High Arctic Haulers·Video

The Grizzlies lacrosse team is still going strong

Nunavut’s legendary lacrosse team The Grizzlies was born out of hard times over 15 years ago—and is still changing lives in the community today.

Nunavut’s legendary lacrosse team The Grizzlies started over 15 years ago—and is still changing lives today

The Grizzlies lacrosse program in Kugluktuk, Nunavut

2 years ago
Duration 2:18
The legendary lacrosse program in Nunavut which inspired a 2019 major motion picture started over 15 years ago and is still going strong.

Sports can work wonders for kids. In addition to all the physical benefits, they can help kids develop teamwork and leadership skills, learn to think critically and build their self-confidence. In Kugluktuk, Nunavut, Canada's national summer game has helped the entire community transform itself.

The Grizzlies

About 15 years ago, the hamlet's high school started its first-ever lacrosse team. At the time, Kugluktuk — with a population just shy of 1,500 — had one of the highest teen suicide rates in North America.

"I was probably about 15 or 16 when I first heard about [the team]," says Adam Kikpak, who is one of the original players and now a coach. "Before that I was heavily into drugs and alcohol, missing so much school."

This sport changed my life."- Adam Kikpak, Coach and original player on the Grizzlies

The team, called the Grizzlies, was the subject of a 2019 film of the same name. The Grizzlies premiered at the Toronto Film Festival. The movie depicts the challenges Kugluktuk's youth face and how they empowered themselves and each other to overcome those struggles through their new team.

"Sport is very important for young people," says 81-year-old elder, Alice Ayalik, who has lived in Kugluktuk since she was seven. "They really feel happy inside. Joy,"

Sporting goods at the top of the world

Over the last decade-and-a-half, new sports programs have popped up in the wake of the Grizzlies' success, including table tennis. But while interest keeps growing, all the sports equipment in the hamlet is aging, almost to the point of not being useable. The coaches rely on the annual sealift to deliver new gear so the youth can keep playing and the programs can expand.

The sealift is a resupply system involving a fleet of ships that deliver a myriad of items communities in the High Arctic need, including food for the grocery stores, building materials for new houses and specialty vehicles for emergency services, like ambulances and fire trucks.

Weather conditions can be harsh, even in the summer months when the vessels make their deliveries, and mechanical problems arise, but the crew understands they have to find solutions and push through.

A tug boat navigates through an ice-ridden bay to push a barge loaded with supplies from the cargo ship in the background toward shore as part of the Arctic sealift. (CBC | High Arctic Haulers)

"We are racing against winter," says Marc Antoine Saucier, chief mate of one of the ships, Taiga Desgagnés. "We know that all the persons living up north need their cargo."

Bringing a community together with D.I.Y. lacrosse sticks

With the Grizzlies' lacrosse sticks in dire need of replacement and nowhere to buy them for hundreds of kilometres, the team leaders recognized an opportunity to get the kids directly involved; they decided to order the materials to make their own sticks. 

"Today's the day, it's here," says community recreation coordinator, Matt Craddock, on the day the sealift arrived in Kugluktuk. "I'm excited for our wood to come in to get started on [making] our own homemade wood sticks."

The beautiful thing about Kugluktuk—people help each other. They work together."- Alice Ayalik, Elder

Craddock later watched as kids worked with elders, learning wood-working skills to make the new sticks — and the excitement on their faces when they learned they could keep them. They now had an even deeper connection to the sport they have grown to love.

"It's very important for the sealift to come, to keep our traditions alive," says Alice Ayalik. "Even today life is hard sometimes. The beautiful thing about Kugluktuk, people help each other. They work together."

The Grizzlies are featured in Episode 5 of High Arctic Haulers, when the sealift is bound for Kugluktuk.