Toonik Tyme needs helping hands

Volunteers sought for Iqaluit’s annual spring festival


Toonik Tyme is almost here, but Iqaluit’s annual spring festival needs volunteers to be a success.

This year’s festival officially kicks off in less than two weeks, on Wednesday, April 11, and continues until Sunday, April 15. That’s a shorter span of time than in previous years, which means Iqalummiut can expect a busy schedule of events during that time, said Kris Mullaly, festival co-ordinator.

This year’s festival will see new events, such as kite-skiing workshops held by Kunoki, a group from southern Quebec, as well as well-known events from past years: seal-skinning contests, snowmobile drag races and up-hill climbs, throat singing, bannock and tea making, and much more.

Toonik Tyme corresponds with spring break for students this year, Mullaly said, so the festival schedule also has plenty for kids to enjoy, including a scavenger hunt, traditional games, and a magic show put on by a group from Toronto who will perform tricks, such as breathing fire.

The festival’s come a long way since its origins in 1965, when Prime Minister John Diefenbaker was given the title of first honorary Toonik.

At that time, anyone who won a contest considered themselves lucky to receive a home-made pie as a prize. Now, winners of the big-ticket raffle receive tickets for a return flight to Ottawa, or a barrel of gas.

Organizers hope residents will fill out nomination forms for this year’s honorary Toonik before April 7. This year’s award will go to a resident who has given back to the community by performing good deeds.

The original budget for the festival in 1965 was $700, Mullaly said. In more recent years, it’s cost $50,000. And with gasoline prices driving the cost of cargo and passenger flights up, this year’s festival could cost as much as $100,000.

And some of that money hasn’t come in from donors, despite requests being mailed out two months ago, Mullaly said. Yet he insists “the show must go on.”

As well, Inuit events, such as the harpoon throw, used to be the central events during the festival. That’s changed, and last year far more onlookers could be found squirming inside the curling rink as they watched participants in Fear Factor – a gross-out contest modelled on a popular television show – eat worms, or be covered with bugs and stinky substances.

That balance between traditional and modern activities is always difficult, Mullaly said, but “to demonstrate it can be done, is what Toonik Tyme represents.”

Toonik Tyme also now has a web site, at Mullaly encourages festival-goers who take any spectacular photos during the event to send them to the email address of organizers, found on the web site, so they can be put online for everyone to enjoy.

And this year, expect to see a big tent set up in the Nakasuk School parking lot, which will serve as “Toonik Tyme Central,” Mullaly said.

That’s likely where the tea and bannock making competition will be held. It will also be a place where festival-goers can find out the latest news on where events may have been moved. In past years, events were often scattered around the city, sometimes at locations announced only a short time before the event.

This year, many events will be held in the Arctic Winter Games arena. Organizers hope to set up a shuttle bus that would run between the main tent and the arena on a regular basis. “We’ll do our best to meet people in the middle,” Mullaly said.

But for everything to go smoothly, organizers need help to run events, take registration, sell tickets, provide security and more. “Really, volunteers are the lifeblood of Toonik Tyme,” Mullaly said.

To volunteer, call Carol Tootoo at 979-0894.

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