The North In 12 Months
Return of the sun salutation
What do you do when you live in a town that hasn’t seen the sun in nearly 30 days? You throw a party and worship the glowing giver of vitamin D the minute it returns.
Every January, when the sun peeks out over the horizon after its long winter absence, Inuvik hosts the Sunrise Festival: a weekend of food, dancing, music, a gigantic bonfire, winter games and more. Bust out your yoga mat to give a heartfelt sun salutation during an outdoor snow yoga session, or play a game of Sno-Pitch and hit a homerun in your parka.
Choose the Yukon’s ultimate man
Who is Sourdough Sam? Only the embodiment of modern Yukon manliness, says Tamara Fischer, an organizer of the annual Yukon Sourdough Rendezvous. Over the festival’s 55 years, the archetypical Yukon man has evolved from his first plaid-draped appearances into the lip-sync battling, Sam Can Dance and Bare ‘n Boots burlesque competitor he is today.
You don’t have to be a Sam-in-the-running to participate: the audience at each event votes for their favourite Sam until only one is left standing. The reigning Sam, Daniel O’Shea (going by the moniker Dangerous Sam McGrew), had only been in the Yukon a few months when he took the stage. “He describes it as one of the best things he could have done to get to know the Yukon and the people of the Yukon,” says Fischer.
Build an iglu, save your life
Triumphing at Puvirnituq’s iglu building competition doesn’t just earn you icy bragging rights—it might save your life. “It helps people,” says Larry Putugu, coordinator of the Nunavik community’s biannual Snow Festival. “We live in a very cold place and if someone gets lost, that person will know how to make an iglu.”
Competitors take part in solo or pairs events. Quickest to build an iglu wins. Last year, Charlie Nowkaruaq won gold after he managed to cut blocks of snow and carefully place them on top of each other to form the shelter in 25 minutes and 27 seconds. People come from all over the region to compete, but everyone is encouraged to throw his or her snow knife into the ring.
Need a place to stay? Visitors are invited to spend the night in an iglu. Just be sure to book ahead. Contact the festival to reserve.
Hunt a seal
You’ve got to be fast at the Nattiq Frolics annual seal hunt competition. Millie Kuliktana, a volunteer with the Frolics, remembers a hunter once returned with a seal within 13 minutes.
The seal hunt is part of the larger festival that runs every April, what Kuliktana calls “seven days of frolicking in the sun” before families go their separate ways for the spring hunting season.
The competition sends hunters out with traditional harpoons. Prizes in men’s and women’s categories are handed out to the first, second and third hunters to return with a seal. “There’s been years where we’ve had none come back with seals and there’s been years where the same hunter would come back with the first, go back out and come back with the third,” says Kuliktana.
Competitors travel by snow machine from Ulukhaktok and Cambridge Bay, and fly in from other parts of Canada.
Anyone can take part, says Kuliktana, but you have to know how to handle yourself and you must have access to your own snowmobile. She says visitors who make arrangements to tag along with a family on the hunt are welcome. “They go out and they need to know how to look for the seal holes—breathing holes—and stand there patiently waiting, the traditional way of hunting seals,” says Kuliktana.
Even if you don’t head out on the ice, you can still hang around and taste fresh seal. “It just makes a hunter feel good to share that with people.”
Dawson City, Yukon
Start the presses, travel through time
May 30 - June 2
The Dawson Daily News first hit newsstands in 1899. It was one of 12 newspapers in Dawson during the height of the Klondike Gold Rush.
Every May, the Dawson Daily News Print & Publishing Festival turns the presses back on at the Daily News building, and the sweet, inky smell of the printed word once again wafts through the air from equipment used more than a century ago.
“We wanted to create some new life in that building and recreate the atmosphere that would have been there back in the day when it was a working print shop,” says Matthew Sarty, with the Klondike Institute of Art & Culture. “Using the old printing presses, it’s kind of like going back in time in a way.” You can expect open studio time and printmaking workshops. “There will be something for you to do even if you’ve never touched printmaking before.”
The organizers also try occasional experiments, like a recent dog team-powered press that didn’t quite work out. There’s always next year. May we suggest moose power?
Dawson City, Yukon
Watch your balls
The Midnight Sun Golf Tournament in Dawson would be special even if you didn’t have to guard your ball from a cunning fox or raven. But you do. Paul Robitaille, Dawson Golf Association president, says to watch out for a mischievous fox that, over the years, has been lurking around the seventh hole. “You’d hit your approach shot up to just before the green and the fox would often run out, steal the ball, run back to his den,” says Robitaille.
