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Loving the Ulu News

Loving the Ulu News

From baiting ravens with vodka to checking hares for radiation: A collection of oddball stories from Arctic Winter Games past
By Herb Mathisen
Mar 14

It’s 1970 and a man named Andy has set up a tent atop a Yellowknife highrise. Why? To get a meeting with Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, of course. Trudeau would be staying in the penthouse below and Andy, 29, wanted to ask him to build a bridge across the Mackenzie River. Andy was eventually evicted by security, but not before being presented with a $1,000 bill for rent—“one dollar for the space and 999 dollars for the view.” (The bill was a gag.)

This was just one of the dozens of oddball stories I came across while going through the archives of the Ulu News. As the official newspaper of the Arctic Winter Games, it has kept a day-by-day record of results, triumphs and shenanigans at every Games since the very beginning.

The first edition, with News of the North editor Jack Adderley at the helm, has a real “from the hip” feel, as no one at the time really knew what to expect from the Games. But reading the Ulu News from that first year, you get swept up in the local enthusiasm and pride felt by Yellowknifers during the event. (In reporting a feature for our March issue, I spoke to Ken McKinnon, the first president of the Arctic Winter Games, and he told me that Adderley was initially one of the biggest detractors of the Arctic Winter Games when they were first proposed. Adderley, in the pages of the 1970 News, came around in a big way. Says McKinnon: “To his credit, he was one of the first ones who said, 'I just didn’t think it was ever going to happen, that it was a total impossible dream and I just can’t believe how successful it was and how great it was.'”)

And I just can't believe how great the Ulu News was. The paper is produced, in most cases, by the host town's newspaper and provides a window back to that place and time, to hilarious haircuts and discarded fashions. The ads are wonderful too. 

Patient: $5,000 for one hour?
Hollowell: Hey, you agreed to it while you were under.

Here's a thoroughly subjective history of the earliest editions of the paper along with some of the stranger and sillier Games happenings that, for reasons which will soon be obvious, didn't make it into my story. (Note: I had to cut myself off at the 1982 Fairbanks Games, even though I could have crawled down this rabbithole forever.)

Yellowknife 1970:

The general feeling one gets from the 1970 Ulu News is disbelief. Perhaps even euphoria. No one, it seems, can understand how this mighty gathering of NWTers, Yukoners and Alaskans came to be.

One of the most succesful sections of Adderley's Ulu News was the 'Just Between Us' tidbits. Mostly a hodge-podge of bits and quotes that weren't important enough for a story, this section really brings you right back onto the sidewalks of Yellowknife.

Here are a choice few:

I don't think you'd find anyone complaining about these prices today.

So this 'Yellowknife is Whitehorse' thing has been a problem since at least 1970, then?

Adderley uses the phrase "Man, that's coffee..." so many times in the Ulu News that it started to slip into my own vocabulary. It also got me curious about the origins of the phrase. I think I may have tracked them down here. (It's a good thing for Up Here that it doesn't pay me by the hour.)

Here's a blast from the past: It becomes clear, as the days wear on, that a great many rifles were handed out at the games. (500, in total, I believe.)

Not sure how this would fly in 2018.

Finally, I just really, really love this photo and caption:

I can just imagine the interaction between the photographer and Mr. Wall prior to the taking of this photo.
Photographer: Hey, you're really tall. Can I take your photo?
Mr. Wall: You're lucky I'm stuck in this doorframe.


Whitehorse 1972:

The Ulu News is noticeably more rigid this time around. And we have the Canadian government to thank for that. Yes, the Sport Canada Directorate, Department of National Health and Welfare got its mitts on the News and did its best to suck the fun right out of it. They even had the gall to turn it into a propaganda pamphlet. It's subtle, but just indulge me here.

I mean, are they actually trying to have us believe the Governor General drew a bigger crowd than Gentleman Jean Beliveau, one of the greatest Habs and hockey players ever? Why even mention crowd size here if there wasn't something embarrassing to conceal?

And then there's this:

It's nice to see the Governor General take time out for a quick ping-pong match with a young athlete. But why include a line about the unknown outcome? Like the crowd size detail, the mere mention of the match's result rasises suspicions. Now I'm left wondering if our Governor General was unpopular and poor at ping-pong. (These Sport Directorate folk are some lousy propagandists.)

The Governor General is featured prominently in photos seven times in the papers. I have to confess, I quickly developed Roland Michener fatigue. This is one of just two Beliveau photos:

Extended caption: "But you shoulda got a load of the size of the crowd mobbing His Excellency for autographs! Way bigger! Rabid, even!"

By far the most interesting feature of the 1972 Ulu News is a column called 'Nicole Aux Jeux.' Through the first three days the author, Nicole (in case you hadn't guessed), writes in French about her impressions of the games and the people she's met. But by day four, she tries her hand at English and she begins to ask important questions about the representation of the contingencies, remarking how the participants are overwhelmingly white.

