This copy of the first Inukshuk newsletter belongs to Library and Archives Canada. The newsletter’s first edition was published on Feb. 9, 1973, by a non-profit community group in Frobisher Bay (now Iqaluit). It was the forerunner to Nunatsiaq News, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2023. (Photo by Corey Larocque / Library and Archives Canada)

Yesterday’s News: It all starts with Inukshuk

Dive into Nunatsiaq News’ historic front pages during paper’s 50th anniversary

By Corey Larocque

The chronicling of Nunavut began at a parent-teacher open house in Frobisher Bay — which had not yet been renamed Iqaluit — in 1973.

It was the first front-page story in the very first issue of Inukshuk, a newspaper that debuted Feb. 9, 1973. It would eventually become Nunatsiaq News.

As Nunatsiaq News celebrates its 50th anniversary, we’re publishing images of front pages from the past five decades. Each week, we’ll feature a different year, showing how the paper has changed.

“School open house” was Inukshuk’s very first front-page headline. There had been a recent open house at the Sir Martin Frobisher Elementary School on Jan. 24, attended by 273 families “representing 51% of the students.”

“Such a gathering is bound to benefit the students as well as interest and inform the adults,” the paper reported in an un-bylined article that appeared beside a picture of Mosesie and Florence Lewis and Doris Lidstone in Aileen Burak’s Grade 1 classroom.

A copy of the first Inukshuk newsletter, published on Feb. 9, 1973, is part of the Library and Archives Canada collection. The newsletter is the forerunner to Nunatisaq News, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2023. (Photo by Corey Larocque/Library and Archives Canda)

Inukshuk was published by a non-profit organization that described its new venture as “a community experiment” aimed at being “a link to a new feeling of community in Frobisher Bay.”

“Inukshuk plans to report the news in Frobisher and Baffin on a regular basis,” the paper’s introductory editorial explained to readers.

“We also plan to have a special section on things of interest and we welcome your suggestions for new columns and new topics.”

Ann Hanson, who would later become a commissioner of Nunavut, was its first editor. The society published the paper for nearly three and a half years.

The very first edition was published on Feb. 9, 1973.

By March, Inukshuk was being printed on legal-size paper. English articles were written on a typewriter instead of using typeset letters commonly used by newspapers that were produced on a printing press. Articles in Inuktitut used hand-written syllabics.

Then in June 1976, the Inukshuk staff broke the news that its name was changing. The non-profit society had sold the paper to Frobisher Press, Ltd., a private company whose “major shareholders” were already working for Inukshuk.

One of the conditions of the sale, however, was that the new owners “retire” the Inukshuk name.

They picked the new name by holding a contest. Alootook Ipellie, a writer and artist who lived in Ottawa and worked with Inuit Today magazine, suggested the name. For christening the new publication, he won $50 and a lifetime subscription to Nunatsiaq News.

Nunatsiaq won out because “it was feared that the use of the still unofficial ‘Nunavut’ could cause confusion in some readers’ minds.”

On June 16, Inukshuk’s editor explained the new name meant “Beautiful Land” and was used to describe “the area of the Northwest Territories above the tree-line.” (“News from above the tree-line” became the new paper’s slogan — similar to the New York Times’ “All the news that’s fit to print.”)

Copies of all the editions of Inukshuk, published between 1973 and 1976, are held by Library and Archives Canada. (Photo by Corey Larocque/Library and Archives Canada)

The new owners “seriously considered” incorporating “Nunavut” into the new name.

They noted it was the name suggested for the area by the Inuit Tapirisat of Canada, the organization that led a study that formed the basis for the Nunavut territory, and that “it seems likely the term will increase in popular usage.”

Inukshuk had also supported ITC’s land claims proposals in its editorials in the early 1970s.

In the following two editions, the new name and new logo were introduced on the front page in anticipation of the name change.

It’s hard to find copies of those early editions of Inukshuk. Library and Archives Canada, however, has preserved a full run of them.

Frobisher Press continued to publish Nunatsiaq News until 1985. In that year, in a partnership between Nunasi Corp., the Roberts family from Ottawa bought the paper from Frobisher Press.

The Roberts family — publisher Michael and brothers David and Steven — is still the majority shareholder. Each of the Roberts brothers has one of their children involved in the family business.

When Nunatsiaq News’ 50th anniversary celebration began in February, Michael Roberts wrote a two-part series about his family’s history in the North and how they came to own Nunatsiaq News.

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