Longtime Baker Lake residents say goodbye to Nunavut

Jim Kreuger taught for 27 years in the community

Laurel and Jim Kreuger are preparing to leave their home of 27 years in Baker Lake on July 11. (Photo courtesy of the Kreugers)

Laurel and Jim Kreuger are preparing to leave their home of 27 years in Baker Lake on June 11. (Photo courtesy of the Kreugers)

By Jane George

Despite social distancing measures to keep COVID-19 away from Nunavut, an extraordinary parade took place on May 26 in Baker Lake: nearly every vehicle in this community of about 2,200 took to the reddish-coloured streets around town.

As drivers passed by the home of Jim and Laurel Kreuger, they slowed down to honk and wave to the couple, who are moving south on Thursday, June 11.

The Kreugers have spent 27 years in Baker Lake, Jim as a teacher and Laurel as manager of the prenatal nutrition program.

These days, that’s a long stay for a teacher in Nunavut, which is now looking to recruit about 130 new teachers for the 2020-21 school year.

Kreuger, who spoke to Nunatsiaq News about a week before his departure to Saskatchewan, emphasized the importance of relationships between teachers, residents and students.

“You have to have community,” he said.

Teachers, the Education Department and the Nunavut Teachers Association all want education in Nunavut to be a success, he said.

But getting there can take a long time, more than one generation or two, he said, so the longer teachers stay in Nunavut, the closer success lies.

“You only start to become aware of trends after 25 years,” said Kreuger who also spent years as a volunteer youth hockey coach in Baker Lake.

“With hockey, I can say that’s a positive change. The kids who grew up with hockey are now parents who want their kids to be successful.”

You see these parents out with their children on the weekends at the rink, lacing up their kids’ skates and cheering them on, he said.

That wasn’t always the case when he arrived in 1993.

But now Nunavut needs to create an education system where parents will be as engaged in their children’s education right up to Grade 12, Kreuger said. To that end, maybe they could use some additional support, he suggested.

Kreuger’s experience shows that when teachers become part of the community, it’s a win-win for everyone.

“I don’t know when it happened, when I told Laurel that ‘it’s easy to be here because you know everyone and they know you. It feels very comfortable. Even the mundane things like going to the stores, to the hall, talking to people, finding out how they are,'” Kreuger said.

“So I will miss that because I am going to be anonymous in a city where no one knows me. I will definitely miss all that.”

Even from that first week in Baker Lake in 1993, he and Laurel and their one-year-old son felt at home, he said.

“You couldn’t pass someone without them knowing who you were and saying hello,” he said.

When they arrived in Baker Lake, after a stint as volunteers in Africa, their plan was not to stay for 27 years.

But they ended up buying a house when the Government of the Northwest Territories offered tenants of government housing a chance to buy their units.

“We thought we would commit five years, and this was in the second year, so we thought, ‘OK, we’ll take a leap of faith,’ and bought the house,” Kreuger said. “We never had owned a house before or had a credit card before. It was a huge learning curve. It turned out to be a really good decision.”

At work, Kreuger also put down roots with other teachers, which became important to him: they created the Kivalliq Science Educators’ Community, which promotes annual science fairs, and Northern Youth Abroad for international youth exchanges.

“I became more aware what I was supposed to do. It became an exercise in community development, with teachers who were in different communities but who formed a community by teaching,” Kreuger said.

“I started to really enjoy that, a coalition of people who were like-minded, and it was amazing what these teachers could get done.”

Heading into the 2000s, Kreuger went from being a young educator to one of the old timers.

The creation of Nunavut in 1999 brought the dissolution of the Keewatin Board of Education and gave way to today’s Kivalliq School Operations.

Along with that, came changes. Three years ago Kreuger’s long-term job of regional curriculum supervisor ceased to exist. It was a shock, he said, but he then became an elementary school physical education teacher in Baker Lake, which he calls his “luckiest day.”

“It could have been a depressing end to a career but it ended up being a godsend. I loved it,” he said.

