The Northern House and Arctic Memories

Just some context for the start of Cycle Write Blog:  since it is less than two weeks from the arrival of the Olympic relay torch flame in Vancouver,  Cycle Write will include my observations as a resident living in the heart of Vancouver as the Olympics unfold — literally down the street and 360 degrees around us.

Walrus blanket toss. Photo by J. Chong 2010.
Walrus blanket toss. Photo by J. Chong 2010.

Last week I dropped by one of several free information and tourist pavilions, the Northern House. Northern House is a pavilion collectively sponsored  by the Canadian territorial governments of Yukon, Northwest Territories and Nunavut.

Of interest, was the thematic art cultural display, ‘Northern Games at the Olympic Games’ which highlighted traditional Inuit sports through the private art sculpture collection of Vancouverite, Lorne Balshine.

Nalukataaq (blanket toss or walrus hide toss), was a popular outdoor activity in the spring where originally the hide of walrus, served as the “blanket”.  Some

One arm high kick, 'aqpaoraq' --normally kicking a suspended sealskin ball. Sculpture shows an artist's version, using a 'fish'. Feb. 2010.
One arm high kick, ‘aqaoraq’ at usually a sealskin ball. Sculpture shows an artist’s version, using a ‘fish’. Photo by J. Chong 2010.

 considerable endurance and strength is required for other sports –such  as the one arm reach which is a version of aqraoraq (high kick). This sport required a truly gymnastic one-arm handstand, while simultaneously kicking a suspended sealskin ball on a post, above with the other foot. Or how about sittuqtaaq, or squatting as long as possible on one leg.

While wandering around the exhibits in my cycling gear, a staff person from the Yukon  declared she now sees more winter cyclists in  Whitehorse. Winters there drop often below -40 C .

Sealskin benches. Legslative Assembly of Nunavut building 2003.
Art wall hangings and sealskin benches. Legslative Assembly of Nunavut building 2003.

Nearly a decade ago when I visited Iqaluit, Nunavut, I did see one jogger puffing along downtown. Temperature during on that early January day, would have been at least -18 C. The next morning the weather flipped to -50 C with howling blizzard winds of 180 km/hr.  At that time, there was only one 30 kms. road out of town for cycling or car driving from Iqaluit.  Northern House brought back memories of my short stay in Iqaluit. Nunavut’s capital is tiny –population of 5,000 but in a tiny isolated city, there was more art work thoughtfully displayed  permanently there than what one would normally see in many southern Canadian towns of similar size.

Iqaluit husky dogs 2003. Photo by J. Chong
Iqaluit husky dogs 2003. Photo by J. Chong.

Arctic memories frozen in the lively ‘Northern Games at Olympic Games’ exhibit.  Art and sport inspired and executed in spirit within a harsh and demanding environment.

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