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Hot Happenings

Hot Happenings

Summer in the North is frantic with antics: floatplane rallies, salmon-fishing derbies, midnight-sun rock fests and more. Wanna fit it all in before the snow flies? Follow this handy guide to the next nine weeks of your life.
By Up Here
Jul 02
From the July/August 2013 Issue

You’ve got nine weeks to live. I mean, to live large. Because after that, it’s winter again.  

Think about it. Here in the Northland, it’s been barely a month since the ice went out, but
already we’re losing daylight. By Labour Day, the fireweed will be glazed with frost and the grizzlies will be fluffing their pillows and preparing for bed.  

Which means you’ve got no time to waste. If you want to squeeze every drop of sweet sap from the all-too-brief summer, you need to have a plan. If you do it right, the next nine weeks will be jam-packed with action. And the fun you have now will nourish you through the frigid winter to come.

1) A flash in the pan


WHAT: Yukon Gold Panning Championships
WHEN: July 1
WHERE: Dawson, Yukon

Back in the days of ’98, treasure-seekers splashed into every Klondike creek, swirling their pans for traces of yellow metal. A 10-cent pan was considered lucrative; once, on Eldorado Creek, a prospector washed out a pan with 40 ounces of gleaming gold, today worth $56,000. 

You won’t make that sort of money at the Yukon Gold Panning Championships, held every Canada Day in Dawson City. But if you’re the fastest panner to find all the gold flakes in your bucket of dirt, you’ll earn bragging rights and $2,500 towards a trip to the world championships in Italy. 

To do that, though, you’ll have to unseat Dawson’s own Paul Robitaille, the reigning back-to-back titleholder. Last year, in front of hundreds of spectators who’d gathered for the finals on the Yukon River waterfront, Robitaille panned out all the flakes in a lightning-quick time of three minutes, four seconds. His secret? “Luck, having the right tools – including a lucky hat – and having the right technique,” he says. “And if you have a beer before, it doesn’t hurt.”

What else: Also this week, Nunavut’s capital plays host to the multicultural, multi-media Alianait Arts Festival, June 28-July 1 in Iqaluit.

2) Toasting new territory


WHAT: Nunavut Day
WHEN: July 9
WHERE: Iqaluit

On July 9, 1993, around 300 Inuit, plus a handful of Ottawa bigwigs, gathered at the hot, buggy ballfield in Kugluktuk, Nunavut to cheer the proclamation of the Nunavut Land Claim Agreement – the deal that led to the creation of the new Arctic territory. Paul Quassa, the head of Nunavut’s land-claims organization, told the gathered throng, “Let us have a great celebration … a day we will call Nunavut Day for the rest of our future.”

Nowadays, every July 9, folks across the Eastern Arctic take the day off – from walrus-hunting, creating a new territory from scratch, whatever – to have the shindig Quassa spoke of. 

It’s a big party for a big territory, and this year’s fest will be especially huge. For the 20th anniversary of the land-claims deal, Nunavut’s capital, Iqaluit, is throwing a blowout, with everything from icebreaker tours and an airshow to an Arctic-clothing expo and a good ‘ol seal-skinning contest.

 So practice these words – quviasugitsi Nunavut ullunganit – and get ready to shout “happy Nunavut Day!”

What Else: Folks from across the South Slave get a little bit country and a little bit rock-n-roll at Hay Days, July 6-8 in Hay River, NWT. 

3) To air is divine


WHAT: Midnight Sun floatplane fly-in
WHEN: July 12-14
WHERE: Yellowknife

It wasn’t that long ago when bush pilots ruled the Northern skies. In 1929, W. Leigh Britnell made the first prospecting flight by floatplane into the Northwest Territories, helping two prospectors lay claim to a deposit at Echo Bay that later became the world’s largest source of radium. Those days may be gone, but for those intrepid enough to take to the heavens, Yellowknife’s Midnight Sun Float Plane Fly-In is the next best thing. Indeed, this year, says organizer Yvonne Quick, “We’re going to send pilots on an in-air scavenger hunt. Pilots and prospecting go hand in hand up here, so it’s a perfect fit.” 

