'She's always been my Queen': Northerners remember the personal touch of Queen Elizabeth

·4 min read
Queen Elizabeth is welcomed by local residents as she walks the streets of Iqaluit on Oct. 4, 2002.  (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press - image credit)
Queen Elizabeth is welcomed by local residents as she walks the streets of Iqaluit on Oct. 4, 2002. (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press - image credit)

As condolences pour in from around the world to mark the passing of Queen Elizabeth, some northerners are remembering the moments they spent with her — seemingly small interactions that had a large impact on their lives.

The longest-reigning British monarch, Queen Elizabeth died Thursday afternoon. She was 96 years old.

Joy Suluk of Arviat, Nunavut, recalled Thursday how she first saw a photo of the Queen when she was a child in 1963. She resolved then and there to meet her one day.

That day came decades later, in 1994, when Queen Elizabeth made a stop in Rankin Inlet.

As an artisan, Suluk flew from Arviat to display her crafts during the visit.

Her sewing so impressed the Queen that the royal party purchased a quilt and cushions Suluk had made.

Kate Kyle/CBC
Kate Kyle/CBC

It was a stunning moment for Suluk, who had begun building a collection of royal memorabilia that has only grown in the years since.

"I was shocked … I forgot how to speak [English] at that moment," Suluk recalled Thursday.

Suluk said her heart broke when she learned of the Queen's passing.

"I have always looked up to her, respected her and followed her reign," she said.

"She's always been my Queen."

Submitted by Bill Belsey
Submitted by Bill Belsey

A human-to-human moment

Cathy Towtongie remembers that visit well. Towtongie was part of the welcoming committee at the airport.

She recalls Queen Elizabeth walking down the aisle and stopping in front of her husband: "She questioned my husband — 'Excuse me, sir, what do you do here?'"

The conversation turned to dogs — famously beloved by the monarch — as Towtongie's husband ran dog teams.

"There was this majestic presence of her, and yet she was so down-to-earth," Towtongie said.

"When we started talking about dogs, you could tell she was really listening.… It was from a human being to a human being."

Towtongie met the Queen again in 2002, when the monarch visited Iqaluit as part of her Golden Jubilee tour of Canada.

"I got right next to the Queen and she smiled at me, and I smiled back, because she is human like me," Towtongie told CBC in Inuktitut.

Towtongie, who kept the invitation from that trip as well as a silver dollar with the Queen on it, said she was saddened to learn of the monarch's death.

Submitted by Cathy Towtongie
Submitted by Cathy Towtongie

Unexpected humility

That down-to-earth quality surprised Paul Okalik as well when he met Queen Elizabeth in Iqaluit in 2002. Okalik was the premier of Nunavut at the time.

"When she spoke to you, she spoke to you alone. And she would whisper so that nobody else would hear her conversation with you. That, I found to be unique and very gracious and respectful," Okalik said, noting it gave them space to talk and have quiet conversations.

"I came to respect her greatly."

Chuck Hankins
Chuck Hankins

In the Yukon, Commissioner Angélique Bernard and Premier Sandy Silver signed a condolence book to commemorate the Queen on Thursday afternoon.

Bernard said she didn't get the chance to meet the Queen herself, but she recalls meetings where her colleagues would talk about their interactions with the Queen.

"They were all really amazed at how funny she was, and that's something that comes up, is how she was a jokester and she made people laugh," Bernard said.

Rolls Press/Popperfoto/Getty Images
Rolls Press/Popperfoto/Getty Images

Silver said the news of the Queen's death came as a shock, despite her age.

"As a matriarch that has spanned so many generations, she's family to a lot of Canadians, right? I mean, my grandparents, my parents and our generation as well — I think everybody's reeling," he said.

In a statement Thursday afternoon, Nunavut Premier P.J. Akeeagok called her an "iconic figure."

"While the relationship between Inuit and the Crown has not always been easy, Her Majesty has been long respected by our elders," Akeeagok wrote.

'Fond memories'

In a statement on Facebook, Gwich'in Tribal Council Grand Chief Ken Kyikavichik said many elders and families have "fond memories" of meeting Queen Elizabeth during her visit to the Beaufort Delta region of the N.W.T. in 1970.

"Queen Elizabeth II was held in very high regard amongst the Gwich'in. It was common for Her Majesty to acknowledge milestones of our people, such as significant anniversaries and notable achievements," Kyikavichik wrote.

He expressed "profound sorrow" at her death.

With Queen Elizabeth's passing, Charles is the new king. King Charles III visited the N.W.T. this past summer with a six-hour trip to Yellowknife and Dettah.

Evan Mitsui/CBC
Evan Mitsui/CBC

Dettah Chief Ed Sangris recalled meeting Queen Elizabeth as a child, when his father was chief. They shook her hand.

When King Charles visited Dettah in May, they held a fire-feeding ceremony and a demonstration of hand games and drum dances.

This morning, when Sangris was feeding the fire, he said he asked people to keep Queen Elizabeth in their prayers.

"She was so elegant and a caring person. I feel sad," he said, adding he hopes the Royal Family gets through their grief quickly.