Iqaluit’s top stories of 2020

A year for the arts, sports and community expression

The boat Black Jet is silhouetted against the lights at Iqaluit’s deepwater port on Oct. 16. Iqaluit photographer Blaine Heffernan was composing the shot around 8 p.m. when a city-wide power outage occurred, helping to create the eerie ambience. “Sealift off-load continued in the darkness,” he writes. (Photo by Blaine Heffernan)

By Mélanie Ritchot

For Nunavut’s capital, 2020 was a year for the arts, sports, and community expression.

Despite a wave of changes and adjustments brought on by a global pandemic, Iqaluit artists of all ages made moves on a national scale and people came together to advocate for a variety of social causes.

Inuksuk High School’s band students and drum dancers performed at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa, showcasing a mix of traditional and contemporary music and dance. Iqaluit Blizzard hockey players also travelled south, winning a championship in Montreal, while the speed skating club won a $10,000 award, allowing them to upgrade their protective gear.

The city’s Alianait Arts Festival welcomed its first Inuk director, Alannah Johnston, and Iqaluit actress Anna Lambe landed a starring role in CBC’s series Trickster. Inuk artist Germaine Arnaktauyok also showcased her artwork inspired by traditional tattoos in Iqaluit.

The COVID-19 pandemic ushered in a litany of changes for the territory’s capital this year. Rules changed for social gatherings, restaurants and other businesses, and community facilities closed down. The Iqaluit post office, already one of Canada Post’s busiest locations, saw a spike in incoming mail and packages. The city’s beer and wine store also recorded an increase in sales.

Iqaluit residents also showed support for a variety of social causes. In January, people held a vigil for the victims of the Ukraine International Airlines Flight PS752, which was shot down by an Iranian missile. In the summer, more than 200 people gathered for a moment of silence to honour those lost to suicide, before marching to the legislature to demand more mental health supports. People commemorated Orange Shirt Day, which honours the experiences of Indigenous children in residential schools. Hundreds rallied in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, many wearing masks. Iqaluit also took part in a virtual vigil on a national day of mourning as tribute to the 22 victims of a mass shooting in Nova Scotia in the spring.

As well, Northern Affairs Minister Dan Vandal visited the city, there was a fire at the construction site attached to the Qikiqtani Correctional Healing Centre, Apex beach got cleaned up and a new men’s shelter was constructed.

Here is the Nunatsiaq News list of our most memorable Iqaluit stories from 2020.


United Airlines Flight 195, which was travelling from Munich to San Francisco, diverted to Iqaluit on Jan. 31. United Airlines said the diversion was due to “a medical emergency onboard.” Medical staff met the plane upon landing to assist a passenger. The airline said, “We are working to get our customers to their final destination as quickly as possible.” (Photo by Emma Tranter)

  • Iqaluit’s city council made a call to open a cannabis retail store in the capital, saying it will reduce the amount of marijuana bought on the black market.
  • Residents raised over $6,000 for an Iqaluit family after a house fire broke out at a Happy Valley home. The family lost most of their household belongings in the fire and, unfortunately, their dog.
  • Iqaluit residents, including members of the city’s Iranian-Canadian community, gathered at a vigil held for the victims of the Ukraine International Airlines Flight PS752, which was shot down by an Iranian missile, killing 176 passengers and crew members, including 57 Canadians.


Iqaluit Blizzard players, coaches and the Hockey Nunavut midget team celebrate their championship win in Montreal on Feb. 16. (Photo courtesy of the Iqaluit Amateur Hockey Association)


Marsha Rhodes, Charlene Paterson, Neevee Wilkins and Jason Rochon are giving bags of breakfast to children behind DJ Specialties in Iqaluit. (Photo by Meagan Deuling)

  • Northern Affairs Minister Dan Vandal visited Nunavut’s capital for the first time. He met with community leaders to discuss issues facing Nunavut and work being done to fix them. “It’s important for me as the first minister of northern affairs to reflect the priorities that I’m hearing from people that live here,” he said.
  • Four Iqaluit teachers set up shop behind DJ Specialties convenience store and handed out nearly 200 bags of breakfast food to children, making sure they were well fed during school closures brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Mayor Kenny Bell sent two city councillors notices, calling on them to resign and give up their seats for breaking Nunavut’s Cities, Towns and Villages Act, as they owed the city more than $500.
  • All recreational facilities and group activities in Iqaluit shut down in mid-March as a precaution to the rapidly evolving global pandemic.


