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AWG WEEK: The champagne and caviar games

AWG WEEK: The champagne and caviar games

The time the party overshadowed the Arctic Winter Games
By Herb Mathisen
Mar 12

When the 1978 games in Hay River-Pine Point were over, participants were left wondering if the event had actually been about athletics and cultural exchange or the party?

It’s no wonder. The Inukshuk Express—the first and only passenger rail service in the NWT’s history—shuttled athletes, officials, performers and spectators back and forth between the two towns all week. (The rail line was built in the 1960s to move lead-zinc ore out of Pine Point.) On the inaugural ride, masked bandits on snowmachines stopped the train. ‘Kidnappers’ came on board and escorted NWT Commissioner Stuart Hodgson and federal sporting minister Iona Campagnola outside, where they were handcuffed to each other. The bandits, carrying wooden rifles and toy pistols, made off with some champagne, chugging from the bottles before escaping into the bush on their machines. (It was all a prank. The mock hold-up had been okayed beforehand by the RCMP.)

A couple of champagne bottles were hardly missed. The train, carrying 180 dignitaries, left for Pine Point with 13 cases of bubbly. Caviar was also served aboard the Inukshuk Express. The merrymaking continued at a lavish reception in Pine Point and dignitaries, returning to Hay River by train, sipped liqueurs all the way back and into the early morning hours.

That set the tone for the opulent week. In Hay River, Hodgson hosted a VIP reception dubbed “A night with the voyageurs.” The Legion was transformed into a bush scene, with real spruce trees, tipis and beaver pelts. Bird sounds were piped in over the speakers. A small crate of rabbits were even flown up from Edmonton and released to run free at the party—you know, for that added touch of realism.

Of course, there were bucketsful of punch and “high wine—consisting of a third brandy, a third rum and a third sherry,” according to the Ulu News.

Meanwhile, the Inuvik ski club was told there was no money to bring Sharon Firth, the former Olympian and hero skier, down from Inuvik. “We get a bunch of political VIPs eating caviar and champagne all the way to Pine Point—how is that symbolic of the North?” Rosslyn Smith, the club’s president, vented to a local reporter. “A lot of people here have never even tasted caviar.”