Unseasonable warmth brings out crowds but puts a crimp in favourite festivities

Sweltering through a torrid Toonik Tyme


Solomon Awa emerges from his freshly-built igloo wearing a huge grin. It's an unusually warm April day, and steam is rising from Awa's sweaty head. After all, it's hard work to build an igloo by yourself in 42 minutes flat.

Awa smashed his own record of 63 minutes, which he set in last year's igloo-making competition. And he offers a prediction.

"I'll break it again next year," he said. "Thirty minutes."

The gathered crowd breaks into cheers and applause for Awa. Mostly qallunaat, they surge forward with digital cameras snapping pictures. It's Toonik Tyme in a nutshell.

Iqaluit's annual springtime festival marked its 42nd edition last week. And while past years have seen some complaints the event strayed too far from its roots, organizers this year claim to have struck a better balance between new and old, north and south.

Things got started with an opening ceremony at the Arctic Winter Games arena April 11, featuring hip hop by Taqralik Partridge, DJ He Took and Riverflowz and rock music by the Tim Evic Band, plus drum dancing by Matthew Nuqingaq and throat singers Faith Twerdin, Alannah Maloney, Crystal Mullin, Anita Flaherty, Basja Ellsworth and Sabrina Brewster.

Lighting a qulliq and conducting the opening prayer, elder Sammy Qaumariak called for cooperation between Inuit and qallunaat.

"It's important for us to work together," she said.

The president of the Toonik Tyme society, Archie Angnakak, named Qamagia Mitsima this year's honourary Toonik in recognition of his numerous rescues of people stricken on land and at sea. It's the second time in five years Mitsima was named honourary Toonik.

"He is a brave and generous person who puts those in need before himself and he has done this for at least 30 years," Angnakak said.

Mitsima said "it's very exciting" to be recognized for his good deeds by people in the community. But he laments Toonik Tyme no longer features the snowmobile race to Kimmirut, which was dropped a few years ago due to liability concerns.

So what was his favourite part of Toonik Tyme?

"The hockey tournament. I love watching those games."

The festival wasn't without its hitches. The snowmobile uphill climb, a spectator favourite, had to be called off due to a lack of snow, fuelled by sunshine and temperatures that climbed above zero for much of the weekend.

While some were basking in the early spring sun, Angnakak said the classic way to enjoy Toonik Tyme is when it's -20C.

"That's my memory of Toonik Tyme, not this minus five stuff," he said.

But that warm weather also fuelled strong attendance for the outdoor events, particularly in front of Nakasuk School, which played home to numerous games and competitions. The ice sculpture contest, won by Jacoposie Tiglik for his carving of Sedna, drew solid crowds, as did Sunday's seal skinning contest.

Festival coordinator Kris Mullaly said the central location, anchored by a Toonik Tyme central tent that did a steady business doling out free coffee and hot chocolate, helped keep people milling around.

"People who've seen many, many Toonik Tymes… really enjoyed having a central checkpoint for information and all the activities that were there," he said.

Angnakak said it's good to see everyone's hard work pay off.

"It's go, go, go. It's busy, exciting, lots of sweat and hard work," he said. "It's exactly how Toonik Tyme should be."

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