She even interviews Lou "I don't know the difference between Yellowknife and Whitehorse" Lefaive, Director of the National Health and Welfare's Sport Canada Directorate.

I guess we should give the directorate kudos for allowing a critical take to run in its pages.

Oh, and here's Ken McKinnon, first president of the Arctic Winter Games corporation:

I haven't yet been able to confirm if McKinnon was the inspiration for Michael J. Fox's Teen Wolf (1985) character.


Anchorage 1974:

This edition of the Ulu News was heavy on results and photography. There's a whole other chapter to be written one day about the evolution of Arctic Winter Games fashions, but here's just a smattering.


Did you know that Grandpa Walton was the honourary chairman of the 1974 Arctic Winter Games? I didn't either.

I didn't know much about Grandpa Walton either, so I wikipedia'd him and... WOW, that's a life well-lived.


Quite possibly the most boring headline ever. (But we do learn that, in all of human history, there has been at least one man named Howdy Smith. I think we're better off knowing that.)

Schefferville 1976:

Sadly, the 1976 Ulu News is a Telex-style document with only the basics: rote welcome messages from organizing members and politicians, menus, schedules and results. However, a few interesting things come through, like the first mention I could find of uniform trading, which has become an AWG tradition:

This message is brought to us by none other than detractor-turned-booster Jack Adderley.

Actulaly, that's about the only interesting thing from the 1976 Ulu News. But that brings us to 1978 and the publication's high-water mark.


Hay River-Pine Point 1978

Okay, where do you even start? How about with this story about a scheme that organizers drew up to trap a bunch of ravens that would later be released at the opening ceremonies, as an homage to the peace doves flying free at the Olympics.

One idea? Bait them with vodka-soaked bread. Yes. For real.

Chris Brodeur and the Hay River Hub staff deserve full marks for taking many of the established Ulu News sections and bringing them to the next level. Their Ulu Nose--deriviative of Jack Adderley's 'Just Between Us'--is heavy on Page 6-style gossip.

These games sure sound like a romp. Also, is the Ulu News insinuating that Commissioner Hodgson might be nursing a hungover? I wonder, how could that be?

Here are some of the best Ulu Nose bits:

Oh, you know, just checkin' the rabbits for radiation like it's the most normal thing in the world. (This was just more than a month after the crashing of Kosmos 954, FYI.)

One of the many shots fired at the CBC.

Remember, the Arctic Winter Games used to be a competition for adults, a point that Dean Brown (below) takes note of.

I took a look at the festive atmosphere of the 1978 Games here. But really, so much of what you read in the 78 Ulu News is just plain bizarre. There's small town-politics. And pettiness. And a few blunders along the way. From the 3-km ski race that was actually only 1.5-km in length due to a measuring error, to the many indignities endured by Fort Smith residents, to the constant complaints about curfews, the 1978 games are alive in the pages of the Ulu News.

It does seem like the Fort Smith cheerleading squad got a raw deal.

I think the 1978 edition wins on its psychadelic covers alone.

The Ulu News reached its pinnacle in 1978 because it's never been weirder, or funner or more local.


Whitehorse 1980:

Training behind bars, you ask? We'll get to that in a moment.

The Hay River-Pine Point games are hard to top, but the Yukon News team did a nice job when they got their crack at the News, conceding in their editorial that they were less concerned with competition and instead wanted to emphasize the cultural exchange and focus on the stories of the many athletes that had gathered in Whitehorse. That includes an odd feature about an Arctic Sports athlete who was let out of jail for a DUI to compete:

(We obscured this athlete's face and name here because mistakes happen.) Oh, and so you know, he competed with his shirt off too.

One of the strongest gimmicks I came across in any News is the way the Yukon News staff covered the pin-trading market, reporting it like they were on the trading floor of a stock exchange.

Yes, it even comes complete with the mandatory 'this is a forward-looking statement' style caveat.

This one will please the Northern chauvinists out there. The Canadian government's Secretary of State, Department of Multiculturalism decided to throw a 'South of 60' concert at the games. And no one came.

Ziz or Zzz...?

Then came the diarrhea.

Kids on the run? Or kids with the runs?


I'd love to know who this guy is, what his involvement with the Games is... and what he's yelling?



Fairbanks 1982:

What 'passing the time' looked like before everybody had a smartphone.

It really was a different time.


Beer companies were once big sponsors of the Games. (In the 1980 Ulu News, Molson sponsored a big two-page schedule of events spread.) The Games were still geared, primarily, to adults.


I could keep going, but I'm really starting to run out of steam. (And we've got a June issue to start working on.)

But believe me, this is just a taste of the goofball stories you can find digging around old Ulu News editions. Hopefully, future Ulu News publishers take their job seriously and remember to keep it loose, keep it fun, and keep it weird. So someone can look back on the 2018 Games in 40 years time and make fun of our haircuts.