If you prefer your feet firmly on the ground, the biennial Fly-In will also play host to aviation exhibits, videos, plus a chance to chat with plenty of daring bush pilots, who return regularly to the event to gas up on pioneer spirit. “We have people coming who’ve never missed a Fly-In, from as close as Yellowknife and as far as Montana,” says Quick. “If you love planes, you really can’t miss it.”

What else: “Canada’s little Switzerland” – idyllic Atlin, in far northern B.C. – welcomes music-makers, storytellers and dancers to its 10th annual Atlin Arts & Music Festival, July 12-14. 

4) In the swing of things


WHAT: Billy Joss Open Celebrity Golf Tournament 
WHEN: July 12-14
WHERE: Ulukhaktok, NWT

Located on the shores of the Arctic Ocean, Ulukhaktok’s Billy Joss Open Celebrity Golf Tournament might not boast a nationally renowned 18-hole course, or even grass fairways, but what it does have are some of the most bizarre hazards ever seen on the links, a mid-round break where participants feast on whale and muskox, and the full participation of the Inuvialuit locals, who are as much a part of the tournament as the golf itself. 

“The people have as much to teach you as does the place,” expounds Todd Keirstead, a Toronto-based trick-shot golfer who played in the Billy Joss Open two summers ago. “Ulukhaktok pulls you out of yourself, and gives you the opportunity to experience something inside that you didn’t know was possible. It was something that … would change my life forever.”

What else: The North’s two hottest hootenannies – the Dawson City Music Festival (July 19-21) and Yellowknife’s Folk on the Rocks (July 18-21) – promise delirious tunes and a sweaty, dusty party. Meanwhile, up in Inuvik, it’s the tail end of the Great Northern Arts Fest (July 12-21), showcasing visual creators from all across the Arctic. 

5) The fire keeps burning


WHAT: Hakus Teyea Celebration
WHEN: July 26-28
WHERE: Teslin, Yukon

The Tlingit are a diverse – and spread out – bunch. With their traditional lands sprawling from the Yukon all the way to B.C.’s Queen Charlotte Islands, chances for Tlingit folks to get together and celebrate are few and far between.

Enter Hà Kus Teyea. Literally meaning “the Tlingit Way,” Hà Kus Teyea is a weekend gathering in Teslin, the Yukon’s Tlingit stronghold. As many as 4,000 visitors make the biennial trip – a migration rooted in the history of the Tlingit people.

“The inland Tlingit all originate from the coast,” explains Melaina Sheldon, the coordinator of Hà Kus Teyea. “Since we were always travelling to visit our relatives on the coast, we thought, ‘why not invite them to visit us?’”

But Hà Kus Teyea isn’t just for Tlingit. Visitors are welcome too, and can expect an immersive introduction to Tlingit food, dance, games and culture. The crux of the weekend is the Chief’s Canoe Challenge, where the chief of each of the Tlingit bands leads their team in a paddling race. The winners earn bragging rights until the next Hà Kus Teyea – though, according to Sheldon, “Tlingits seldom brag!”

What else: Vibrant Fort Simpson, NWT, showcases everything from modern dance to moosehair tufting at the eclectic Open Sky Festival, July 28-30.

Getting down by the water

Livin’ it up in our craziest neighbourhood

6) Getting down by the water

Livin' it up in our craziest neighbourhood

WHAT: Old Town Ramble & Ride
WHEN: August 3-5
WHERE: Yellowknife

Yellowknife’s Old Town is lots of things, but “predictable” isn’t one of them. The NWT’s signature neighbourhood is home to floatplane bases, million-dollar mansions, rotting cabins, bobbing houseboats, plus the aboriginal village of N’Dilo. And yet despite its diversity, Old Town residents all agree: living there is a badge of honour.

For the rest of us, the best way to get this eclectic experience is at the annual Old Town

Ramble and Ride. It’s a “festival” in the loosest sense of the term – more like a wild explosion of Northern culture, food and music that washes over Yellowknife’s waterfront for a few glorious days every August.

“Old Town is Yellowknife’s historic and cultural heart, and it’s filled with talent,” says event organizer Brent Reaney. “You might be heading for an architecture tour and find someone selling a self-published book on their front lawn. That’s the beauty of the Ramble and Ride. You never know what you’ll bump into.”

