Serving up the coffee in Cape Dorset
Uksivik's owner does everything but bake the bread

by Nancy Gardiner
Northern News Services

NNSL (Sep 08/97) - Just how did Cal Gillis get to Cape Dorset?

One day he came home from his local art gallery, and quietly sat down at his home in Guelph, Ont., many years ago, with the daily newspaper spread out in front of him. He had just come from work at his local art gallery, a place where he handled a lot of artwork -- from Cape Dorset.

He flipped a page, and there at the top right corner of the newspaper was an accountant's job in the South Baffin. Gillis turned to his wife, Margaret, and joked: "There's one for you."

He turned the page over and saw an ad for a jewelry manager in the Baffin, and added: "and there's one for me."

So much for the joke. Margaret called and got the job in Cape Dorset -- with a week to think about it.

"So, it was for a year and she thought, 'what the heck, I'll do it,'" he said.

So they packed up their bags and moved to Beverly -- well, not quite -- Cape Dorset, population 1,200. That was about nine years ago.

Since then, the couple has settled in nicely. Their three-and-a-half-year-old daughter is learning Inuktitut at the day care.

Cal first worked as a teacher, and later built his 100-square-metre business -- the Uksivik Coffee Shop.

"I designed and built it by myself. I'd never taken on a project this size. There was stuff I'd never done before like countertops and installing a boiler," said Gillis.

"We do our own cookies, some sticky buns, muffins, cake, coffee and tea. Costs are prohibitive here for power and ingredients, so we don't make our own bread, but we do our own baking here for the coffee shop," he said.

The coffee shop, operating for four years now, is open from 11 a.m. onwards and into the supper hour, offering fries and sandwiches for lunches and dinners.

"I was opening at 7 a.m., but I was a very lonely guy. I did it for three weeks. There's not many people up at that hour. But I still have breakfast on the menu."

"Right now I'm feeding the construction workers across the street," says Cal. They're constructing a new day care.

Although the town is expanding, said Gillis, his sales have not been booming with it.

"The demand for the coffee shop in the beginning was quite good. Then all over the North there were government cutbacks. We depend a lot on carving sales, and they became quite low.

Rents doubled, and I noticed a big drop in sales about two years ago and sales really haven't picked up. Rents sucked up any disposable income," explained Gillis.

Then, the local hotel opened to the general public and a small hotel opened, but he didn't notice a decrease in sales resulting from that competition.

"I'm the sole proprietor. I'm the chief cook and bottle-washer. A high school student helps out on occasion," he said.

Cal and Margaret socialize with a core group of friends who are more permanent in the community and Cal is trying to build a house now. "I've met all kinds of people up here," he adds.

With his business, Cal finds there's no consistency.

"The only consistency is no consistency. It's hard to prepare. You could put together a dinner special and have no one show, or the place could be jammed with people on a Tuesday night and you're scratching your head as to why. The business fluctuates with cheques that come in, such as a hamlet pay day, GST cheques. It's such a small place you see it," he says.

"I even know when there's drugs in town, because there's not a lot of cash around town. Being so small a town, you notice these fluctuations."