Playing Inuit Games in Clyde River, Nunavut

A trip to Clyde River, Nunavut, reveals more than Inuit culture - it brings out the kid in this traveller

Lori Henry and her race-mate Eric in Clyde River, Nunavut

There’s nothing like a friendly race with the locals to warm up on a cold day in Canada’s arctic town of Clyde River, Nunavut

“Do you want to race?” I ask Eric, my new 8-year-old friend.

He sizes me up quickly, seeing my cumbersome hiking boots, wet pants and heavy Gortex jacket. The Inuit kids are all wearing jeans and hoodies, loving the gentle 3º C late summer day before the ice begins to freeze over for another winter.

Eric suddenly grins and gets ready to go, taking the opportunity to show this “southerner” a thing or two about challenging someone in their own backyard.  

“One, two, three!” and we’re off, passing my surprised travel companions and delighted local children. The cold air in my uninitiated lungs is starting to sting, though; the air just doesn’t have this crispness in Vancouver.  

Adventures in Clyde River, Nunavut

The kids and I finally make it to the community hall where the rest of the travellers will meet us after their leisurely walk there. We have just run through the main street of Clyde River, a community of just over 800 people on the eastern coast of Baffin Island.

In one minute, we have run past the town’s gas supply tanks, police station, church, school, grocery store and post office. Of the 800 residents, 96% are Inuit and those under 25 make up 60% of the population.

Playing Inuit Games

The community hall is warmed by the flurry of new bodies. There are almost 100 of us disembarking from our small ship run by Adventure Canada, an eclectic group ranging in age from 23-91. The community has prepared slices of seal, arctic char and muktuk, and proudly encourages us to taste them all. Children are everywhere, tugging on our jackets and performing spirited Inuktitut rock, Inuit games and hip hop dances.

A sweet girl of about eight approaches me shyly and says, “Hi.” She asks my name and tells me hers. Reaching up, she touches my necklace and smiles as I look down in reaction. Her hand swiftly lifts up to flick my chin as she bursts out in a rush of laughter and runs away. One by one the girls coyly come back and try different tricks on me, spurred on by my over-the-top reactions.

Racing in Canada’s Arctic

That wasn’t the end of my visit, though. Eric found me as soon as he noticed the group leaving—it was time for another race. In tow was a friend of his, equally eager to beat me down the road. There was no way to decline. I pulled my toque over my head, zipped up my jacket and told the group I would meet them at the dock. A few even came out to watch us, shaking their heads at our silliness.

Lost in Inuktitut

Our new recruit wasn’t as fast as Eric, so the two of us took turns getting ahead of each other without ever making it past him. We had to take three breaks in order to sprint all the way back to the dock, still giggling and panting. I decided to bid them both farewell by eloquently telling them how much I loved their community. Eric’s friend just looked at me and said, “Yeah, Eric doesn’t really understand English, but it was fun racing you!”

I looked at Eric, surprised, while he just beamed at me and waved. I guess that’s what it comes down to: two people from completely different worlds and only two hours together. What better way to spend it than by playing Inuit games?

Lori Henry is a freelance travel writer based in Vancouver. She caught Arcticus Feverus on her last trip to Baffin Island and has successfully schemed way to return to Nunavut later this month.