Nova Scotia

Woman originally from Nova Scotia in running for $1M Arctic Inspiration Prize

Darlene Nuqingaq may have lived in Northern Canada for three decades, but her upbringing in Nova Scotia is what inspires her to share her love of music with others.

Darlene Nuqingaq wants to start music program based on what she learned in Nova Scotia

Darlene Nuqingaq, right, is shown during the Iqaluit Music Society's annual Christmas concert in December 2019. (Submitted by Darlene Nuqingaq)

A woman originally from Nova Scotia who's been sharing her love of music in Canada's north for more than 30 years is in the running for a prize that could bring her work to new heights.

Darlene Nuqingaq grew up in Spryfield, N.S., and now lives in Iqaluit. She retired from teaching music full time in 2017, but she still dedicates a portion of her free time to music education.

Nuqingaq's program, Imaa, Like This: Children and Youth Expressing Themselves Through Music, is one of two finalists for the $1-million Arctic Inspiration Prize, presented each year to innovative Arctic projects.

The awards receive public and private support.

"It's mind-blowing," Nuqingaq said in a phone interview. "When we were told we were one of two groups being considered for the million, it's like being on Cloud 9."

The program would build upon the foundation of the Iqaluit Summer Music Camp, which Nuqingaq's been running for 25 years, as well as from her weekly music lessons.

She said if it wins, the prize money would allow her to create a daily after-school music program for children as young as six.

Nuqingaq hopes the proposed program could mentor young people and musicians who may want to become music teachers and pass their knowledge on to the next generation of musicians.

"Certainly in Nunavut, one of our biggest economy sources is the art industry," she said. "There's lots of carvers and artists and printmakers.

"And so it seems natural that music education would be another art form that could grow."

Nuqingaq said she's working with Naiome Eegeesiak, one of her former students, on the project.

Inspired by Halifax

Nuqingaq has long been passionate about music — something she's been able to share with generations of students.

"Many of my students have said that being able to play their instrument or sing the songs that we've learned through choir has literally saved them," she said. 

"Unfortunately, due to high cost of living and other factors, sometimes there's a lost sense of hope ... but there's also a lot of hopeful things happening, and the music industry is one of them."

The daily music camp would be modelled after Nuqingaq's "wonderful" musical education she got in Halifax while she was growing up in the 1970s.

She said public schools had robust music programs back then and were typically designated as either "wind schools" or "string schools." 

Darlene Nuqingaq retired from full-time teaching in 2017. (Vince Robinet/CBC)

She attended the Elizabeth Sutherland School — a "string school" — where she learned to play violin. She also went to the Maritime Conservatory of Performing Arts.

"I've had a chance to do exchanges and bring my students down and see where I used to play when I was their age," said Nuqingaq.

"That was very motivating for them, and inspirational for me, too. And so in a way, I'm giving back what I was given when I was a school student."

Nuqingaq primarily teaches Celtic-inspired music through once-a-week fiddle and accordion classes. While that kind of music is typically associated with Canada's East Coast, she said it resonates with northerners as well.

"There's a huge Scottish influence from the whalers that used to come from Scotland, and then a lot of first Hudson's Bay managers were Scots," Nuqingaq said.

"And so the music of the whalers and the Scotsman has become a part of traditional Inuit music."

She said the program will also incorporate other elements of traditional Inuit music, like throat singing and drumming.

'It's an award for work that you hope to do'

According to its website, the Arctic Inspiration Prize celebrates northern achievement and innovation by awarding up to $3 million every year through a $1-million prize, a prize of up to $500,000, and a youth category with a prize of up to $100,000.

"It's not an award for good work that you're already doing," said Nuqingaq. "It's an award for work that you hope to do."

In the $1-million category, the music program is up against Northern Compass, which aims to help youth transition from high school to post-secondary education.

The winners will be announced on Wednesday.

"We're just telling ourselves even if we don't win this year, we'll apply again for next year," said Nuqingaq.



Alex Cooke


Alex is a reporter living in Halifax. Send her story ideas at

With files from Elizabeth Chiu


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