The annual spring festival—Toonik Tyme—in Iqaluit, the capital of Nunavut, will be held next week, from April 7 through 12, at various locations around the city. Started in 1965, the spring festival features many traditional Inuit arts, crafts, and activities, but it now also includes events that would be familiar to anyone in Canada. A news story in Nunatsiaq News last Friday gives a lot of background.
The festival had a modest program in 1965: throat singing, dancing, Inuit games, and a community feast, plus activities for kids. A tradition that started with the first festival and has continued through the years has been the designation of an Honorary Toonik, a person who serves as the symbolic chair of the festival.
Gordon Rennie, who was the Honorary Toonik in 1970, described the first person to hold that honor, in 1965, an Inuk from Cape Dorset named Atchealak. He was a clerk and handyman for the Hudson Bay Company. Atchealak “dressed up in caribou furs and came over the hill by dog team… It was really quite dramatic and exciting with all the Inuit dancing and music,” said Mr. Rennie.
Honorary Tooniks have included the former prime minister of Canada, John Diefenbaker, England’s Prince Charles, plus other dignitaries such as former governor-generals, territorial commissioners, mayors, and so on. In recent years, individuals chosen for the award have tended to be people who have shown outstanding community spirit through their service and volunteer work.
According to the festival website, the name “Toonik Tyme” comes from the word Toonik, a member of the Tuniit society which preceded the Inuit in the Eastern Canadian Arctic and nearby Greenland. The Tuniit were famed, according to Inuit stories, as outstanding hunters with incredible speed and strength. They hunted their game up close using only spears and lances. Hunters wore long fur parkas while waiting for seals to emerge from their holes. They would spread out their parkas like tents and keep seal oil lamps burning inside to stay warm.
The festival celebrates the return of spring after a long, Arctic winter and offers a time to get together with both indoor and outdoor activities. The website indicates that it allows the people to display their pride in their culture and to show off their way of life and traditions to visitors. It encourages the community to come together and cherish their society.
The website, as well as the newspaper article, describes the activities that will take place. In addition to opening ceremonies, which include the naming of the Honorary Toonik, the calendar for Wednesday includes a fashion show—listed in the program as a “Traditional Clothing Competition”—plus bingo for elders, activities for kids, and drag races for men and women on snowmobiles on the sea ice. Thursday, April 8, will feature an ice sculpture contest, a hot stew and bannock dinner, a Northern Band Night, elders outdoor games, a kids sliding contest, and more.
Friday, according to the program, will start off with ice golf on Toonik Lake, activities for elders and kids, a tea and bannock contest, igloo building, plus other games, contests, and entertainment. Similar programming continues through the weekend. Many of the events are free, but some have admission charges.