But the past months brought another challenge, the COVID-19 pandemic, which has upended the sense of community, because there have been no funerals or celebrations like graduations.

“It’s taken away the whole notion of community get-togethers,” Kreuger said.

Asked if he would recommend coming to Nunavut to teach today, the answer is yes, but Kreuger said he is aware many teachers don’t want to spend 20 to 30 years in one job.

But he said that, if you’re drawn to education to make a difference, staying in Nunavut means improved success for the schools, students and the territory.

Along the way you learn to ask the right questions, he said.

“You can’t expect a rookie to ask the right questions,” he said.

“People that come for just one or two years, it might be a good experience for them, but not so much for Nunavut. They haven’t gotten to the point … to listen and learn, not just think you have the answers.”

While the Kreugers say goodbye to Baker Lake this week, they still plan to return to Nunavut because their daughter, Emma, her partner, Nooks Lindell, and their son live in Arviat.

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(22) Comments:

  1. Posted by Heather Campbell on

    Jim and Laurel will be missed, and have both shown amazing dedication to their respective practices, to the community of Baker Lake, and to the territory as a whole. Best wishes for a happy next chapter.

  2. Posted by WGallant on

    Though I am saddened to see Jim leave I am truly honored, and a much better teacher, for having known him. I am so glad to see Baker send him off with love and affection. It’s not too many educators who leave that kind of a mark on a community even if they stay for a long time. But if you know Jim, you know he is special. Whether teaching Swahili or dissecting owl poop, the kids loved Jim. I am sure they could tell how much he cared as soon as he entered the room. He was always passionate about whatever he was doing. Even casual, in the break room conversations were rewarding and rich. Jim is a jem and the North’s Education System will definitely miss him. Good luck Jim and Laurel in your new endeavors.

  3. Posted by Jim Kreuger on

    I want to thank Jane George for her interest and our conversation about Laurel’s and my time lived in Baker Lake. In reading the article, it occurred to me that I did not mention an essential piece of the education picture—NTEP and the importance of Inuit who choose teaching as their career. Just like the success of Minor Hockey increased with increased engagement of the community and parents as coaches and supporters, education’s success will depend on increased and on-going engagement of the community as teachers and supportive parents. This has been happening, and needs to carry on. As with many things in life, it is a continuous process that we participate in and then pass along, in good faith, to the next generation.

  4. Posted by Lauren McFadden on

    Thank you so much for your inspiration Jim! You are a huge reason why my husband and I have been here 8 years and plan to stay for more.
    Congratulations on a great career and best wishes for the future!

  5. Posted by Karen Minarcik on

    What a wonderful message. Thank you Jim for all your support while working at KSO. I know the students loved working with you and you made Math and Science fun! What a blessing. I could tell you loved being a teacher. Best wishes on your retirement, and may you live long and prosper.

  6. Posted by Jay McKechnie on

    Jim Kreuger is the definition of what it means to serve. I never had the chance to meet Laurel but get the sense that she was similar in her devotion to Bake Lake and Nunavut.
    Thank you Jim for setting a high professional standard of what it means to be a teacher!

  7. Posted by Craig MacGregor on

    Jim’s passion for, and dedication to, education in Nunavut was evident from the very first time I had the privilege of meeting and working with him. As the other comments reflect, anyone else who has had the privilege would also echo this.

    Jim’s math and science workshops always ranked as some of the most requested and most subscribed at NTA Professional Development Conferences. Year after year Jim would happily agree to share his expertise with his colleagues throughout the territory.

    Many thanks for your 27 years of tireless commitment to the teaching profession in Nunavut, Jim. Wishing you and Laurel all the best for a well-deserved retirement!

  8. Posted by Katharine O’Connell on

    I had the honour and privilege to work with Jim for 9 years while I was teaching in Rankin Inlet. He is a true inspiration, visionary leader and amazing person all around. His passion and dedication never went unnoticed by KSEC members and teachers across the Kivalliq. Whether it was science camps, fairs or challenges Jim was at the centre of it. Thank you for being you Jim, and touching the lives of so many teachers and students! Enjoy your retirement and all the best to you and Laurel!

