A look back at 2016 in Nunavut’s capital
Wild weather, a labour spat and AWG hockey
It was a year of ups and downs for Nunavut’s capital in 2016—symbolized by the regular appearance of freak weather that wrought havoc on the city and tested the resolve of many Iqalungmiut.
Blizzards buried Iqaluit throughout the winter, culminating in a four-day snowstorm around St. Patrick’s Day that had many residents digging tunnels out their front doors when the clouds finally disappeared.
Over the summer, near-constant rain clogged city roads and flooded culverts—in some cases smashing previous monthly averages of rainfall in a single day.
After a rocky first six-months that saw one councillor abruptly resign and tensions between council and city administrators hitting new heights, Iqaluit’s new city council eventually found its footing under Mayor Madeleine Redfern and began addressing the debilitating debt they inherited last October.
While some animosity still lingers between the city and its unionized staff over scrapped benefits and contentious collective bargaining talks, Redfern and council reported the first signs of fiscal recovery near the end of the year.
Here is a roundup of Nunatsiaq News’ most memorable 2016 stories from Nunavut’s capital.
• Six hours into 2016 and Iqaluit suffers its first fatality of the year, Jan. 1, when a 20-year-old Clyde River man is struck by a taxi on Queen Elizabeth Road. Police later rule out foul play.
• A seven-year-old boy is struck by an all-terrain vehicle in the 2600 area of Iqaluit’s “Legoland” neighborhood just before noon, Jan. 17. The driver, Tommy Holland, who fled the scene, is later arrested and charged with several offences, including impaired driving.
• During a Jan. 16 fundraiser, Iqalungmiut donate $11,000 for Napu Boychuk, an Inuk dancer who suffered a devastating spinal cord injury while on a family vacation in Cuba in December. Boychuk was resuscitated on a Cuban beach after a strong undercurrent pulled the swimmer underwater, shattering his spine.
• More than $63 million in federal funding for Iqaluit’s proposed deep sea port is committed by the Trudeau government, Jan. 26, silencing concerns that his new government would backtrack on commitments made by the preceding Conservative government under Stephen Harper. The Government of Nunavut announces they’ll complete the port by 2020.
• Indigenous and Northern Affairs minister Carolyn Bennett meets behind closed doors in Iqaluit with the family members of missing and murdered women and girls as part of a consultation for the upcoming inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, Jan 29. Bennett’s Iqaluit consultation is the only Nunavut visit during her tour.
• The Iqaluit Blizzard team nabs the championship in the 2016 Polar Bear Plate hockey tournament in Rankin Inlet, Feb. 7. The Blizzard assistant captain, Maxwell Shoo, is selected as the tournament’s most valuable player.
• The City of Iqaluit’s economic committee presents it’s first economic development plan in more than 15 years, Feb. 11, with promises of more help for local artisans and small businesses while removing bureaucratic red tape for licensing.
• Tearful family members greet fishers from the Qikiqtaaluk Fisheries Corp. vessel, the FV Saputit, who arrive at Iqaluit’s airport, Feb. 26. The fishers were returning from a three-day odyssey in Nuuk, Greenland, after their vessel struck ice in the Davis Strait and narrowly avoided sinking.
• Iqaluit’s $40.5 million aquatic centre gets a $4-million payout from the federal government as part of a Nunavut-wide infrastructure investment package.
• A string of nearly back-to-back blizzards shuts down Iqaluit for much of the first half of the month, culminating in the three-day blizzard dubbed “Patrick” for ruining St. Paddy’s Day celebrations. On March 17, the GN said offices would remain open, despite the City of Iqaluit announcing municipal services were suspended. The GN quickly retracted its statement but not before many of its employees were already on their way to work.
• The 2016 Arctic Winter Games begin in Nuuk, Greenland, March 6, following across-the-board weather travel disruptions that prevented many Nunavut and Canadian athletes on layover in Iqaluit from reaching Greenland until after the opening ceremonies. Meanwhile, a legion of volunteers and event staff work hard to run Iqaluit’s satellite AWG hockey tournament in a city buried in snow.
• Members of Iqaluit’s Inuksuk High School Drum Dancers perform over two nights in Greenland, March 9 and March 10, as part of a circumpolar showcase with other participating AWG regions at the Katuaq Arts Centre in Nuuk.
• “My name is Paul and I’m an alcoholic,” Iqaluit-Sinaa MLA Paul Okalik said before resigning as health and justice minister in Nunavut’s legislature, March 3. Okalik said he resigned in opposition to a beer and wine store opening in Iqaluit, which Iqalungmmiut voted overwhelmingly for in a 2015 referendum.
• City of Iqaluit employees take turns throwing their wage freeze notifications into a burning oil drum outside Iqaluit City Hall, March 30, during a protest staged by their union against cutbacks to combat the city’s crippling deficit.