What else: For athletes, “August Long” is action-packed, with the Canzeal Cup sailboat race in Yellowknife, the Slave River Paddlefest in Fort Smith, NWT, the Yukon River Trail Marathon in Whitehorse – and, if dancing is your sport, the Midway Lake Music Festival outside of Fort McPherson, NWT.

7) Sweet time on the tundra


WHAT: Aqpik Jam Music Festival
WHEN: August 13-16
WHERE: Kuujjuo, Nunavik

By the time aqpiks – cloudberries – are ripe for the picking, Kuujjuaq is ready to party. True to its name, the Jam is a musical mishmash: Last year’s lineup featured rockers Sinuupa and Iqaluit’s Jerry Cans; Innu folk duo Florent Vollant and Claude McKenzie; Greenlandic star Kimmernaq and Montreal pop artist Mattia Pironti. There’s always at least one tribute band – one year, Kuujjuaq rocked out to Bruce Springsteen covers – and a magic show. When Quebec comedian Andre-Philippe Garneau takes the stage, he has the crowd roaring. 

Offstage, it’s just as intense: For one afternoon, champion berry-pickers get their game on at the aqpik-picking contest. Two-time winner Elena Labranche offers a crucial tip: “Make sure you bring your mosquito repellent.” When time’s up, the pickers’ satchels are weighed, winners are announced and a portion of the berries go to the community feast. Then it’s off to the market stalls at city hall for some crafts, homemade pies and, of course, aqpik jam. 

What else: Also this week, the Klondike lauds its three legendary authors, Jack London, Robert Service and Pierre Berton, at the Authors on Eighth fest, August 15 in Dawson City.

8) All the glitters


WHAT: Discovery Days
WHEN: August 16-18
WHERE: Dawson, Yukon

Gold-panning contests. Monster trucks racing through mud. People on parade floats tossing gambling-hall chips to cheering crowds. It’s everything you’d expect at “Disco Days,” the North’s only festival to celebrate the discovery of gold in the Klondike. 

But it’s far more than a small-town, family fun carnival. If you want to tour the art galleries, then catch a symposium on old-time news publishing – well, you’re still in the right place, because during Disco
Days, the town fills up with interactive

art exhibits and installations. Head to the banks of the Yukon River for a workshop with Epikurs Euforie, a Norwegian band whose industrial sound and homemade instruments – think store mannequins wound with guitar strings – wouldn’t be out of place in a New York underground club. Head down Ninth Avenue and off the beaten path, and you might find print-maker Rebekah Miller setting up her installation: translucent wheat paper cutouts of eyes, glued onto birch trees. “It’s sort of this idea of being alone, yet not alone,” Miller explains. “In a general Dawson experience, I feel it’s relevant.”

What else: The end-of-August Ikhalukpik Jamboree in Paulatuk, NWT, welcomes back the Arctic char with drum dances and traditional games, while Behchokǫ̀, NWT, shows off its rising stars at the Happy Daze weekend dance and talent show.

5) A real rush


WHAT: Klondike Trail of '98 International Road Relay
WHEN: September 6-7
WHERE: Skagway, Alaska

If you’ve never raced up the White Pass summit under the Northern lights in a Spiderman costume, then you don’t deserve to call yourself a Yukoner. Luckily, the Klondike Trail of ’98 International Road Relay is a good place to start. The annual 176-kilometre race, now in its 31st year, traces the historic trail of the goldrush stampeders from Skagway, Alaska, over the mountains to Whitehorse. Starting on Friday evening, teams of up to 10 racers run 10 legs, jogging throughout the night – sometimes in the teeth of blinding snowstorms, and often with elaborate props.

“There’s generally guys in tutus running around,” says Don Inverarity, who’s been volunteering for the race for 25 years. “There was one team that had a flatbed trailer with a hot tub on it. When you finished your leg, you hopped up to the hot tub and had a good time.”

For those lacking a portable Jacuzzi, the Takhini Hot Springs near the finish line are a good spot to soak weary limbs. Then it’s right back on your feet for a Saturday night dance party.

What else: For one last summer sports hurrah, show off your best swing at the annual glow-ball golf tournament in Yellowknife (September 13).