The qajaq program at Victor Sammurtok School (VSS) received another boost with the covering of five new qajaqs in Chesterfield Inlet earlier this month.
The qajaqs were built this past May by VSS students and staff members, and students from Grade 9 to Grade 12 worked on sewing the new covers for the qajaqs from Jan. 7 to Jan. 10.
VSS teacher and qajaq program developer Glen Brocklebank said it was hoped the qajaqs could have been covered much earlier in the school year but the material didn’t arrive on time.
He said the necessity of building a new stage for the school gym further delayed the project, and it was agreed to finish covering the qajaqs upon the return of the students following their Christmas break.
“We only have 12 students enrolled in Grades 9 and 10 right now and another 12 enrolled in Grades 11 and 12, but all 24 pitched-in on the work covering the qajaqs,” said Brocklebank.
“The majority of the students broke into groups of four or five for each qajaq, while others helped out as necessary with the different groups, making it a very fluid operation.”
Brocklebank said the style of the new qajaqs has never been used before, making the design unique to Chesterfield Inlet.
He said the cost of the new qajaqs came from the $aa Arctic Inspiration Prize the program was awarded this past year, which only has about $11,000 remaining.
“We purchased a little more than $10,000 worth of material, which gave us enough to cover 35 qajaqs.
“There is nothing in the historical record of qajaqs from Chesterfield Inlet. The research we did on ocean-going qajaqs shows some from the Naujaat area, some from the Pelly Bay area and some that were used in Baker Lake, but there’s a gap in the record, basically, from Wager Bay to Whale Cove where nothing in the historical record exists for what qajaqs looked like.
“So we went out on the land to find some winter qajaq stands and take some measurements so we had an outline of qajaqs from our community, but we only know the outside dimensions, which are more than 22 feet long and only 15 inches wide.
“Those qajaqs would be about five-to-six feet longer than the ones we’re currently paddling and we were worried that any time we got wind it would make them really, really hard to maneuver for the smaller paddlers we have coming up through the grades, so we decided to make them 17- and 18-feet long as opposed to 22.”
Brocklebank said he’s ecstatic about the condition of the qajaqs and equipment in the VSS program since winning the Arctic Inspiration Prize.
He said they just came off a season of paddling during which no one got wet, and they had enough wetsuits and lifejackets to accommodate every need of the program, including taking care of the students who came to VSS for the annual Kivalliq Science Culture Camp which focused a great deal on qajaqing.
“The Arctic Inspiration Prize allowed us to purchase everything that we needed for the program and more.
“We will have to work on our design and improve it for the next time we build new qajaqs – possibly five more this coming May – but this is the most solid our program has ever been and we’re all excited about what we may be able to accomplish during the next few years.”