Remembering Tuvvik, Iqaluit’s drop-in alcohol treatment centre

As people in Iqaluit debate whether to open Nunavut's first beer and wine store, Bill Riddell recalls the informal Tuvvik alcohol treatment centre he ran in the 1980s and early 1990s. He says something similar is needed in the city now, beer and wine store or no.

'You have to learn how to survive in a drinking world,' says Bill Riddell, former Tuvvik coordinator

Before Nunavut was created, Iqaluit had an informal drop-in centre called Tuvvik, which means a place to get grounded or land in Inuktitut. Counsellors worked with clients to 'help them get through the day,' director Bill Riddell recalls. 'But it was essentially an alcohol treatment centre.' (Janice Stein/CBC)

The former coordinator of an informal alcohol and drug treatment centre in Iqaluit says the city needs alcohol education programs, whether a beer and wine store opens or not.

A critical concern that came out of the public consultations for a beer and wine store in Iqaluit was the lack of alcohol treatment opportunities in Nunavut.

In the 1980s and early ‘90s, Bill Riddell was the coordinator of the Tuvvik drop-in centre.

In Inuktitut, tuvvik means a place to get grounded or land.

Riddell describes the centre as an informal place, open from 8 a.m. to midnight, where people could come in and talk to people.

“We were interested in just helping people get through the day,” Riddell says. “But it was essentially an alcohol treatment centre.”

The Tuvvik centre was not a place to spend a month to dry out or quit drinking altogether, though staff could refer people to other locations if they wanted to quit drinking.

Riddell says they tailored services to clients’ needs.

“It depended entirely on what the people needed. We did not have a formula,” Riddell says.

In some cases, entire families were involved in programming.

Funding for the centre came from eleven different sources, including the former government of the Northwest Territories and several drinking establishments.

For every beer sold at the Frobisher Inn and the Legion, the centre received a nickel, which added up to $52,000 one year.

In the last three months of operations, the centre saw about 4,000 clients.

Abstinence policy led to closure

The government funding stopped after a lengthy battle over philosophical differences.

“I refused to sign an abstinence policy,” he says. “The government of the Northwest Territories attempted to have every single person that was involved in alcohol treatment or alcohol counselling sign a policy to say they'd never drink. And I refused to do that.”

Riddell says people need to learn how to drink responsibly.

“You have to learn how to survive in a drinking world,” he says. “And people don't know it and they get it all mixed up and they drink vodka as if it's a glass of wine and we need to have a really good program designed to help people understand how to survive in a drinking world.”

When Tuvvik closed, another treatment centre opened in Apex. It was focused on complete abstinence.

It closed more than 15 years ago.

Riddell says education about alcohol is still essential, and should begin before any beer and wine store opens. He quotes a former staff member who once said, “Alcohol was brought up to the N.W.T. without any instructions,” and says that’s still the case.

“You need to have some type of place where people can go who find themselves in trouble with alcohol or drugs.”


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