All photos by Felix St-Aubin
For the third year in a row, Tasiujammiut Willie Cain and Ken Labbe won the Ivakkak 2020 husky dogsled race. The team won the 498 km journey that spanned from Kangirsuk to Kangiqsualujjuaq, hitting the communities of Aupaluk, Tasiujaq, and Kuujjuaq along the way, with a final time of 43:11:33.
This race was a very close one, with the second and third place winning teams of Aisa Surasilak and Aipilie Qumaluk (Puvirnituq), and Janimarik Beaulne and Peter Angutik Novalinga (Purvirnituq) clocking times of 43:21:52 and 43:22:38 respectively.
The mushers and dogs converged in Kangirsuk for a February 25 start, and were treated to a feast organized by the village with the help of Sautjuit school students. The mayor welcomed all the participants and Makivvik’s Vice President of Economic Development Maggie Emudluk spoke to the crowd, praising the mushers for their role in keeping an important part of Inuit culture alive.
But it was the number 7, which was displayed prominently on the racers’ and officials’ jerseys as the days progressed, that changed everything this year. Tragically, about an hour after the race began, Willia Qullialuk, Team 7 teammate to Saanti Jaaka (Kangiqsujuaq), passed away.
Seven teams had reached across the bay, when one of the teams initiated their emergency ‘inReach device’ requesting assistance followed by a call to the community’s First Responders and an emergency response crew was deployed shortly after receiving the signal. Medical attendants performed resuscitative measures but were unable to revive him. His body was brought back to Kangirsuk and his cause of death was not released, although it was noted that the death was not related to a racing accident.
Makivvik executives gave their blessing for the mushers to decide whether or not the event would continue, and the mushers opted to re-start the race on February 27. Saanti Jaaka also made the decision to continue in honour of his former teammate and was joined by his cousin Norman Argnatuk for the leg between Kangirsuk and Nuluartalik. From Nuluartalik, Saanti was joined by Matthew Arngak for the remainder of the race.
On February 29, Team 5, Noah Uqituk and his assistant Jaanu Jaaka dropped out of the race in Aupaluk, after having to be transported to basecamp when they lost the trail the day before and felt they would not be able to complete the race with an exhausted dog team.
By March 3, all remaining teams made it to Kuujjuaq and were welcomed by excited onlookers and a feast organized by the Kujjuaq Recreation Committee. The race concluded with all mushers crossing the finish line to a warm welcome in Kangiqsualujjuaq on March 7.
The closing ceremonies were held the next day in the community gym where, along with trophy presentations for the top three teams and celebrations for all who participated, Luuku Qullialuk, Willia’s mother, and his son, Eric Qullialuk, were presented with a framed race jersey of number 7. The closing ceremony was a special event in which witnessed a big range of emotions, from tears to music and dancing.
This year’s event was organized by Makivvik, led by coordinator and Economic Development Officer Akinisie Sivuarapik and Department Head Nathan Cohen-Fournier. Johnny Oovaut was the Race Marshal and Trail Coordinator was Markusie Qisiiq. Veterinary services were provided by Caroline Fortin and Assistant Jean-Marc Séguin. Makivvik would like to recognize the invaluable assistance of the Platinum race sponsors, including Air Inuit, KRG, Newfound Resources Ltd., Canadian North, Hydro Québec, Northern Stores, NRBHSS, municipalities of the communities passed by and the many other sponsors that show on the Ivakkak banner. All in all, Ivakkak sponsors provided over $340,000 in cash and in-kind contributions.