Arctic Bay’s community hall bursts with dancing, feasts and celebration

COVID-19 pandemic had shut down most activities at the hall since March 2020

Cousins Sasha Eecheak, left, and Annabelle Eecheak square dance in the middle of the C Hall in Arctic Bay’s Community Centre Saturday night. (Photo by David Venn)

By David Venn
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

There was one song on repeat at Arctic Bay’s community centre April 16. It wasn’t a looped track, but Niore Iqalukjuak playing a grey Yamaha keyboard.

The song, a square-dancing number with an accordion melody and set to a beat, could be heard outside the centre and across the street at the Uluksan Qingua breakwater, where it blended with the howls of sled dogs out on the ice.

But inside, 300 of the hamlet’s residents and visitors danced, stomped and hollered to it.

The group congregated inside the centre’s C Hall to celebrate the Nunavut Quest dogsled race, and had every intention to carry the party on into the early hours of Sunday morning.

Last weekend marked the first community dance since before the COVID-19 pandemic, according to recreation manager Eli Taqtu.

“[The event] is for everyone who wants to dance,” he said, then added jokingly about the group he danced with, “We just know what to do.”

Arctic Bay’s residents and visitors gather in the community centre on Sunday evening to pick up some caribou and narwhal. (Photo by David Venn)

Taqtu was enjoying the festivities along with George and Celina Satuqsi, who snowmobiled to town from Pond Inlet, and others who came and went.

There was a group of square dancers in the middle of the room, boxed in by an audience of all ages, and they danced until Iqalukjuak stopped — which was hardly ever.

Twenty-four hours earlier, there had been a dance for kids at the centre until 11 p.m., then a teen dance until 1:30 a.m., which Taqtu helped organize.

Up until those dances, the centre had been mostly closed off to public gatherings, seldom used for smaller adult programs such as a sewing class and a seal-skin parka-making class.

“This Friday was our first dance since two years ago, and it was super packed,” Taqtu said, adding each dance drew more than 100 youths.

The community centre was a regular hangout spot for them before the pandemic, he said, and now that it’s open again, it offers a good opportunity for kids to have somewhere to go with their friends and family.

Kids and teenagers ran in and out of the room during the April 16 square dance, mainly toward the concession stand, where they powered up on grape-flavoured Crush, assorted Carnaby freeze pops, Pepsi, Lays BBQ chips and Jelly Belly.

Mayor Moses Oyukuluk sat near the front of the stage, wearing a Montreal Canadiens hat, watching his community come together.

He said he hopes the centre reopening will keep the youths out of trouble, as it gives them something to do.

“I’m happy that the teenagers are able to go somewhere again,” said Oyukuluk, through an interpreter.

But he remains wary of the pandemic, speaking about the importance of people wearing masks when the community gets together.

“It’s just that there’s still COVID, so we need to be careful,” he said.

Arctic Bay resident and former MLA Levi Barnabas was also there, weaving throughout the groups of dancers in the centre of the room, smiling, and recording the memories in a video on his cellphone.

“I feel great. I’m glad that this is happening,” he said. “The community was one of the last communities that was hit with COVID-19 and we weren’t sure if we were going to make it to the 20th anniversary of Nunavut Quest.”

Barnabas, who said he had kids running around somewhere in the hall, said it’s special to see everyone come together again after a long, trying period.

“Two years, you know, being isolated … I think [the centre reopening] really benefits the whole community — the children, the adults,” he said.

The square dance ended at 1 a.m., and Nunavut Quest participants returned the following afternoon for a meeting to lay out rules and a start time for the 500-kilometre race.

At around 6:15 p.m. April 17, the Quest committee chopped up 10 caribou, or tuktu, brought in from Arviat the day before, as well as narwhal, or maktaaq.

Residents and visitors shuffled into C Hall with their families to get a few bites in and take some home in plastic bags before making their way back outside.

After all, Charlie Inuarak had a mass scheduled in the hall at 7 p.m.

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