Thursday Tidbits

Posted on May 20, 2021 under Storytelling, Thursday Tidbits with one comment


The Qaggiq


Just about every small town or village in Canada has an official or unofficial hub. It is the place where everything of note happens. It is place where people come to gather for a variety of reasons. Legion buildings are popular as well as community centres. Libraries, arenas and senior’s activity centres are also common places for people to meet and greet.

When I was growing up, the Catholic Church owned a property called The Parish Centre. It was only a handful of steps away from the cathedral and the priests’ residence. Everything meaningful in the town happened at the Centre. It was used as the gymnasium for physical education classes for the nearby elementary and high schools. It hosted community dinners, bazaars, wedding receptions, political rallies, legendary basketball games and even boxing matches. I can still see the Cochrane brothers landing punishing blows inside the ring. But fights of the unorganized variety were common too at Saturday night dances. While bands like The Strangers and The Escorts played popular cover tunes, invariably there would be a scuffle or two involving a “townie” and some lads from the farms. Want to read more? I wrote a lengthy piece years ago about the Parish Centre and the Bowling Alleys.

In more recent times, the nationally acclaimed People’s Place library in my hometown of Antigonsh is unquestionably the new hub of the town. It is much more than a library, providing a staggering array of services including English as a second language to newcomers to Canada, including many Syrian refugees.

It didn’t take me long to discover the meeting place in Kangiqsujuaq. The Qaggiq ( pronounced Haggick and not to be confused with the Scottish delicacy, haggis!), is located on the main street of the village. I had my first encounter with the Qaggiq shortly after arriving in the village. On my way to my apartment from the airport, I was given a quick tour of the community. I saw the Coop, the arena, the swimming pool, and the school also located on the main drag. Of course, after a long day of travel and it being dark, I didn’t pay close attention to these landmarks. My first day in the village got off to an inauspicious start. It was dark and -25 as I made my way to the school. I walked around the building at least four times, wondering why no one was there and the place in darkness. Of course, I was walking around the Qaggiq and not the school!

Qaggiq is an Inuit term describing an igloo (iglu) where people gather to strengthen culture and celebrate life in song and story.

The Qaggiq is primarily a recreation centre. It is a large building housing a gymnasium, walking track, weight room, meeting rooms and a kitchen. I quickly found out that it was much more than this.

Scarcely two weeks into my stay, I attended the funeral of an elder at the Qaggiq. School was closed for the afternoon ceremony as were the local grocery stores. When an elder dies, everyone comes to pay their respect. The deceased lay in a simple wooden coffin at the front of the gym below the stage. There were words, songs and mourning. When the service concluded, everyone filed by the coffin to say their final farewells and lay flowers. The wooden lid was nailed on by family and friends. As it turned out, it would be the only indoor funeral I attended. Covid changed all the rules regarding large gatherings. I did attend several burials on cold winter days at one of the local burial grounds.

In no particular order of importance, the Qaggiq is also used for sports and as a place for young people to hang out after school. It doubles as the local courthouse when a judge and court officials come to town. Of course, being curious (nosy?), I felt compelled at attend one court sitting. Even if it didn’t have the look or feel of a traditional courthouse, justice was administered in much the same fashion.

I attended a few meetings at the Qaggiq none more interesting than the one celebrating the 45th anniversary of the signing of the James Bay Northern Quebec Agreement (JBNQA). Two of the signatories of this historic document were in attendance to give us a first hand account of the proceedings.

I contributed one of my coconut cream pies for a banquet held at the Qaggig for the return of a group of students and teachers who went on a five day cross country skiing excursion on the land in the middle of winter.

I received my first Covid vaccination shot at the Qaggiq.

In normal times, the Qaggiq is also the place where Christmas activities happen, literally around the clock including dancing competitions and a wide array of games. Sadly, I was unable to see the Qaggiq full throttle at Christmas time because of Covid.

I attended a volleyball tournament and was amazed at the talent level.

On a personal note, my most memorable time at the Qaggiq was the summer of 2020 when I returned to the north for a second year. After completing my quarantine, I volunteered at a day camp for children at the Qaggiq, providing music for young children. It was a lot of fun and it was my first experience witnessing throat singing. I have embarrassed myself enough in one lifetime and didn’t try to emulate these amazing women.

A few evening ago, I was out for my evening walk heading for the inukshuk. Passing by the Qaggiq, the back doors flung open. A gaggle of young children were standing at the doorway waving and yelling “Len”.

As it turns out, my last memory of the Qaggiq will be the best.

Have a great long weekend.

Please stay safe.

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