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The Insider's Guide to the North - March

The Insider's Guide to the North - March

The busiest month of the year in the NWT: handgames, hockey and a castle built on ice.
By Up Here
Jan 14
From the January 2016 Issue

1)The NWT Handgames Tour

The pounding of drums reverberates around the packed room as two teams kneel in lines facing each other. Bragging rights and big money are on the line. Hands on one side gesticulate to the rhythm, as its team members perform sleights of hand in attempts to convince the other side’s guesser—or shooter—that they’re either holding a small object when they’re not, or vice versa.

It’s a game of skill and luck with all the bluffing—and associated shows of intimidation—of poker. And it’s become the NWT’s game of choice: the rekindled popularity of Dene hand games has seen an explosion of tournaments across the NWT in the last five years. Barnstorming teams can now hop from tournament to tournament to compete for large cash prizes. “Délı¸ne is having theirs on the 19th of February. Two weeks after that, it’s ours. And then two weeks after that, it’s in Behchokǫ̀,” says Doreen Nitsiza, an organizer of WhatÌ’s Charlie Zoe Nitsiza biannual men’s hand game tournament. (Theirs is a family affair: the $60,000 memorial tournament, organized by brother and sister Leon and Doreen Nitsiza, will be held from March 3 to 6 at both the Johnny Nitsiza Cultural Centre and the Phillip Nitsiza Youth Centre.)

If you want to learn the rules and be able to brag that you knew about Dene hand games before it took over the world, spectators are always welcome, says Nitsiza. – HM

2) The North's Pond Hockey Mecca

Hockey on the Hay River. Photo courtesy of Polar Pond Hockey

Come mid-March, the biggest pond hockey tournament North of 60 takes over Fisherman’s Wharf in Hay River, NWT. Upwards of 40 teams—in men’s, women’s and seniors’ categories—compete on eight sheets of gleaming ice, kept that way by the diligent work of three Zambonis. And with a beer garden, live music and a barbecue tent just a wrist shot away, you can take in the fun without freezing your toes.

The event’s profile has risen steadily over its first seven years, attracting teams from across the region and as far away as Vancouver. “It’s notable amongst Canadian or North American pond hockey tournaments,” says Mark Horton, organizing committee chairman. “It shows up on the pond hockey Monopoly board game. We’ve got a space on there.” Though the Polar Pond Hockey tournament doesn’t occupy either of the coveted Park Place or Boardwalk spots—it’s still just a young tourney in a small Northern town—it’s one of the best-kept secrets among Northern hockey fanatics. – HM

3) A party that lasts all month

Yellowknife's snow castle. Photo by Jason Simpson/NWTT

Throughout its 20-year history, the Snowking’s castle has snowballed from tunnels for children dug in Old Town’s snowbanks into a massive, multi-roomed palace complete with stage, hot-chocolate bar and chapel. Built upon the ice of Great Slave Lake throughout the winter, the Snowking festival lasts all March and includes a Northern-horror film competition, a Royal Ball, concerts, art shows and new surprises every year. At the end of the month, the festival is joined by the Long John Jamboree (March 25-27), which features a number of outdoor events and competitions. — DC