This is the first in a Nation series featuring our nine communities. We will, if you let us, come into your lives, your homes, businesses, band offices, centres, camps, restaurants, bars, radio stations, airports, teepees, canoes, armed encampments, and Whapmagoostuis. We will also surprise you with some things you never knew about your own home.
Why did we choose Great Whale to be first? Several reasons.
It’s the farthest from us and this is the big little town that brought HQ to a screeching halt. It’s also, as the name implies, great. It’s isolated, the people are friendly, it’s got four names, and you can drink. In a word, unique.
Kuujuaarapik, was freezing when we arrived. Mukash was there to greet us, but told us, laughing, that he was just there to pick up a package. We checked into the Co-op Motel. Early that evening we walked to the resto pub. The bar is quiet. It’s decorated with a giant polar bear pelt, harpoons, a wolf pelt, brewery banners, even an Indian princess costume. Aside from the decorations and the price of beer, if you didn’t look outside, you’d think you were in Montreal. We met Jason, a Montrealer working with the weather station. We were sitting around talking about Montreal when the subject of paintball came up. It just so happened he was in the Nunavik Paintball Association. They play just outside town, with room for 14 players.
We also made a rest stop at the the famous Kuujjuaraapik Social Club. This club is bigger and there’s a dance floor with a deejay. There’s no waiter so everyone lines up at the bar for their drinks. Bring cash if you ever make it here.
One sunny day we visited local storyteller, Job Kawapit at the culture camp. He took a break to tell a few stories. “Did you hear the one about the man who got pulled out to the bay by the beluga?” he asked. A man was hunting and he harpooned a whale. The whale swam out towards Mintunook and pulled him under. A conjurer was called to find him. He heard from the lost man, who said, I live under the island and if you don’t believe I live, go to the first rapids tomorrow morning. The next day some men went to the rapids. They found the lost man’s jacket hanging on a branch, wet.
Job is only one of the many storytellers in Great Whale. We sat by the woodpile as he rattled off a list of legends, asking which one’s I’d heard. Most of which I hadn’t.
There are three stores serving Great Whale. The Northern of course, Sandy’s and the Co-op. Will bought a 20 pound piece of soap stone. He says his first sculpture will be a bust of Elvis Presley in honour of one of the first Inuit carvers who insisted on carving only The King himself. He had to be convinced to carve traditional subjects or his work wouldn’t sell. Sonny, wanting to encourage Will in his artistic endeavors, had told us this bit of history of Inuit soap stone carving.
We also went to visit the University of Laval’s research facility by the Cree village. Scientists from around the world come here to conduct studies on everything from water to the ozone layer and, I suspect,
The Badabin Eeyou School’s art factory was another stop. The pottery work here is done by local students. Their walls are lined with clocks, plates, cups and even a pipe. The price of anything bought has to be negotiated with the student who created it. Prices are reasonable and internet sales have come in from as far as the U.S.
We rented a bike and drove up the closest and highest hill. The view of the fogbound town was incredible. We followed the bike trail which snakes many miles north towards Umiujaq. Seals sunned themselves out on the ice. Ducks flew over. We managed to get off a few shots, but missed. Our excuses, like any good hunter, were that they were too far.
On our way back, we talked as we bounced over the rough trail, fantasizing about owning a tourist operation. We would take groups of southerners on bike tours up the coast and show them just how beautiful this place can be. And also make a lot of money doing it. We went on in this vein, when suddenly a huge flock of geese appeared just over the trees. “Sonny, damn it!!” He stopped but it was too late. Our guns were strapped tight onto the bike. The geese flew out towards the setting sun and landed in the water. “That would be an extra hundred bucks!” said Sonny.
We left the town a day late because of fog. We had a great time in Great Whale. It was everything I had warned Will about.