An Iqaluit RCMP vehicle decorated with messages of support for Nova Scotia and for police officers flashes its lights outside the Iqaluit RCMP headquarters on April 24. The National Police Federation asked Canadians to take part in a National Day of Mourning on Friday and wear red as a tribute to the victims of the mass shooting that left at least 22 people dead in the province last weekend. Vigils were also held across the country. (Photo by Emma Tranter)


Here is one of the numerous houses that Jens Edvard Brandt Steenberg built in Iqaluit in the 1990s. The homes are still sought after, more than 20 years after he built them. Steenberg died May 19 in Pincher Creek, Alta., at the age of 77. (Submitted photo)

  • Beadwork, snowmobile maintenance and fishing are some of the activities students in Iqaluit began logging in exchange for school credit in May. After Inuksuk High School closed its doors because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the school launched its practical learning program so students could earn credit outside of the classroom.
  • Despite being closed due to the pandemic, the National Art Gallery in Ottawa continued to display a banner featuring an image by Nunavut artists taken from a video produced by an Iqaluit film company. The image is a still from the video installation “Silaup Putunga Iluanni,” which is now part of the permanent collection at the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto.
  • Mayor Kenny Bell broke the tie in a City of Iqaluit vote in support of the beer and wine store’s continued operation. In a survey the city sent out earlier in the year, which more than 800 people responded to, 75 per cent supported the decision.


A Black Lives Matter rally in Iqaluit wound its way from the city’s Four Corners intersection to the legislative assembly to the RCMP detachment this summer. (Photo by Meagan Deuling)

  • More than 200 protesters gathered in Iqaluit to demand more mental health support after taking a moment of silence to remember those who have died by suicide across Nunavut. Protesters carried signs with lost loved ones’ names on them and marched a list of those names to the legislature where they handed it to Premier Joe Savikataaq.
  • A new traffic bylaw took effect at the beginning of June, raising the maximum speeding fine from $200 to $1,000 when going 50 kilometres over the limit. After the changes, this could also result in a vehicle being impounded for 24 hours.
  • Sales at Iqaluit’s beer and wine store went up by 11 percent between mid-March and June. The biggest jump happened in the first month of the pandemic between March and April, when sales jumped by 18 per cent.


The City of Iqaluit began work on removing abandoned vehicles, shacks and garbage from the Apex beach in July, following complaints made by local residents. (Photo by Dustin Patar)

  • As summer trudged on despite a global health emergency, Nunavut’s capital saw record-breaking rainfalls. It rained 40.9 millimetres on July 21, making it the wettest July 21st ever recorded. Rain continued breaking records through the rest of that week. “It’s rare,” said David Phillips, a climatologist with Environment Canada “I wouldn’t call it a monsoon, maybe a Nunavut monsoon.”
  • Compared to June 2019, the average daily water consumption in Iqaluit dropped by 28 per cent. Iqaluit’s reduced water usage, combined with the spring melt and the city pumping water from the Apex River, meant Lake Geraldine’s water levels were looking good again.
  • Iqaluit’s Alianait Arts Festival welcomed its first Inuk director, Alannah Johnston, who began working for the festival in 2016 as a co-ordinator. She helped get more Inuit and Indigenous performers into the festival’s line-up over the years and said she plans to continue.
  • To help with food insecurity issues during COVID-19, the City of Iqaluit split $80,000 in federal funding between four local organizations, including the Arctic Children and Youth Foundation, which runs the children’s food bank, and the Uquutaq Society, which operates the men’s homeless shelters.


