A Nunavut life: Igloolik hotelier credits sobriety for success
“I probably wouldn’t have this business if I was still drinking”
Elijah Evaluardjuk beams with pride, standing in the kitchen of his family-run Tujurmivik Hotel in Igloolik, holding one grandson in his arms while another hides behind his leg.
A large oven in the small kitchen of the hotel his family has owned since 1970 bakes pizzas that have become so popular, communities from around Baffin and as far away as Cambridge Bay and Yellowknife have placed fly-in orders.
“The pizza’s very, very popular,” Evaluardjuk explained Nov. 28, wiping drool off his seven-month old grandson’s mouth. “I’ve got a new slogan now: ‘The best pizza in the circumpolar world.’”
“People from Ottawa have been thinking about ordering too,” he said with a smile.
But the business he started working at nearly 30 years ago, and that he inherited from his father, who died in 2002, hasn’t always run smoothly.
Times were especially hard at the hotel, Evaluardjuk said, when he was sick from drinking.
“I probably wouldn’t have this business if I was still drinking,” he said, “because I couldn’t run it properly. When I was drinking, I would just end up staying home some days, drinking or being sick from drinking.”
But Evaluardjuk has been sober for more than 14 years now — and he credits the hotel for helping him stay that way.
“Over the years it helped me concentrate better, and I wanted to be sober for my staff too… as long as they do their job, I won’t interfere with them.”
It probably helps that his staff is largely made up of other family members: from his sister, who cooks, to a nephew, nieces and daughters.
“When I was old enough to drink, I was told by my grandfather not to drink, but it’s really hard,” Evaluardjuk said. “So I tell my kids, if you want to drink it’s up to you, but be responsible.”
Evaluardjuk said he finally quit drinking, after a number of failed attempts to stop, when he arrived back to Igloolik from a trip to Iqaluit in June, 2000. He had planned to avoid alcohol on that trip, but failed and wound up at a bar.
“When I went home, my wife asked me if I drank. I didn’t want to lie to her, so I told her ya, I drank. Right away she cried.”
Seeing how much his drinking hurt his wife, who is also a recovering alcoholic, gave Evaluardjuk the final motivation he needed.
“That made me realize that she was really serious, and that’s when I made up my mind — I’m really not going to touch it again.”
Since that trip, he and his wife have remained sober, providing each other with support.
“We support each other. I travel quite a bit, because I’m on a few local boards,” Evaluardjuk said, “and now she doesn’t worry about me and I don’t worry about her, because I know that she’s not going to drink and vice versa. So that’s how we support each other.”
Over the past 14 years, Evaluardjuk has found other support networks.
He joined Alcoholics Anonymous and even mentored other community members for eight or nine years who were struggling with the same affliction.
“If I could help one or two people, then I’d be happy. I’d know exactly where they were at when they said they needed help,” Evaluardjuk said.
To those still struggling with alcoholism, Evaluardjuk has two pieces of advice: think twice before you have a drink, and only you can decide, truly, when it’s time to quit.
“I know it’s very hard, but I know friends and other people who had problems with alcohol, and they were told by the court to stop drinking,” Evaluardjuk said, “but when they’re just told by a judge to stop, it’s not going to work. It’s really gotta come from yourself, that’s what I learned over the years.”
Music has helped too, Evaluardjuk said.
He recently returned from playing a concert in Nunavik, where his band has visited three or four communities in the past few years.
“We’re very popular in northern Quebec,” Evaluardjuk said, adding that although his band doesn’t currently have a name, he’s backed up by members of the well-known Igloolik band Northern Haze. “Being with friends who don’t drink — that helps too,” he said of his fellow musicians.
Meanwhile, back in Igloolik, his pizzas are becoming more and more popular, which Evaluardjuk thinks is, in part, because of his homemade sauces.
Both the Arctic char pizza and the chicken pizza, with a fish sauce and a white sauce respectively, are unique and top sellers, he said.
And even though the only “vacations” he takes are when he travels to other communities as a board member for three different local boards, Evaluardjuk has no intentions of slowing down any time soon.
“Oh, I’m not retiring for a while yet,” he laughs. “This will be my 30th year, in 2015, but it doesn’t feel so much like a job to me.”