Hunter Tootoo joins Nunavut at Club Curling Championship
Nunavut’s men’s and women’s teams lost their opening games, but look forward to competing throughout the rest of week
This week former Nunavut MP Hunter Tootoo is back in Ottawa working in a different capacity: playing second for Team Nunavut in the 2021 Everest Curling Club Championships.
Men’s and women’s club teams, representing every Canadian province and territory, have descended upon the Ottawa Hunt and Golf Club for a week of competition and camaraderie. After a year in which COVID-19 forced Curling Canada to pause most of its major national competitions, there was a buzz in the club lounge as teams mingled for a few rounds of pre- and post-game beers.
Tootoo is returning to the club championship with Nunavut for the fourth time. His federal political career hit a low point in 2016, when he resigned as fisheries minister and left the Liberal caucus to seek treatment for alcohol addiction. He later acknowledged he had also had “consensual but inappropriate” relationship with a staffer.
Tootoo chose to step back from public life ahead of the 2019 federal election. Since then, he says he has been happy that he has been able to spend time playing the sport he has loved since before he began entering politics.
“I always thought, ‘It doesn’t look that hard,’ but then you get out there and it’s a lot more challenging than it looks,” he said. “In my life, I always like challenges, so it’s a fun sport.”
Tootoo has spent much of the past few months working in Rankin Inlet, away from his teammates and the Iqaluit Curling Club. He said he had planned to meet the team in Iqaluit for training for the two weeks ahead of the tournament, but he wasn’t able to hit the ice because the city shut down the rink in response to the fuel contamination in Iqaluit’s water supply in October.
Despite going into the tournament after not throwing any rocks in a few months, Tootoo says he’s ready to compete.
“It’s been a challenge, but it’s just like riding a bike there,” he said. “You get your weight down, and it’s like you never left it.”
To make up for lost practice time, Team Nunavut practised at the RCMP Curling Club, where they won a short, non-competitive Funspiel.
Wade Kingdon, the men’s team skip, says it’s been great to get back to rinks, and get used to the Ottawa ice surfaces.
“The ice down here is obviously a bit different than ours, so it’s great to get out there and see what we’re expecting,” he said.
Both Nunavut teams fell short in their opening performances. The women, led by skip Denise Hutchings, conceded in the seventh end versus Northern Ontario, with a final score of 9-2. The men were edged out in the final end, losing to Prince Edward Island with a final score of 7-4.
Despite going into the tournament as underdogs and having been out of consistent practice for several weeks, Hutchings says she hopes that both Nunavut teams pick up a win in Ottawa.
She also says that she’s happy to be back at a Curling Canada event, reconnecting with old friends from across Canada, and meeting new friends who are competing nationally for the first time.
“Curling is a sport where you have lifelong friends,” she said. “Whether you’re meeting them for the first time or reconnecting, it’s going to be a great week.”