Thanks to the Ayalik Fund and Tall Ship Expeditions Canada, four Baffin youth are aboard the St. Lawrence II, a 72-foot sail training vessel, this summer.
Brandon Anaviapik, 17, and Jeannie Qiyuapik Ootoova, 16, both from Pond Inlet and Kirk-Paul Kunnuk, 15, and Kathi-Lee Arnatsiaq, 15, from Iglulik travelled to southern Ontario to participate in the summer camp aboard the brigantine.
Anaviapik and Qiyuapik, who were returning home, crossed paths with Kunnuk and Arnatsiaq, who were on their way south, at the Iqaluit International Airport July 26.
Asked whether he enjoyed his time on a tall ship, Anaviapik responded with a powerful “Yes. All of it.”
He says he learned how to put a sail up and how to steer.
“I learned a lot, all about sailing,” said Qiyuapik, who was all smiles.
She made new friends living and learning on the St. Lawrence II.
Kunnuk and Arnatsiaq, meanwhile, were very excited to be on their way. Neither had sailed before.
“We only use engines,” said Kunnuk.
The tall ship partnership is a new one for the fund, established in memory of David and Laurie Pelly’s beloved son Eric Ayalik Okalitana Pelly, whom they adopted as a toddler in Cambridge Bay, and is intended to provide what the Pellys hope will be empowering adventures for Nunavut youth.
“These four youth represent the Ayalik Fund’s expansion into the Baffin region. In total, about 20 young people from across Nunavut – from seven different communities, from all three regions – will enjoy the adventure of a lifetime over the summer. The basic goal is to build self-confidence in young people by providing these potentially life-changing opportunities,” said David Pelly.
Tall Ship Expeditions Canada is based in Kingston, a city at the eastern end of Lake Ontario where the St. Lawrence River begins.
“Brigantine Incorporated (which runs the expeditions and training programs) was founded back in 1954. It’s the oldest continuous sail training program in North America,” said president Peter Milley.
“Originally it started as a sea cadet boat. Then it became just a traditional sail-training program and we introduced girls. So 50 per cent of our sailors are girls and 50 per cent are boys.”
Milley says trainees typically begin at the age of 12 or 13, with a five- or 10-day sail with leadership and adventure training.
“Those that have an appetite to stay with the program, we bring back, and we have a very formalized Transport Canada approved onboard training program where the kids that stay with us for five years and have an opportunity to graduate with either a 60 ton or 150 ton limited masters ticket,” he said, adding a lot of the graduates transition into a marine career such as with the Canadian Coast Guard.
As an example, Saimaniq Temela, originally of Kimmirut, completed that five-year training, and went on to sail the Arabian Sea on the 85-metre long tall ship Shabab Oman in 2016 at the age of 17. Sail Train International, an organization made up of all the tall ships in the world, named him sailor of the year in 2017.
Milley’s interest in training Inuit youth is due to several factors. He has ties to Nunavut, via family and friends, and his eldest son, a naval officer, has sailed in the Arctic as a navigator, as has his daughter-in-law.
“They sailed into Pond and they sailed up through there, and he’s on a number of military exercises and he said it’s really unfortunate that we don’t have some program for the kids up North because they should be stewards of their own waters,” said Milley.
“That really struck a chord with me.”
As well, Milley’s brother is an oceanographer and professor at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia, in fisheries management. He’s doing the impact studies for the Pangnirtung harbour.
“He said it’s just a matter of time until these marine career opportunities open up. There’s going to be Coast Guard jobs, there’s going to be room for Inuit naval officers, and on supply vessels, tour boats – and they should be managing their own affairs,” said Milley.
So when he and Pelly met, the introduction to marine training for Inuit youth seemed a natural partnership.
“We’re trying to encourage some of these kids, give them a bit of transitioning to the south if they have to come down here to go to school, and also learn some marine skills,” said Milley.
The youth learn navigation skills, meteorology, they make the masts themselves, and they learn diesel mechanics, among many other skills.
The bonus is southern youth get to meet their Northern Canadian neighbours, and learn about their Inuit culture and traditional lifestyle, said Milley.