Teams of four tee off around 9 p.m. and play nine holes in a best-ball format into the wee hours of the morning. It’s an all-night affair, held as close as possible to the summer solstice. “There are very few places in the world that you can golf at midnight,” says Robitaille.
If you’re in Yellowknife, try the Canadian North Midnight Classic on June 21.
Float plane frenzy
If you take pride in distinguishing the woosh of a Twin Otter from the screech of a Cessna, you’ll want to experience the Midnight Sun Fly In. Pilots from across Canada and the United States flock to Yellowknife’s Old Town for an event-packed weekend. “They like coming north because the air is so clean, and the weather is usually good, ” says Yvonne Quick, president of the Midnight Sun Fly In Association, which has been a summer staple since 1995. Live entertainment, a pancake breakfast, and a barbecue are open to the public.
But that’s all secondary for airplane lovers, who can catch their favourite planes in action from Pilot’s Monument during fly-bys, or get up close to the famous floatplanes that were so instrumental in growing Yellowknife and the North.
Gjoa Haven, Nunavut
First look at history
August 24 to September 3
The Umiyaqtutt Festival opens a window not just on Sir John Franklin’s doomed voyage but also Inuit culture and how Nunavummiut are helping preserve a part of history. The festival started in 2017 to celebrate the discovery of the ships Erebus and Terror and it’s your first chance to view the artifacts being pulled from these wrecks. There’s also traditional music, dance and handicrafts like sewing and embroidery. In 2019, visitors will get the first look at nine newly discovered artifacts including an artificial horizon (a tool used for navigation), a pottery jug, and a piece of fabric used as insulation between the beams of the ship that survived nearly 200 years underwater.
Dawson City, Yukon
Gotta outrun that outhouse
And on the second day of September, the outhouses will rise from their foundations and parade through the streets of Dawson in their finest decorations. In a territory that nurtures the kooky and the weird, Dawson is a shining example of what happens when a town collectively decides they’re going to lean in.
Exhibit A: its annual Outhouse Race. Teams decorate a makeshift outhouse—metal-framed, similar to a rickshaw, with handles on the front and back—and race through the streets, performing challenges along the way. Outhouses are dressed up in themes—from a baseball dugout, to Diamond Tooth Gertie’s yearly glam fest, to a giant Pepto Bismol bottle.
Teams of four carry the outhouse whilst the fifth member sits regally atop their throne. And yes, things get messy. Past years challenges have seen team members wrap each other in toilet paper or transport potatoes dipped in chocolate pudding between their thighs.
No one knows exactly when or how or why the annual outhouse race started, but it’s been going on for at least a couple of decades. If you’re visiting Dawson, there’s nothing stopping you from putting your butt on the line.
“Last year there was a team that showed up that day and wanted to know what there was to do in town. We had an extra vehicle available, so they quickly decorated it, got in costume and ran the race," says Andy Cunningham, a race organizer with the Klondike Visitors Association.
Iqaluit & Yellowknife
Get the giggles
Second week of October
The First Air Arctic Comedy Festival is expanding from Iqaluit into Yellowknife this year. Big-name southern acts share the stage with local comedians. What can you expect at the show? Well, most standups generally joke about their life experiences, says John Helmkay, who fronts Ottawa’s Crackup Comedy Festival and helped make this event possible. In the North, part of that experience is not always having a stage. (“What’s the deal with performing in gyms?”)
Here’s your chance to find out what makes Northerners crack up.
Meet an artist
November is craft fair season in Yellowknife. Artisans from across the territory head to the capital for a series of weekend craft fairs held in schools, malls, and auditoriums. There’s the annual sale put on by the local pottery and quilt guilds and the Yellowknife Makers Market, where local and regional artisans sell everything from Dene moccasins to jewelry made from fur, fish scales, and bone, to handmade soap seasoned with northern vegetation. The Freeze Up Art Show features works by local artists, allowing you to meet and greet the creator of your favourite prints, paintings, and books.
Candy falls from the sky
In Kuujjuaq, Santa doesn’t drive a sleigh: he comes to town in a Turbo Otter. Since 1964, Johnny May (with Santa as a copilot) has flown over Kuujjuaq for the annual Christmas Candy Drop. “My father was Hudson Bay manager when I was young, and they used to throw candy from the roof of a building at Christmas time,” says May. He grew up and got his pilot’s licence. “I thought, ‘Geez, that would be kind of fun to do it from an airplane. Been doing it ever since.”
May used to purchase the candy himself, but these days, with the help of the local recreation committee, he drops clothing and envelopes with certificates for prizes like TVs and microwaves. “It’s barely any candy anymore,” he says. One thing hasn’t changed: “Santa’s always with me,” he says. But that won’t be the case forever—May says 2019 will be the last year he flies with the big guy.