ARCTIC BAY, Nunavut — With a dogsled race out to the ice surrounding Arctic Bay and a square dance at the community centre, Nunavut Quest officially kicked off Saturday.
The events were held on the first day of the festivities associated with the annual race, after all of the mushers from Igloolik and Pond Inlet arrived Friday in Arctic Bay, the starting point for the 500-kilometre trek to Igloolik that’s expected to take about six days.
More than 100 residents gathered mid-afternoon on Uluksan Qingua, or Adams Sound, to watch the mushers begin a 20-kilometre warmup race south across Uluksat Kangiqlua, the inlet surrounding the community, to Ilaariarvik.
That race was used to help determine starting positions for Monday, the first day of Nunavut Quest, when mushers were to head out on a staggered start. The winner will take home $20,000.
For Arctic Bay Mayor Moses Oyukuluk, watching people from across Baffin Island gather in his community to celebrate the annual tradition has been fulfilling.
Pond Inlet musher Michael Inuarak whips his sled dogs after completing a 20-kilometre race Satruday before the big 500-kilometre race that starts Monday. (Photo by David Venn)
“They love it, and I also do,” Oyukuluk said in an interview, through an interpreter.
The dogsled race has been held every year since 1998, except for 2020 and 2021 when it was put on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
This year, the Nunavut Quest committee had to act quickly to ensure the event could happen after it had a late approval, said Oyukuluk, a committee member.
On Saturday, the 15 dogsled teams were gone from about 3:15 to 4:30 p.m. In that time, kids raced across the ice and people watched from their cars, ATVs and snowmobiles, waiting for the mushers to return.
Igloolik’s Jonah Qaunaq finished first, followed by Arctic Bay’s David Oyukuluk in second place and Tom Naqitarvik in third.
Following Saturday’s dog-team race, the opening ceremony took place at the community centre that night.
Charlie Inuarak began with a prayer before committee members Zipporah Oyukuluk, Rhoda Natanine, Eli Taqtu and Crystal Natanine welcomed the mushers to the front of the room.
With more than 200 people packed into the gymnasium-sized room, duo Noah Qaqqasiaq and Harry Iyerak performed original songs, followed by husband-and-wife musicians Jeremy Attagutsiak and Debbie Oyukuluk, and their children, Nate, Sarah, Laura and Zoey Oyukuluk.
Igloolik mushers Terry Uyarak and Joshua Haulli also performed.
Husband-and-wife musicians Jeremy Attagutsiak and Debbie Oyukuluk perform onstage at Arctic Bay’s Community Centre Saturday evening with their children Nate, Sarah, Laura and Zoey Oyukuluk. (Photo by David Venn)
Following the order in which they finished in Saturday’s race, mushers pulled numbers to determine the starting order for Monday’s main race.
Qaunaq picked No. 9, David Oyukuluk No. 2 and Naqitarvik pulled the first slot.
Festivities ended around midnight with residents and visitors square dancing to music by Niore Iqalukjuak.
Arctic Bay musher Tom Naqitarvik celebrates onstage Saturday at the Community Centre after drawing a number from a pot, giving him the first position for Monday’s start of the Nunavut Quest . (Photo by David Venn)
Mayor Oyukuluk, who was to leave for Igloolik Monday by snowmobile, said the start of the festivities is fun, but he’ll be excited to watch the mushers cross the finish line.
After all, he’s a 10-year competitor, champion and a founder of the Nunavut Quest himself. Oyukuluk said he enjoys watching something he helped start in 1999 grow to what it is today — in particular, the number of young people getting involved and competing.
Although he doesn’t compete anymore, Oyukuluk reminisced about his favourite moments as a musher in Nunavut Quest: passing his fellow riders who had passed him the day before.
— David Venn, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Nunatsiaq News