• Search and rescue volunteers locate Uqqummiut MLA Pauloosie Keyootak and return him to Iqaluit, March 31, concluding a five-day search for the missing MLA. Keyootak, along with his son and nephew, got lost after departing Iqaluit for Pangnirtung on snowmobiles, March 22.
• The family of Iqaluit resident Daisy Curley get some measure of closure after her killer, Jeffrey Salomonie, is sentenced to life in prison at Nunavut’s Court of Justice, April 7. The trial concluded a nearly seven-year investigation into Curley’s death.
• Iqaluit’s Toonik Tyme celebrations kick-off April 15: possibly the last year the annual event will be run by the community members. In February, Toonik Tyme President Travis Cooper requested the city take over management of the festival in the future, citing a shrinking list of volunteers and “burned-out” organizers.
• City worker James Dorrington is crushed by an Iqaluit garbage truck while on the job, April 18, requiring his immediate evacuation to Ottawa for multiple emergency surgeries on his spine.
• Iqaluit councillors end the city’s controversial “Waterless Wednesday” policy, telling city administrators they were never properly informed how the policy saved money, April 26. Iqaluit chief financial officer, John Maberri-Mudonyi, later told council the policy saved about $62,000 over six months.
• At that same meeting, Iqaluit councillors Terry Dobbin and Gideonie Joamie criticize city administration for not informing council of the critical injuries sustained by worker James Dorrington eights days earlier. “It took Twitter to find out about this accident,” Joamie said in council chambers.
• Following heavy criticism from Iqaluit councillors and the city’s union, Iqaluit mayor Madeleine Redfern doubled-down in an email statement, April 28, over proposed amendments granting her vacation travel assistance. “I will happily forgo VTAs and any other non-health related benefits… so long as the union recommends the same for the members and give up all VTAs,” she said.
* Councillor Joamie abruptly resigns from Iqaluit city council, May 4, without publicly giving a reason. In a parting email to fellow councillors, Joamie refers to the debate over the mayor’s VTAs as “a side show” and reminds council to “act in the best interest of the city in our proceedings and public discourse.”
• Students at Iqaluit’s Nakasuk Elementary School are locked in their classes during the early morning of May 5, when RCMP officers seize a knife at the school. According to later RCMP updates, the situation was diffused without incident.
• More than 100 participants from across Nunavut meet in Iqaluit for a territorial consultation on Nunavut’s suicide crises, May 4. Members of the suicide strategy group—Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., Embrace Life, the RCMP and the GN—collect suggestions and testimonials from the visiting stakeholders and survivors for an upcoming action plan.
• Iqaluit joins all other Nunavut communities by voting against fee simple land sales during a territory-wide referendum, May 9. However, 31 per cent of Iqalungmiut still voted in favour of allowing land sales: the highest pro-land sale vote in Nunavut.
• A lone gunman leads Iqaluit RCMP on a chase from the old cemetery across the sea ice to Apex, June 1. The gunman—identified by the RCMP as a youth—surrendered to police three hours later without incident and was charged with reckless use of a firearm.
• A man completes a suicide with a gun in Iqaluit’s old cemetery, shortly after 10 p.m. June 14, causing panic among some residents. Conflicting reports on social media led many to believe an active shooter was still at large well into the early morning hours. Iqaluit RCMP create a Twitter account in the days following the incident.
• “Scrapcano”, the ugly stepchild of Iqaluit’s infamous “Dumpcano” dump fire of 2014, begins in the city’s temporary landfill site adjacent to the main dump, June 20. Firefighters quickly gain control over the fire the next day, but not before the wind blows smoke across most of the city.
• Ottawa police exonerate an Iqaluit RCMP officer, June 22, concluding a 16-month investigation into alleged excessive force against an intoxicated and naked Eetooloo Ejetsiak, recorded on a video camera inside an Iqaluit RCMP cell.
• Health officials confirm the first case of whooping cough in Iqaluit, June 24, as the virus spreads across the territory from the original outbreak in Pond Inlet four-weeks earlier.
• In a narrow vote, Iqaluit’s City Council foregoes electing or appointing another councillor to replace the resigned councillor Joamie, June 28. Until the next municipal elections, city council will continue as an eight-member council.
• Peregrine Diamonds Ltd. announces there are more diamonds in the Chidliak survey site—about 170 kilometres north of Iqaluit—than previously estimated. The company invests $15 million in additional funds to explore the site.
• Nunavut’s biggest music festival, Alianait, wraps up another successful year in Iqaluit, July 3. About 6,000 tickets are sold over the annual four-day event, which showcases artists from across the world.
• The Nunavut Impact Review Board green-lights construction of a replica Thule house outside Iqaluit. The project, led by the Inuit Heritage Trust, will recreate a traditional Thule dwelling with sealskin canvas and replica whalebone beams.
