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Qikiqtarjuaq gets gathering place
Provides space for elders and tourists but hamlet still wants deep-sea port

Michele LeTourneau
Northern News Services
Monday, December 12, 2016

Located on the northern edge of Auyuittuq National Park, Qikiqtarjuaq is an appealing location, but the hamlet hopes its new Piqalujaujaq Centre - or Gathering House - will make visiting more appealing.

Though operational since January, the building's official opening took place Nov. 21.

The bulk of the building, which is shared with Parks Canada, is the community-based display area offering the history of the community.

Pasha Kooneeliusie is the full-time tourism coordinator who welcomes visitors, and she's been working in the new building for more than six months.

"The building is amazing," she said. "My job is to greet people, have a little tour, talk to them. I try my best to answer questions."

Kooneeliusie organizes evening activities for elders and others, including sewing every Friday in the elders' room. The building, centrally located and just across from the school, includes the room for elders, where elders can gather and also meet with youth - which Kooneeliusie will organize - so youth can learn more about their history.

"They can meet, have tea, share stories, do whatever they want to do. Now they have a space," adds economic development officer David Grant.

A plan is in the works for an arts retail space.

"The community was the voice of how it was to be designed," said Grant. "The community wanted something that would allow visitors to come and be welcomed right away, so they would have a place where they would know right away what is happening in the community. Basically a one-stop shop for tourists coming into the community."

Tourists can learn about available tourism opportunities and who is available for guiding. The centre is also geared to help develop small business opportunities in the community.

"It's also intended to create high value for those who want to get into the tourism industry," Grant said, noting staff help with marketing and administration "so they can go out and do the work they want to be doing."

The idea for the building first developed in 2012, after a decade of talk.

"In 2012, a number of funders were contacted and everyone had a strong interest in it," said Grant, adding about six funders came together to bring the project to reality.

The $1.5 million project, designed by Stephen Wallick of Livingstone Architect in Iqaluit, is meant to resemble an iceberg - hence the Inuktitut name, Piqalujaujaq.

Grant has a lot of pride in what the community has to offer, calling the area the iceberg capital of Nunavut and claiming Auyuittuq, one of five national parks in Nunavut, as the number one park.

"It has the most tourists going through, with about 400 visitors a year right now," he said. " A number of them will start at our end and walk through to Pangnirtung."

Though there aren't dependable numbers yet on how many tourists pass through the community, Grant says 65 to 70 per cent are business tourists.

"People coming in to do business in the town and who end up doing a little bit of tourism, as well. That's common across Nunavut. You might have a dentist coming in for a few days. It can be a consultant. It could be someone coming in offering workshops or training development. Or construction workers coming in."

There are also what Grant calls "straight tourists," who are primarily interested in Auyuittuq National Park.

Next up is a deep-sea port.

"That's always on the burner. We have development plans. We're being a little bit more aggressive in the lobbying. We're working with the Qikiqtaaluk Corporation on helping us with that. We're putting together a bid to have our name out there," said Grant.

"The port is the game-changer for the community. And, really, a game-changer for Nunavut, for the fishing industry, for safety across all of Baffin. We don't have anything connecting those dots yet, so the port is vital."

Meanwhile Kooneeliusie was scheduled to attend the International Aboriginal Tourism Conference Membertou, Nova Scotia, from Dec. 12 to 14. The conference brings together delegates from First Nations, Inuit, and Metis communities, as well as representatives from global indigenous tourism organizations, according to the conference website.

"I'm looking forward to it," she said.

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