Michael Kusugak entertained Prince Rupert kids in late February by telling the stories he has become well-known for.

Michael Kusugak entertained Prince Rupert kids in late February by telling the stories he has become well-known for.

STORY AND VIDEO: Kusugak regales with Inuit stories

For a few days in late February, children living in Rupert were able to hear an acclaimed, award-winning author recite his stories



For a few days in late February, children living in Prince Rupert were able to hear an acclaimed, award-winning author recite renowned stories of his life growing up in Repulse Bay, Nunavut.

“The Storyteller” Michael Kusugak and his wife, Geraldine (or “Gerry”), arrived to the North Coast for a reading session at the Prince Rupert Public Library’s multi-purpose room on Feb. 23 and again at Rupert Square Mall for its Eighth Annual Celebrating Literacy Event on Feb. 25 – not to mention the myriad of schools in the area that the duo brought their storytelling talents to.

Kusugak’s stories are well-known in the children’s literature world, but his own story is equally as fascinating as those he takes pen to paper.

Working as a helicopter pilot with Okanagan Helicopters, the second-largest helicopter company in North America at the time, smaller than only the American Army he says, Michael’s ability to tell traditional Inuit legends was a dormant skill that lay in wait until he had his own kids.

“It was almost 30 years ago, I’d have these growing boys and when I put them to bed at night, they always wanted to be read to. I was thinking my grandmother used to tell me all these incredible stories. Why am I reading One Fish Two Fish, Red Fish Blue Fish?” he said.

“All those stories were absolutely fascinating and they took you to another world. So one night I told my boys a story and they said ‘Dad, why don’t you write it down.’ So I wrote it down and it became the book A Promise is A Promise.

That book has gone on to be one of the most well-read picture books to children all over North America. It tells the story of qallupilluit, scary creatures that lurk beneath the ice in the Northwest Territories and Nunavut, that main character Allashuaencounters.

The monsters, who live under the ice and grab kids when their parents aren’t looking, is a theme meant to reinforce the lesson for kids to avoid cracks in the ice and to avoid getting lost out in the tundra and freezing to death.

It was co-written by Kusugak’s good friend and fellow author Robert Munsch, who stayed with him when flying through Rankin Inlet.

Kusugak gained even more fame when the late CBC Radio host Peter Gzowski asked the author to read Baseball Bats for Christmas on his show ‘Morningside’ every year after the book came out either on the radio or at Toronto’s Roy Thomson Hall and other large venues.

The two became good friends.

“I hadn’t really planned to quit my job when I started this. I had a job flying around helicopters all over my part of the world. There was a lot of exploration going on and I was working for the federal government inspecting all these exploration camps and issuing licences for the exploration companies and I ended up in my hometown one summer in Repulse Bay,” Kusugak said.

School wasn’t in session at the time and so a large group of kids had arrived at the airport to see Kusugak’s helicopter touch down. So, the author brought them to his uncle’s home and told them one of his grandmother’s stories.

“A couple of the kids actually fell asleep, so I thought I must be pretty good at this because every night when I was going to bed, I’d ask my grandmother to tell me a story and I always fell asleep to those stories … I thought ‘This is great, I’ve got the knack for this,’” he said.

Geraldine brought a number of special items for Michael to show off during his storytelling, such as a seal oil lamp, weaving string, a drum and other items from his Inuit heritage.

Many listeners were even able to take home some of his books as door prizes.

North Coast Literacy Now and Prince Rupert Early Years made it possible for Michael and Gerry to come to Prince Rupert, and Kate Toye, Prince Rupert Early Years coordinator, said she knew young Rupertites would instantly fall in love with the way Michael tells his stories.

“After I met the Kusugaks last summer and heard Michael’s storytelling, I knew I would love for all the children in our community to be able to hear Michael tell his stories, and have Gerry come and share all of the wonderful items that they have that support Michael’s stories – from pictures of Nunavut to regalia, to items that are used each and everyday,” Toye said.

 

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Power outages affected thousands of BC Hydro customers in the north on Jan. 14 (File photo) (File photo)
Power outages affect thousands of BC Hydro customers in northern B.C.

Transmission failure led to outages in Prince Rupert and Port Edward

A Prince Rupert port expansion project received a $25 million investment from the provincial government, the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure announced on Jan. 14. Seen here is Ridley Terminals Inc., a coal export terminal in Prince Rupert (Shannon Lough / The Northern View)
$25 million government investment in Prince Rupert port expansion project

Prince Rupert port expansion project expected to create more than 2,200 jobs

For the second time in less than a year, Air Canada announced on Jan. 13 it has suspended flights on the Prince Rupert-Vancouver route as of Jan 17. (Photo by: Jerold Leblanc)
Cessation of flights to YPR will affect the municipal economy and global trade, P.R. Mayor said

Chamber of Commerce said it will aggressively pursue the resumption of flights to Prince Rupert

Air Canada has suspended flights to Prince Rupert Regional Airport due to COVID-19 mitigation, the airline announced on Jan. 13. (Photo:THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck)
YPR is not immune to plummeted air travel demands – 25 jobs lost

Prince Rupert Regional Airport flight cancellation will levee significant hardship - Rick Leach

Health Minister Adrian Dix and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry head for the press theatre at the B.C. legislature for an update on COVID-19, Jan. 7, 2021. (B.C. government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 spread steady with 509 new cases Friday

Hospitalized and critical care cases decline, nine deaths

Seasonal influenza vaccine is administered starting each fall in B.C. and around the world. (Langley Advance Times)
After 30,000 tests, influenza virually nowhere to be found in B.C.

COVID-19 precautions have eliminated seasonal infection

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau listens to a question during a news conference outside Rideau cottage in Ottawa, Friday, January 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Trudeau says Canada’s COVID vaccine plan on track despite Pfizer cutting back deliveries

Canadian officials say country will still likely receive four million doses by the end of March

Jobs Minister Ravi Kahlon shared a handwritten note his son received on Jan. 13, 2021. (Ravi Kahlon/Twitter)
Proud dad moment: B.C. minister’s son, 10, receives handwritten note for act of kindness

North Delta MLA took to Twitter to share a letter his son received from a new kid at school

Lilly and Poppy, two cats owned by Kalmar Cat Hotel ownder Donna Goodenough, both have cerebellAr hypoplasia, a genetic neurological condition that affects their ability to control their muscles and bones. Photo by Alistair Taylor – Campbell River Mirror
VIDEO: Wobbly Cats a riot of flailing legs and paws but bundles of love and joy to their owner

Woman urges others to not fear adopting cats with disabilities

Chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam provides an update on the COVID-19 pandemic in Ottawa on Friday, Jan. 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Canada’s top doctor says to avoid non-essential travel as B.C. explores legal options

Premier John Horgan says he is seeking legal advice on whether it can limit interprovincial travel

Martin Luther King Jr. addresses the crowd during the march on Washington, D.C., in August of 1963. Courtesy photo
Government reinforces importance of anti-racism act on Black Shirt Day

B.C. Ministers say education “a powerful tool” in the fight for equity and equality

Black Press media file
Port McNeill driver tells police he thought the pandemic meant no breathalyzers

Suspect facing criminal charges after breathalyzer readings in excess of 3.5 times the legal limit

Forestry companies in B.C. agree to abide by the cedar protocols based on traditional laws of the First Nation members of the Nanwakolas Council. (Photo courtesy, Nanwakolas Council)
Landmark deal sees B.C. forest firms treat big cedars like a First Nation would

Western Forest Products, Interfor among companies to adapt declaration drafted by Nanwakolas Council

Most Read