Most Iqaluit businesses close doors over pandemic concerns

Many service workers are out of a job due to closures over COVID-19. The Iqaluit legion laid off 35 workers and are worried about paying its bills.

Bars and restaurants closed due to public health emergency

A file photo overlooking Iqaluit near the Inuksuk High School. Many staff in the service industry of Iqaluit are out of work. (Kyle Muzyka/CBC)

Many staff in the service industry of Iqaluit are out of work. 

Nunavut's Health Minister George Hickes declared a public health emergency over concerns of COVID-19 Wednesday, closing all bars and making all restaurants takeout only. 

The Royal Canadian Legion laid off 35 staff due to the closure. 

Chris Groves, president of the Iqaluit legion, says they will hire all the staff back once they are able to reopen. For now, he said the closure is indefinite until the public health emergency is lifted by the territorial government.

"I just hope that all of the talk you hear about the stimulus packages and assistance coming from the federal government trickles down to the people and the business that really need it," said Groves. 

Last week, the federal government announced an $82 billion emergency response package to help Canadians and businesses cope with COVID-19. It includes $5 billion Emergency Support Benefit for workers who do not qualify for EI. 

Groves said as of Friday, the legion has zero income and monthly bills that need to be paid. 

"It's scary times because we don't know how long our branch can continue to maintain and pay [bills] with the little reserves we do have in stock," said Groves. 

But they are not alone. 

There will be a job here for them once things turn around.- Steve Sullivan, Frobisher Inn general manager

The Frobisher Inn closed the Storehouse bar on Wednesday and the Frobisher dining room on Thursday. The Caribou Cafe remains open because it does takeout. 

"We aren't doing any forced layoff[s] at this point," said Steve Sullivan, general manager of the Frobisher Inn. 

Sullivan says the Frobisher has 70 staff including the restaurants and hotel. The Frobisher is looking at "job sharing" by allocating staff into different positions they wouldn't usually work while the restaurants and bars remain closed.  

Steve Sullivan, general manager of the Frobisher Inn, says the Frobisher Inn has 70 staff including the restaurants and hotel. (Submitted by Steve Sullivan )

"There is a big impact there especially for people who thrive on gratuities and things," said Sullivan. 

However, Sullivan said some staff chose to be laid off in order to qualify for assistance. 

"Some people have chosen to do that and we support that and there will be a job here for them once things turn around," said Sullivan. 

Iqaluit gift shop closes

Other retail businesses have taken steps ahead of the announcement of the territory's public health emergency to close shop.

Malikkaat, an Iqaluit gift shop that sells Inuit crafts and art, closed on March 16. 

Eva Aariak, owner of Malikkaat, says she chose to close her business to protect her staff and the greater community. 

Eva Aariak, owner of Iqaluit gift store Malikkaat,says she chose to close her business to protect her staff and the greater community. (Jane Sponagle/CBC)

Malikkaat buys much of its stock from local artists, but isn't currently while the store remains closed. 

"Some of my regular suppliers, that's how they earn their living, that's how they get their money is through their artwork," said Aariak.

"They are the ones who are going to be greatly affected if there is not a whole lot of outlets buying their wonderful creation." 

As of Monday afternoon, there were no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Nunavut. Yukon and N.W.T. both reported their first cases over the weekend.


Jackie McKay


Jackie McKay is a Métis journalist working for CBC in Nunavut. She has worked as a reporter in Thunder Bay, Yellowknife, Whitehorse and Iqaluit. Jackie also worked on CBC Radio One shows including The Current, Metro Morning, after graduating from Ryerson University in 2017. Follow her on Twitter @mckayjacqueline.