For Georgia of Igloolik, the North is home for good

A California woman, who goes simply by the name 'Georgia,' moved North of the Arctic Circle in the 1970s. At 80 years old, she has no plans to leave.

'I was brought up as a loner. I have my books. I can't really explain it.'

CBC's Jane Sponagle reports 3:04

“God's sense of humour” is the reason Georgia gives for why she moved from California to Igloolik in the 1970s.

Igloolik, on the east coast of the Melville Peninsula, is part of Nunavut's eastern Baffin region. (Google)
Georgia, who only goes by one name, is now in her
80s, and says she has no interest in moving south.

“I was brought up as a loner. I have my books. I can't really explain it,” she says.

Georgia first came North to work for the Roman Catholic missionaries in both Igloolik and Repulse Bay. She went on to hold just about every other job in town, from cleaning water tanks to sorting the mail. Today, she looks after the plants in the local elementary school.

In 1982, Georgia published a year of her diaries. 'My premise was that… you can tell the truth.'
“When I came in the '70s, southern Canada had just discovered that there were people up here,” she says, “And that there were Inuit, and they were very interested.”

Georgia began writing about her experience for the Globe and Mail.

In 1982, she published a book called “Georgia: An Arctic Diary.”

“I wrote about Halloween, I wrote about Christmas,” she says. “About the seal hunt to show what the life was really like. My premise was that… you can tell the truth. You don't have to lobotomize your material. It's funny enough and interesting enough that it'll go the way it is.”

That book was published under the name Georgia Nayanguaq, which means "one who is like a nun", but for the most part, Georgia has gone by only her first name since the 1970s.

That’s when Abe Okpik was travelling Inuit Nunangat as part of Project Surname. From 1968 to 1971 he visited every Inuit settlement recording surnames for people who, since the 1940s, the government had identified using “disc numbers.”

Georgia has gone only by her first name since the 1970s, but she hasn't forgotten her family, such as the grandmother who raised her. (Grant Linton/CBC)
“I told people at the time, you don't have to have two names,” Georgia says. They responded “‘Oh yes we do, government says we do.’ I said, ‘No you don't.’ So I went to the territorial supreme court in Yellowknife and I had my name changed.”

Souvenir receipts and plane tickets show only the name Georgia. She was sworn in as a Canadian citizen with that name too.

But Georgia hasn’t forgotten her original family. Old photographs line the walls of her Igloolik home, including pictures of her parents and the grandmother who raised her.

Georgia does have a piece of advice for living in a small community: stay involved.

She says it helps to live in a central part of town.  

“I have nose prints on all my windows because I'm in this beautiful spot where I can see what's going on,” she says. “I'm part of the settlement: even when I don't get out, I've got people walking by, I have people going by in cars, I have the bay right out there. I have sunrise over there, sunset over here. I'm right in the settlement.”

And that’s where she plans to stay.  

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