anything I had yet seen on this earth. I felt very much an observer, moving through the everyday lives and places of the Inuit population - a people that, until this visit, I had had no personal contact with. To be in that position in my own country - that alone was worth the trip.
We were made as welcomed as it is possible to be upon our arrival,
and this continued for our entire visit. I had the great good fortune of being billeted with Nora Sanders and Aven,
"Action Dog of the North". Over the course of the week Aven and I logged a few walks on the hill behind
Nora's house, and a large but fine companion he proved to be. The daylight was essentially permanent and so the
notion of time for itinerant musicians seemed to fail completely. I managed to keep Nora up til all hours, although
it was partially her own fault for being such an interesting individual. I never failed to be enthused by hiking
up behind the house and taking panoramic pictures at 3:30 in the morning. Sleep seemed to be the least important
The hamlet of Pangnirtung is situated at the end of a long fiord off of Cumberland Sound. The flight in to land on the relatively short gravel runway was exhilarating to say the least. Spectacular is a word that also springs to mind when describing anything to do with the place. It is a setting of incomparable beauty, the ice breaking up in the open water of the fiords, the hamlet nestled on the shore at the foot of the low hills, the boats at rest on the water and on the beach, and at the head of the fiord the mountains that are so reminiscent of the Rockies in full splendour.
Our stay in the village was enhanced immeasurably by the people we came to know. To tell the truth it started on the plane when we met a wonderful trio of backpackers who had seen us perform in Peterborough Ontario who were off on a long hiking adventure in the National Park at the head of the fiord. Adventurous and respectful people, thoroughly appreciative of the uniqueness of their surroundings and their pending journey. It occurs to me that as I write this that Debbie, Erin and David will still be completing their odyssey. I wish them all safe travels.
Roger Alivaktuk met us at the airport and drove us around the village by way of introduction. He had organized an impromptu concert for that evening in the Community Centre. Pang is known far and wide for its development of local crafts. Weaving, printmaking, stenciling and carving are all represented in the beautifully designed Craft Centre. We were privileged to see the completion of a tapestry weaving of an Inukshuk (standing stone statues) that measures 22'x10', scheduled to be displayed in the Legislative Assembly in Iqaluit. The skill and beauty of the artwork displayed is stunning.
Our billet was with Markus Wilke, a nurse for many years in the high Arctic and a source of insight into life in the settlements of the far north. His tales of the endless winter nights in Grise Fiord were the stuff of childhood imaginings. He was an interesting and gracious man, and had the admirable and appreciated ability to whip up an excellent meal in a very short time. I do not think it would be possible to end up in better hands. It was Markus who, during our concert that evening, suggested I speak through an interpreter to the Inuit elders who were present. I am extremely grateful for this guidance. It was the appropriate path to take on the evening and I found myself very comfortable in the setting after that. It was typical of the man's respect and sensitivity to his adopted home.
David and interpreter Meeka at the centre, Impromtu jam after the show
Our interpreter was an Inuit woman by the name of Meeka Mearns, who, as it turns out is married to a red-haired Scot by the name of Donald Mearns. Donald originally arrived on the shores of the fiord as a Bay Boy, recruited from Scotland to operate a Hudson's Bay Post. Both Donald and Meeka proved to be quick to laugh and as helpful as they could be. We all ended up in their warmly lit kitchen, trading stories and songs into the wee hours. Over the course of the evening, we were treated to the sweet and timeless singing and drumming of Becky Mearns and the joyous intensity of Throat Singing by Becky, her sister and friend. It was mesmerizing to witness, at such close quarters, a privilege shared by all too few. I was struck hard by the beauty of it. The evening ended with Donald breaking out the Pipes and whistles, and we traded songs back and forth with the seasoned jammer Dave Clarke supporting us all. It was, as they say, a night to remember.
David and Dave at the Francophone Association, JH
Our leaving was difficult, as it seemed impossible to put into words our appreciation for the kindness shown us. I felt we had made some fast friends and met truly inspired people who appreciate fully their place and time on the earth. I would like to thank Jack Hicks and Nora Sanders for their exceptional thoughtfulness and generosity. They are splendid company.
I was looking out the window of the plane as we waited on the
runway, and I thought back to earlier in the week when Dave and I performed at the Elders Centre in Iqaluit. Our
audience was a group of Inuit elders, and once again we had the benefit of an interpreter. We had a wonderful time
and could not possibly have had a more enthusiastic audience. I had my picture taken with some of the elders. I
connected with one woman in particular. I think we were mutually taken with one another and her comment on having
our picture taken was "Whenever you look at that picture, my heart will breaků." I know what she means.
David's special Iqaluit friend, Elders Centre, JH
photo of Frobisher Bay by David Francey
Dave, Jack and David, Jack's house, photo Letia Cousins
Iqaluit, from the shore
Aven "Action Dog of the North", Nora and David, photo DC
Tapestry weaving, Craft Centre, Pangnirtung
Donald plays a tune, Pang
Jack prepares some maktak LC
...and they like it! LC
New friends, Iqaluit photo LC
the smiles tell it all, paddling photos JH