• Whooping cough explodes in Iqaluit, with an additional 29 reported cases confirmed by health officials July 7— just weeks after the first case reached the city. The virus continues to spread throughout the rest of Nunavut.
• Worker’s Safety and Compensation Commission officers execute a warrant at Iqaluit City Hall, July 19, alleging violations under the Safety Act regarding the critical injury of city worker James Dorrington in April.
• Iqaluit city council approves a request by the Nunavut Brewing Co. to build a brewing facility on the outskirts of town, July 26, bringing the small business a step closer to brewing Nunavut’s first locally-made beer.
• Two boys nearly drown while swimming in a lake near Iqaluit’s Road to Nowhere but are saved by kayaker Danny Ishulutak and two of his friends, July 31.
• Sections of Iqaluit’s airport close for mold removal, following a month of near constant rain, Aug. 5. Two weeks earlier, on July 21, the city received more rain in a single day than the entire monthly average for July.
• City workers protest outside Iqaluit City Hall as collective bargaining negotiations between their union and city administration continue to stall. Sporting green shirts reading “I support my bargaining team,” many city employees sit in the gallery during a city council meeting Aug. 23.
• Iqaluit’s terminally ill former mayor, Bryan Pearson, returns home to Iqaluit Aug. 27. Many line the streets at Iqaluit’s four-corner intersection as the 82-year-old’s ambulance makes its way from the airport to Pearson’s residence.
• The City of Iqaluit releases a new mission and values statement, Aug. 23, following a weekend of planning and debate by mayor and councillors drafting the city’s first strategic plan since 2012.
• Iqaluit’s District Education Authority tells the GN to butt out of negotiations with the city’s only French language school, École des Trois Soleils, over classroom space at Inuksuk High School, Sept. 9. The exchange is a sign of growing animosity between DEAs and the GN over control of local schools
• The City of Iqaluit and local business donate time and money connecting Iqaluit’s soup kitchen, the Inclusion Café, to the city’s piped water grid, free of charge. The additional water allows the kitchen to double its meal output for Iqaluit’s needy and homeless.
• All Iqaluit schools are closed Sept. 22 following a territory-wide anonymous threat of bombs planted in Nunavut schools. That threat is later deemed not credible by Nunavut RCMP and was suspected to be part of a larger trend of bogus threats sent to schools across North America.
• Nunavut’s family services department confirms Sept. 22 that it will close Iqaluit’s Ilagiitugut Group Home for youth at the end of the month, provoking an uproar from Iqaluit residents and municipal and territorial politicians.
• Iqaluit’s Grinnell Place is closed after Department of Family Services employees report finding bedbugs in their ground-level office Oct. 8. Exterminators spend weeks ridding the building of the infestation.
• Bryan Pearson, 82, dies at his Iqaluit home during the early morning hours of Oct. 12 after a six-month battle with liver cancer. Friends and family gather in Iqaluit’s Cadet Hall, Oct. 18, to pay respects and bid farewell to the city’s first mayor, founder of Toonik Tyme and local entrepreneur.
• Financial statements released by the City of Iqaluit hint at signs of recovery following years of budgetary freefall. The city’s chief financial officer says he’s “cautiously optimistic” about the report, Oct. 14.
• Federal heritage minister Mélanie Joly visits Iqaluit, Oct. 19, announcing $738,000 in funding for Canada’s 150th anniversary celebrations in Nunavut. The Iqaluit Action Fund, a local non-profit, receives $100,000 for a2017 New Years’ celebrations in the city, while Iqaluit’s Nunatta Sunakkutaangit Museum gets $288,000 for new exhibits.
• Ontario rock star Hawksley Workman performs at a sold-out show in Iqaluit’s Inuksuk High School, Oct. 22, and hosts songwriting workshops for local musicians the following day.
• Iqaluit Mayor Madeline Redfern and city councillors hold a public town hall in Iqaluit’s Frobisher Inn, Nov. 3, looking back on the successes and failures of their first year in office.
• Nunavut liquor commission minister Keith Peterson announces in Nunavut’s legislative assembly, Nov. 8, that Iqaluit’s proposed over-the-counter beer and wine store will open in 2017.
• A Moscow-bound Russian Aeroflot jet flying out of Los Angeles makes an emergency landing in Iqaluit, Nov. 25, after an Armenian-national allegedly tells passengers aboard the flight he is a terrorist. The man is detained by Iqaluit RCMP and charged with several offenses before undergoing a psychiatric evaluation.
• Iqaluit’s soon-to-be-completed $40.5-million aquatic facility releases its preliminary fee schedule during a city council meeting, Dec. 13. Some residents criticize the facility’s expensive rates but the city promises to look into subsidizing pool access for lower-income families. The aquatic centre is expected to open sometime in January 2017.