Arviat has bid farewell to its longtime drama teacher Gord Billard.
The 60-year-old Newfoundland native retired to his hometown at the end of this school year after helping start the community’s first drama program in 2001.
“It’s been a very rewarding 20 years. My heart and mind are still there and probably will be for many more years,” he told Kivalliq News
Billard first came North after a colleague was offered a job as the principal at the school. It took a couple of months of convincing, but Billard eventually agreed to come up and work for a couple years.
“He called me up to see if I’d be interested in going there to form a drama club. He had already hired a music teacher, Mary Piercey (Lewis), who just won a Juno. We were the first music and drama teachers the school had,” he recalled.
At first, Billard committed to teaching in Arviat for two years. But he fell in love with the community and those two years turned into two decades. Billard explained that the school’s theatre productions became such an important outlet for youth who were looking for ways to express themselves.
“Obviously producing plays with kids kept me going. It’s what gave me rewards and the greatest satisfaction. Rehearsals were always on evenings and weekends. They came because they wanted to be there. I believe those memories will stay with the kids, some of whom are adults now,” he said.
As a teacher with a background in languages, Billard understood the importance of trying to put on performances in Inuktitut.
He still remembers the first time the school hosted its annual Easter play in Inuktitut.
“I remember being back stage and seeing unilingual Elders in the crowd laughing or cracking up. I knew this was ringing bells for them. I find that people really, really appreciated that,” he said.
Performing plays in Inuktitut went on to be a staple for all the productions the school put on. While Inuktitut doesn’t have a tradition of written plays, Billard said they are becoming increasingly common and the school has adapted some of the productions over the years.
Every year that Billard was teaching, the school put on at least two productions, and occasionally three. Given that each play was performed four times – twice for other students and twice for the public – Billard estimates that students put on 180 shows during his 20 years.
“It was quite amazing to look at the list after I compiled it to realize just how much we’ve done and all the memories we created,” he said.
In addition to his teaching and extra work at the school, Billard helped found the Arviat Film Society with John Main, Eric Anoee and Jamie Bell in 2010.
“We wanted to have it driven by youth in the community. It took off from there,” he said.
While the film society hasn’t been as busy as it used to be, Billard said its legacy has left a huge imprint on Arviat. As examples of the program’s success, he pointed to members of the society like Evano Aggark and Jordan Konek, both of whom have gone on to do big things as visual storytellers.
“There’s still a large number of young people in Arviat that have the skills and knowledge to do filming and video editing,” he said. “I think we’ll see more coming out of the town.”
Although he has now moved back to Newfoundland to retire, Billard said he wouldn’t rule out the possibility of returning to Arviat should the right opportunity present itself.
“If the stars are aligned I could see myself going for another stint,” he said. “I’m definitely not done with the North.”