How a community newsletter launched a newspaper tradition in Iqaluit

Inukshuk, started 50 years ago this week, was forerunner to Nunatsiaq News

Former Inukshuk newsletter editor Ann Hanson sits at a desk in her Apex home. The newsletter she started in 1973 is the forerunner of Nunatsiaq News, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. (Photo by David Venn)

By Corey Larocque

When the first Inukshuk newsletter rolled off a Gestetner copy machine in 1973, it ushered in a new era of Inuit and other northerners getting to know each other, its first editor Ann Hanson says.

“That period was a very exciting time for all — for Inuit and non-Inuit — because we were learning so much about each other,” Hanson said in an interview from her home in Apex.

In the 1960s and ’70s, Inuit, who had been living on the land, started to move into settlements such as Frobisher Bay. Southerners were also starting to move to what would eventually become Iqaluit because of the growth in federal government jobs.

It’s why a group of volunteers launched Inukshuk, which they described as a “community experiment” to share their stories.

“It was one of the greatest things for people to have something to say,” Hanson recalled.

Inukshuk published its first edition on Feb. 9, 1973, starting a three-year run that ended in 1976 when its volunteer board sold it to a private company, Frobisher Press Ltd., which changed the newsletter’s name.

Nunatsiaq News traces its origins to the Inukshuk newsletter, whose first issue was published on Feb. 9, 1973. (Image courtesy of Library and Archives Canada)

That connection to Inukshuk is the reason Nunatsiaq News is celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2023.

It was important for Frobisher Bay to have a news source to bring people together so they could learn about each other, Hanson said.

Living in a community was different from living on the land, where everyone knew everyone else and where they were related to each other.

“People had to get used to each other and getting to know strangers for the first time in your life. We had to learn to live with each other,” she said. “Plus, southerners. We had to teach them our ways to survive.”

Hanson had grown up an orphan in Kimmirut, raised by aunts and uncles, living on the land. In 1957, they moved to Frobisher Bay as part of what she calls a “mini-exodus” from Kimmirut.

In 1960, an aunt took her to Baker Lake, then to Toronto, where she lived with a foster family for about four years.

Her foster parents made her read the newspaper to help her learn to read and write in English, setting the stage for the work she would later do back in the North, not only as an editor but in the federal government’s secretarial pool as a typist and translator, and with the CBC.

When she was about 13 years old, her foster parents weren’t sure what to do with her — send her back to Frobisher Bay, or keep her in Toronto to continue going to school.

“I chose to go to school.”

One of Inukshuk’s early goals was to give Inuit some variety in reading material. At the time, the only printed documents available in Inuktitut syllabics were translations of the Bible and some federal government publications.

“Hardly anything was printed in Inuktitut, so I thought this would be a good way for our people to have something to read other than the Bible,” Hanson said. “It was very new to our way of living, because we never had any kind of newspaper written in our language.”

Stories were usually written in Inuktitut and translated into English, then published in both languages. (Today, Nunatsiaq News continues that tradition of publishing in both languages, though articles are now written in English and translated.)

“This was a way to have something original, a story from our people,” Hanson said.

She put Inukshuk together at what was then the Gordon Robertson Education Centre, an adult education centre that was where people went “to learn anything that was going on.”

The centre gave Inukshuk free rent in a corner of its office, free paper and use of its Gestetner, a primitive photocopying machine notorious for the noxious smell of the chemicals it used in its duplicating process.

Hanson worked on her own, often bringing her first daughter, Kathleen, to work. She would lie on top of her amauti while the paper’s editor went about the business of putting out the newsletter.

Over the years, she and her husband, Bob, would have three more children. In the 1970s, Bob was a purchasing officer for the government of the Northwest Territories (before the creation of Nunavut as a territory) before he formed a construction company in the 1980s.

Ann Hanson, former Inukshuk newsletter editor, reads syllabics on old copies of her paper from the 1970s. (Photo by David Venn)

Hanson had an old manual typewriter, on which she recalled “you almost needed a hammer to punch the keys down.”

Syllabics for stories in Inuktitut were painstakingly hand-written on the special paper used by the Gestetner copier.

“I had to make sure I didn’t make a mistake. One little mistake would take an hour or two to correct on the old Gestetner.”

Hanson calls Inukshuk a “newsletter” instead of a newspaper, because its articles were based on community stories that people would tell her. Hunting stories were a big part of Inukshuk’s weekly content.

“There wasn’t too much news. By the time we printed, it was old news. It was more like a letter,” she said.

During its three-year run, Inukshuk published every week and was frequently more than 20 pages. Pages were stapled together, instead of folded like most newspapers. It carried a price tag of 25 cents, and was distributed in Frobisher Bay by a team of children — often Hanson’s relatives — who were paid with “a chocolate bar or two” or “a few candies.”

“That’s quite a bit for a little community newsletter. Half the time, there wasn’t much going on. People like to tell their stories. And I would translate all of them.”

Yet Inukshuk covered the basics of community news — the goings-on at Frobisher council, freight rate hikes by Nordair airline, liquor plebiscites, and breaking news like the January 1974 headline, “policeman shot.”

On Nov. 20, 1974, the newsletter’s main headline was “James Bay Natives Settle for $150 million and Hunting Rights — ITC not impressed.” It ran over a story about a fire that destroyed the Frobisher Curling Club.

“Anything that was printable,” Hanson said about what went into Inukshuk.

But by June 1976, Inukshuk’s volunteer board had decided it was time to sell.

It turned the keys over to Frobisher Press Ltd., a company led by Monica Connolly, a southerner from Oshawa, Ont., who had worked as a reporter for Inukshuk. Connolly organized a group of shareholders who wanted to take the paper private.

Inukshuk’s board had one condition — that the new owners give it a new name and retire the Inukshuk name. On June 16, 1976, Inukshuk reported both its own sale and the paper’s name change that were to take effect that July.

And with that, Nunatsiaq News was born.

Frobisher Press would publish that paper for nine years until 1985, when it was bought by Nunatext, a partnership between Nunasi Corp. and Nortext Publishing Corp., which was owned by the Roberts family, three brothers from Ottawa with a long history of their own in business in Canada’s North.

Nunatsiaq News is currently owned by Nortext.


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(2) Comments:

  1. Posted by Andy Cotterill on

    Ann has truly had an amazing life. Her Toronto foster family were my Grandparents, Kay and Murray Cotterill, and I was raised knowing her as Aunt Ann, her husband my Uncle Bob, and her 5 daughters my cousins. She deserves a worthy biography and recognition across the country. Do yourself a favour and read her article on Wikipedia…what a woman!

  2. Posted by GREC on

    The Gordon Robertson Education Center (or GREC as we called it) wasn’t an adult education facility. It was the name of the highschool before it was changed to Inuksuk high in the fall of 1990.

    There was another building across from what is now the Northmart that housed adult education services.

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