On the Tulita Buy, Sell, Trade Facebook page, you’ll see all manner of posts: people selling their old DVDs, others wondering what time bingo starts, and occasionally, personal requests along the lines of, “If anyone runs into my mom, tell her to call me.”
But Tim Tomczynski’s post last December was unusual, even for the NWT town’s eclectic message board. It was a wedding invitation for everyone in Tulita: the ceremony would be held at 2 p.m. on Christmas Day, followed by a reception at the community hall.
Tomczynski and his fiancée, Alison De Jong, hadn’t planned on inviting all 400-some residents. They wanted a small ceremony, just some family and a few friends. But in the North, plans don’t mean very much.
De Jong knows that well. She’s lived in Tulita since 2002, teaching high school, coaching volleyball, and proving she’s not just another transient southerner. Tomczynski moved to the tiny hamlet three years ago to manage the Northern Store. It wasn’t a permanent post, and Tomczynski wanted to stay, so he took a job as the town’s economic development officer last fall, organizing everything from gardening programs to weekly sewing meet-ups.
For much of Tomczynski’s first year in Tulita, De Jong was down south; her father was ill, and she wanted to be with family. It wasn’t until a bible study group last fall that the two got to talking. Right away, they both knew. They were the same age, 45 at the time, and they’d found in each other a life partner who shared their values—and their love for Tulita. A few weeks later, Tomczynski surprised De Jong with a new cellphone. Inside the box, nestled amongst the gleaming accessories, was a ring. She said yes.
They had family visiting that Christmas—De Jong’s father had died, and her mother and brother wanted to spend the holidays with her—so they set their wedding date for December 25. Tomczynski’s mom would be there too.
But then word spread about their engagement. Frank Andrew, chief of the Tulita Dene Band Council, promptly volunteered the Dene Drummers to perform at the reception. His sister Rosemary, who’d taught with De Jong for many years, offered to organize the food. The couple quickly realized their marriage wasn’t theirs alone to celebrate; it was Tulita that brought them together after all. So they posted an invitation on Facebook.
With that, the wedding became bigger than Christmas. Friends volunteered to decorate the church and community arena for the reception. Tulita expats sent up wedding cake ingredients, snacks for the reception, and flower arrangements from Yellowknife and Edmonton. A group of seamstresses got together to bead a stroud cape for De Jong’s wedding dress.
Realizing he needed to jazz up his wedding outfit, Tomczynski commissioned his sewing group to make a beaded moosehide vest. To surprise her fiancé, De Jong commissioned two pairs of mukluks for the big day.
They barely made it. On Christmas Day, the mukluks arrived at De Jong’s door with just an hour to spare. Hers were white, with a rabbit fur trim; his were trimmed with dark beaver fur and beaded with turquoise flowers. And the sewing group was making a few final touches on Tomczynski’s moosehide vest. They were still at it when he drove to the church and stood up front with his two best men. Minutes before De Jong got the signal that it was time to walk down the aisle, the pastor rushed up to the groom and handed him his new vest. It matched his mukluks perfectly.
Chief Andrew MC’d the reception, calling up the bride and groom for their first dance, their first jig, and, when the Dene Drummers took the stage, their first drum dance. At Rosemary’s direction, the guests had brought their Christmas dinners, and platters of turkey and mashed potatoes filled the long tables stretching across the arena. The whole town was family that night.
Looking back, De Jong wouldn’t change a thing. Today, the cape and both pairs of mukluks are on display at the town’s community hall as examples of the region’s exquisite beadwork. For De Jong and Tomczynski, it’s just a small way to say thank you.