Royal visitors light up Iqaluit’s Anglican Parish Hall during Sept. 13 feast
"It is so important to Inuit people"
People in Iqaluit lined up outside the St. Jude’s Anglican Parish Hall Sept. 13 for a rare glimpse of Prince Edward, the Earl of Wessex, and his wife Sophie Rhys-Jones, the Countess of Wessex, and for a community feast inside.
Those who made it into the packed hall weren’t disappointed: during their sole public appearance, on a day packed with official events, the couple walked around, laughed and shook hands.
They were served a plate of traditional Inuit food, such as caribou soup, fish chowder, Arctic char, followed by a cake with the words “Welcome to Nunavut” spelled out using icing in English, French and Inuktitut.
The meal was followed by an introduction to Inuit culture.
Prince Edward, Queen Elizabeth II’s youngest son and seventh in line to the British throne, smiled throughout the proceedings, which featured a traditional qulliq lighting ceremony, a prayer in Inuktitut and English, Inuit drumming, and Inuit games.
Meanwhile, children swarmed around Sophie, his wife of 13 years.
She and Prince Edward did not directly address the crowd, but they each greeted people individually while navigating around the hall.
People tried to catch Prince Edward’s attention, seeking a royal handshake, as their cameras tried to capture a moment not usually seen in the North.
Of Prince Edward’s 32 previous visits to Canada, the visit to Iqaluit marks the first time he’s visited the Canadian Arctic.
“It is so wonderful to have a visit from the Queen’s son. It is so important to Inuit people, so as an elder, it’s [special],” said Annie Ipirq, who sat with a row of elders at the side of the hall.
“It’s packed. We can’t even move around here. It is amazing,” she added.
Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. president Cathy Towtongie, as well as Nunavut Premier Eva Aariak and other dignitaries, sat with the royal couple.
“I think, in general, Inuit respect the royal family. And we honor them as a family because — we get identified with families, not governments, and that’s why there’s a lot of people here,” Towtongie said.
A light-hearted moment capped the night off: Towtongie presented the couple with a carving of an Inuit hunter, but when Sophie ran her hands over the large soapstone carving, she displaced a miniature spear and thought she broke the piece of art.
That prompted Price Edward to say “it wasn’t me!”
“We presented a carving on behalf of the Inuit, because they came to our territory, and that’s special. Very special,” Towtongie said.
The event ended with thunderous applause, and Prince Edward and Sophie were whisked away in a large vehicle with the royal flag fastened to the antenna.
Some didn’t just come to the evening event to see the royal couple.
“For me, it’s more to see the community gather together and get some country food,” said Elizabeth Sherwin, who has worked at the Qikiqtani General Hospital for three weeks. “I think it’s wonderful that royalty does try to come to northern Canada, and I hope it gets some good publicity down south so southerners can get a better idea of life up here.”
Prince Edward will attend a tour of the nursing program at Nunavut Arctic College Sept. 14, and then he and Sophie head off to southern Ontario for a tour before returning to the United Kingdom Sept. 18.