  9. Posted by Greg Storey on

    I loved working with Jim and he is one of my favourite Colleagues in my 30 years as an Educator across the North. Passionate, generous, creative, committed and kind. A great example of how to make a difference and how to create a meaningful career in the service of others. Thank-you, Jim!

  10. Posted by Charlotte Borg on

    I wish you and Laurel all the very best retirement. I feel honoured to have worked in Nunavut Education alongside you during your 27 years. Thank you.

  11. Posted by John Fanjoy on

    Jim has always been a shining example of what it means to be a teacher. It means being of service to students and community. Understand that we learn from and are shaped by our kids every year. Know that we don’t have all the answers, and strength is found in respect and being a part of a community . Listen to others, value their perspectives, and seek life-long learning. Recognize that teachers are not just those working in the classrooms, but are all Nunavumiut who teach skills and pass on knowledge to others. Many colleagues have learned these lessons from Jim.
    Happy retirement and safe travels to you and Laurel!

  12. Posted by Angeline Koomuk on

    Wishing you and Laurel all the best, thank you for all the inspirations you have shared with students and teachers. Have a safe and happy retirement.

  13. Posted by David Lloyd on

    Congrats to Jim and Laurel on their retirement; they were wonderful contributors to Nunavut and I have many fond memories of working with Jim, a true ‘McIver’ Science guy. I was lucky to have worked for many years on joint projects and often wished that I could have spent more time with Jim, and had the opportunity to learn even more from him. Enjoy the next chapter in your lives….

    • Posted by David Lloyd on

      typo…I meant “MacGyver” Science guy…

  14. Posted by Obrian on

    Jim and Laura are two of the most generous and nicest people that I have ever met. They made my time in Baker Lake enjoyable. I always look forward going their place because they were so welcoming and the food was the best, and there was always a lot of it. I wish them the best in this new chapter of their book of life. Go Roughriders!

  15. Posted by Karen Blair on

    I’m sure new adventures await Laurel and Jim as they begin their next chapter in the South. Two of the best, with so many fond memories of our shared years in Baker Lake. Hope happy times lie ahead. ❤

  16. Posted by Tony Phinney on

    Jim, thank you for everything you have done. You are one of kind. It was a honour to work with you. Congrats on your retirement. Good luck in everything you do.

  17. Posted by Bob on

    Until the GN and Nunavut respect their teachers, none of the positives Jim speaks of will be possible. So far, the GN has done an abysmal job and I don’t expect they will get the teachers they need nor do they deserve them.

  18. Posted by Jesse on

    I had the pleasure of working with Jim for 13 years. Jim, bar none, is truly one of the great teachers of both children and adults. He provided support and mentoring to so many students, teachers and principals. He often went above and beyond to ensure that educators had the resources to provide good educational experiences to their children. Some of the best interactive inservices I attended over my 33 years an educator were facilitated by Jim. When Jim came to Maani Ukujuk Ilinniarvik in his role as coordinator he connected with teachers and students often going into classrooms to model good classroom instruction, and to do cool science and math demonstrations/activities. Jim , I miss our morning coffees at MUI at 7 am and the great chats. Congratulations on your retirement and safe travels for both you and Laurel.

  19. Posted by Fawn on

    Lots of good teachers in all of Nunavut. Sad they don’t retire there but that is not their home. All the best to Jim & all the other great! teachers who have made a career of working in Nunavut.

  20. Posted by Alex Justin Iqqaat on

    We will miss Jim as a teacher and A coach. Also Laurel as the longest Prenatal Manager you two taught Kids and mothers well. Good luck to the both of you best wishes God bless Evander and Emmalene will miss Jim when they get back to school

  21. Posted by Bert Rose on

    Thank you both for your years of service!
    All the best with your retirement!

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