Iqaluit firefighters quickly douse a fire in the back of a pickup truck on the road to the causeway and landfill shortly before 6 p.m. on Aug. 18. (Photo by Bill Williams)


Two city-wide blackouts left Iqaluit without power for more than two hours on one September morning. The first outage, which happened at approximately 9 a.m., was resolved 25 minutes later. The second, occurring just before 10 a.m., lasted until just before noon. As a result, the Iqaluit District Education Authority closed all schools for the rest of the day. (Photo by Dustin Patar)

  • The Iqaluit Speed Skating Club was able to get new protective equipment to help prevent concussions after winning a $10,000 award from Intact Insurance. The funding went towards buying new crash mats, but there was a snag: the club had hoped to have the mats delivered by a cruise ship at no cost, but that fell through when the pandemic caused cruise cancellations.
  • The men’s shelter in Iqaluit, the Uquutaq Society, opened its new location with a new 30-guest limit per night. The society had been operating beyond capacity for years, sometimes taking in up to 80 people in the old 32-bed shelter.
  • Thanks to new thermal blankets, the Iqaluit Community Greenhouse worked on extending the growing season by about a month, into late November. New oil-burning heaters also kept temperatures high in the greenhouses. The growing season could then start earlier and end later, meaning more produce to be donated to the Qajuqturvik Food Centre.
  • In commemoration of Orange Shirt Day, a crowd of about 30 Iqaluit residents gathered to honour the experiences of Indigenous children in residential schools.


A crowd of Iqaluit residents gathers on the breakwater on Oct. 28 for the sixth annual delivery of walrus harvested and delivered by Tom Whittle and the crew of the Black Jet. This year, the hunt lasted for four days and resulted in 10 walrus being harvested. Each year, Whittle and a group of fellow hunters head about 150 to 200 kilometres southeast of Iqaluit for their hunt. The crew typically consists of the same five or six hunters, who then bring along four or five new hunters to teach the tradition to. Whittle says one of the biggest rewards of the trip is being able to teach the younger generation, and getting to see the smiles on people’s faces when they get the meat. (Photo by Dustin Patar)


The first class of Nunavik’s Institutional and Homecare Assistance program graduated in November. The program was launched by Kativik Ilisarniliriq and the Nunavik Regional Board of Health and Social Services last year to train people to care for Nunavimmiut who are sick, injured or have lost autonomy. Graduates are pictured from left: Levina Ittulak (Kuujjuaq), Nancy Watt (Kuujjuaq), Susie Annatok (Quaqtaq), Louisa Etok (Kangiqsualujjuaq), Natalie Shipaluk (Kuujjuaq, absent from photo), Eva Sequaluk (Kuujjuaq) and Maggie Saunders (Kuujjuaq). (Photo courtesy of NRBHSS)

  • Iqaluit’s humane society, set to be demolished next spring or summer, began searching for land to build a new location on and looked at expanding its offerings to wellness and rehabilitation.
  • The City decided to raise property taxes, water delivery call-out fees and sanitation rates.
  • After a standoff that lasted over 10 hours, Iqaluit RCMP peacefully resolved what it called a “critical incident.” A 31-year-old man was arrested and charged with assault, possession of a weapon and failure to comply with release orders. Later, a new charge of unlawful confinement was added.
  • Schools shut their doors in Iqaluit, following an increase in COVID-19 cases and the territorial government imposing new COVID-19 restrictions, including reduced seating in restaurants and cabs, and restricted visits at elder and group homes.


A Royal Canadian Air Force CF-18 fighter jet sits in a hangar in Iqaluit after being refuelled. The jet is part of a larger air defence exercise conducted in the skies above Nunavut on Dec. 10. The routine exercise allowed the North American Aerospace Defence Command, otherwise known as NORAD, to hone the skills needed to operate in the Arctic. (Photo by Dustin Patar)

  • Inuit artists reinvented their approaches to the holidays this year, as COVID-19 restrictions closed craft fairs. A virtual craft market popped up in Iqaluit and the local Arctic Ventures Marketplace set up a space for artists to sell in-store.
  • Iqaluit bar Chartroom was fined $8,625 for having too many people inside on three different occasisions, in violation of Nunavut’s public health orders.
  • The city approved a $64-million plan to build a new water reservoir to accommodate Nunavut’s capital’s growing population and eliminate water shortages.
  • Iqaluit resident Kristen Kownak made an appearance in a Tim Hortons holiday ad that spotlights a cross-section of Canadian families at home, along with their unique snowman designs.
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(2) Comments:

  1. Posted by Paul Murphy on

    Interesting that this is JUST Iqaluit highlights. I eagerly await a equal levelled report about the rest on Nunavut. Or is this going to be the ongoing typical “Nunavut reporting” and to hell with the rest of the population.

  2. Posted by Inuktituusuu on

    Nunavut MLAs voted to kill Inuktitut.

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