Many retired Newfoundland teachers go to Nunavut or other northern parts of Canada to teach, once they are finished their thirty years in Newfoundland schools. I was one who did not wait until I was retired. I went during a year I was off on deferred leave. And I am glad I had that experience!
I went to an island called Broughton Island, which is located off Baffin Island. Its inuktitut name is Qikiqtarjuaq and it is called Qik by friends of mine who live in Iqaluit. It had a population of about 500 when I taught there in a school called Inuksuit School. I was the ESL(English as a second language) and PST(Program Support Teacher-equivalent to special needs teacher, which is now given a new name) for 75% of the time. This meant I could substitute one day after four days. I loved my assigned job, but was not keen on the substituting, especially when I had to teach gym classes!
One important fact about that five month stint is that all the teachers who were not in the primary grades, were all from Newfoundland. One female teacher was from Deer Lake and there was a couple from another community which I’ve forgotten ,and there was an older man from Lewisport. The principal and his wife were from Glovertown. We had many get togethers during that time, each person baking or preparing some food to bring along to share. The police officers and their spouses also attended. We all stuck together and most weekends were fun times spent telling stories and eating. Some of the teachers went on cross country skiing out on the snow covered ice. Others went ski-dooing when the weather was good.
Most of the teachers tormented me about buying any carving that happened by my door, and they were mostly right! I bought earrings, caribou carvings and serpentine and tusk carvings. One night we were having a get together when Jamesie, a local carver, came by to ask me about a carving I’d bought from his brother Iola. I found out then and there that it was Jamesie’s carving, but Iola knew that I was game for anything and had bought the carving. I hadn’t expected him to be selling his brother’s carving. You know that got a lot of chuckles from the other teachers and cops. I refused to give up the carving and told him to go get his money from his brother.
I had brought up way too much clothing and jewelry which was not needed, where most days were not dress up kind of days. I sold most of the clothing and in the end gave away what was left. I also traded jewellry for carvings or sold it to other native teachers at the school. I could not take most of it back with me as I’d have to pay for the transportation and it was a good way to rid myself of years of keepsakes which no longer held many memories. I still have a sealskin purse I traded my leather shoulder bag for, along with an extra twenty dollar bill. I still like my pairs of earrings that I bought. One thing I lamented was selling my Singer sewing machine which was so reliable that I’ve been searching for one like it ever since. I made eight quilt tops during my time there, and still recall one morning that Arthur, the high school teacher, showed up to sew his pants. The machine was sold to the counsellor at the school, who was an older lady who spoke to the students in inuktitut.
One funny story that I will always remember from my time in Qik was the day I invited three of my Newfoundland friends for supper and had the Arctic char fried up beautifully, with some rice and corn prepared. I had the sugar dish and milk jug on the table and knew nothing until in placing the plate of char on the table, at the last moment, knocked over the sugar dish and it went all over the fish! My friends were very understanding and waited patiently while I brushed off the sugar. It might have tasted a tad sweeter than usual, but it was food and no one throws out Arctic char, not in my house anyway!
My principal knew that I was trying to pay off my Visa that year, and he heard about a person needing a place to stay. And would you believe my pink shack was the only place in the hamlet with a vacant bedroom! A dental assistant from Manitoba needed accommodations for a couple of weeks and at fifty dollars a day, this would help me pay off my huge credit card balance. It was not always easy living with a stranger. One morning I got up and opened the curtains and she nearly blew a gasket. She did not like bright light that early in the morning. Another time I turned on my CD player and had Kris Kristoffersonblasting, and this was not early morning. She nearly went berserk, but we agreed that I should turn it down a notch! So there was some disagreement and I figured it would be the same if it had been one of my sisters, so I had to suck it up and try to get along.
There were some sad times while I lived in the hamlet of Qikiqtarjuaq. A child was backed over by a water truck. Several people committed suicide, one being a student assistant’s son. On my birthday that year some of the teachers prepared a little party for me, and that day the police were out trying to deal with a suicide. The mourning was very powerful and the community really came together during these times of grief. I felt that I had lots to offer but because I could not speak the language I was held back.
One of my good friends from Pasadena lived in Iqaluit and it was lovely to spend time with her. She’s a really good cook and great company. It was nice to have her to visit when I got stuck in a snowstorm for three days on my trip up to my job. When I had a workshop there, I got to spend some more time with her. She’s very creative and her meals and stories kept me enthusiastic.
I would consider going back for a three or four month job, if there was an opportunity to do so. Although it had been a difficult time since my health was not good for most of the time, I still loved the teaching and adventure. My blood thickened up as I was not drinking enough water. This was my fault, so can’t blame it on anyone else. I also got snow blindness and found it difficult to see, each day I had to walk to and from school, staring at the snow. Sunglasses would have solved this problem.
It was very cold during my time in Nunavut. A Canada Goose coat is a necessity for anyone living in the North, in my opinion. A friend from St.Shotts had given me a survival suit, but it was too big. A Canada Goose coat had been left behind by a teacher at the school, and while it was too large, I wore it during my time at the school. Along with my too large Baffin boots, which nearly drove Arthur crazy as I scuffed too much, I survived the cold weather.
But all in all, it was a learning experience I would not miss for anything. I enjoyed spending time with the Inuit people, and learning about their culture. I had many chats with Miali, the co-principal, and became friends with the other Inuit teachers. I remember being shocked when someone asked me to buy a pasta set on my Visa for her, when I first arrived. But I found it was a common practice since some of them didn’t have Visa cards and couldn’t order items over the internet or phone without one! Some of them are still my Facebook friends. Of course, I got to eat Arctic char anytime I wanted. Just loved it! That was something I could not have predicted, as I’d never tasted char before this job.
Note: If you have a memory of your time in Nunavut, please leave a comment. I am sure there are many people from Pasadena who have worked or visited there.