When Toonik Tyme started in 1965, the festival consisted of traditional Inuit games, throat singing and dancing, a community feast and an evening of dancing and music at Toonik Lake. Bryan Pearson, the founder of Toonik Tyme, and other councilors from the Town of Frobisher Bay (which later became the City of Iqaluit) usually picked a person to preside over the festival and granted them with the Order of the Honourary Toonik. In the early years of Toonik Tyme, this honour was given to a distinguished guest invited to preside over the week’s festivities. The first Honourary Toonik was the Right Honourable John Diefenbaker, former Prime Minister of Canada. Other past Honourary Tooniks have included His Royal Highness, Charles the Prince of Wales; former Governor General Roland Michener; three former commissioners of the Northwest Territories: Bent Sivertz, Stuart Hodgson and John Parker; former Premier of Greenland, Lars Chemnitz and the former Mayor of Nuuk, Greenland, Peter Tharup Hoeg.
In more recent years, the Honourary Toonik award has gone to an individual in the community on a nomination basis. This award is still a special honour as the chosen individual is someone that is considered to be an outstanding volunteer and demonstrates exceptional community spirit.
Where did the name Toonik Tyme come from?
Toonik Tyme is named after the ‘Toonik’, an individual of the Tuniit people. Known to archaeologists as the Dorsets, the Tuniit were people who lived in Greenland and the eastern Canadian Arctic before the ancestors of today’s Inuit (known as the Thule) arrived from Alaska about 1,000 years ago. Inuit history tells us that the Tuniit were superb hunters and possessed almost superhuman strength and speed. Because they didn’t have bows and arrows or float harpoons, they had to hunt their game up close with spears and lances. Stories say that their parkas were so long that Tuniit hunters were able to spread them out around them like tents, inside of which they kept little seal oil lamps to warm themselves while waiting for seals. By about 600 years ago, the Tuniit disappeared from Greenland and the Canadian Arctic, but they’ll always be remembered through the ancient stories of the Inuit.
What Toonik Tyme has to offer
Each year the Toonik Tyme Society, local organizations and businesses, and over 100 volunteers work together to provide Iqalummiut and visitors with a cultural festival that celebrates the arrival of spring with a number of traditional activities that reflect Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit. The festival includes events that are highly anticipated by our community, Nunavummiut and visitors as an outstanding opportunity to bring families and friends together to participate in traditional Inuit activities and recreational games that reflect and preserve Inuit culture and heritage while providing a platform for Inuit to celebrate as well as to share Inuit culture with non-Inuit residents and tourists. Our opening celebrations are conducted in English, French and Inuktitut and the majority of our activities are conducted in a combination of English, Inuktitut and French.