Nunatsiaq Online
NEWS: Nunavut September 07, 2017 - 8:00 am

He did it his way: family, friends mourn for Jacopie Akpalialuk

“I think he wanted to live the way he was living. He lived his own way"

BETH BROWN
Jacopie Akpalialuk, 70, wanted to fly home to Pangnirtung for good last week. But he died Aug. 31, when a 20-ft freighter canoe near the Iqaluit breakwater that he used as a living space caught fire. Akpalialuk was known for selling fish, berries and clams around Iqaluit.  (PHOTO BY RON WASSINK)
Jacopie Akpalialuk, 70, wanted to fly home to Pangnirtung for good last week. But he died Aug. 31, when a 20-ft freighter canoe near the Iqaluit breakwater that he used as a living space caught fire. Akpalialuk was known for selling fish, berries and clams around Iqaluit. (PHOTO BY RON WASSINK)
These pictures of Jacobie Akpalialuk, a portrait on the left and the group photo on the right, hang above the urns at Iqaluit’s Grind and Brew coffee shop. The body of the man, who often visited the café, was found Aug. 31 in a burned canoe off Sinaa St. near the breakwater. (PHOTO BY BETH BROWN)
These pictures of Jacobie Akpalialuk, a portrait on the left and the group photo on the right, hang above the urns at Iqaluit’s Grind and Brew coffee shop. The body of the man, who often visited the café, was found Aug. 31 in a burned canoe off Sinaa St. near the breakwater. (PHOTO BY BETH BROWN)

Jacopie Akpalialuk, 70, was going to fly home to Pangnirtung for good early last week, after living in Iqaluit for about 13 years.

But flights were much delayed due to weather, so he changed his mind, deciding to wait for another time, a family member said.

He returned to his home among the shacks and covered boats near the breakwater off Sinaa Street, which runs along the shoreline of south Iqaluit.

A week later, on Aug. 31, the remains of a badly burned body were found inside a 20-foot covered canoe that had caught fire. Akpalialuk often used the boat as a living space.

“It was a terrible ordeal,” said his sister Mary Akpalialuk, saying the boat had already been engulfed in flames when she arrived at the site, and a bystander was calling out Jacopie’s name to see if he was nearby.

The family is still waiting to receive an official confirmation of death from the Office of the Chief Coroner for Nunavut, who said they are still investigating.

“However, further examination is required before officially confirming the identity of the deceased. In the preliminary autopsy, the deceased was that of an adult male with extensive fire-related trauma to the body and nothing suspicious or no foul play was observed,” the coroner’s office said in an emailed statement.

But Jacopie’s sister does not require official confirmation.

“I know it was him,” Mary said.

She said she didn’t know her brother well because there was a 20-year age difference between them. He was the second oldest of 15 children.

Another sibling who lives in Iqaluit had offered at times to have Akpalialuk live in their home, but, “he preferred being down there,” Mary said.

Akpalialuk was a familiar face to many in downtown Iqaluit, especially for anyone who frequents the Grind and Brew.

“Everybody who came in here knew Jacopie,” said Brian Twerdin, manager at the much loved coffee shop and pizza joint. “He knew he always had a place here.”

Akpalialuk would stop in at the Grind and Brew a few times each day to sit for a while or fill up his canteen.

“It was always too hot in here for him,” Twerdin said. “It was amazing how he could take the cold. And I never heard him complain.”

While he didn’t talk much, Akpalialuk wasn’t shy about speaking his mind when he wanted to, be it good or bad, Twerdin said.

“He could be quite the character,” Twerdin said, adding that Akpalialuk would sometimes come into the café wearing a “funny hat” a wig or a mask. “He liked to joke around.”

This wasn’t the first fire Akpalialuk suffered at his simple home near the breakwater.

At one point last year, he came into the Grind and Brew badly burned. It was Twerdin who called an ambulance.

“I think his stove tipped over,” Twerdin said.

The cause of the recent fire is unknown, but no foul play is suspected in the incident, the RCMP said this past Sept. 1.

While the man’s body will be taken for burial in Pangnirtung, a small memory of him remains at the Grind and Brew in a collection of portraits that hang on the wall above the coffee urns.

The photos, taken by a local photographer, show past employees and long-time patrons of the café. There are two pictures of Akpalialuk.

“I think he wanted to live the way he was living. He lived his own way,” Twerdin said. “It’s weird not seeing him walk through the door.”

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