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‘He has created the love of dance’; Kugluktuk remembers Colin Adjun

Northern fiddling legend Colin Adjun died on Dec. 3 but his legacy will live on in his home community of Kugluktuk in many ways.
Colin Adjun is joined on stage by Lee Mandeville, left, and Michael Francis, right, during a music festival in southern B.C. in 2009. Adjun and Mandeville played together many times. Norbert Poitras photo

Northern fiddling legend Colin Adjun died on Dec. 3 but his legacy will live on in his home community of Kugluktuk in many ways.

Kugluktuk Hamlet Council has decided to name the local community hall after Adjun and also chose to award him the honorary key to the community shortly before his death, said Simon Kuliktana, the community’s mayor and a fellow musician who performed with Adjun on numerous occasions.

In the coming months, a day will be set aside to pay tribute to the beloved entertainer, he added.

“It is a big loss to our community,” Kuliktana said.

Adjun, 77, was known as the Fiddler of the Arctic. With multiple albums recorded, he was awarded the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal in 2012 for his contributions as a musical artist.

“One thing about Kugluktuk, they love to dance, they love to jig, they love to square dance, and you can see that right from the toddlers, they’re trying to jig,” said Kuliktana. “I was telling Mavis (Adjun’s wife) that Colin had created a culture… I think that’s going to be his legacy in Kugluktuk. He has created the love of dance, the love of square dance and the love of jigging. He has left that impact within our community, but not only in our community, in the Kitikmeot and right across the North.”

Yellowknife fiddler Lee Mandeville witnessed Adjun’s love of dance in addition to absorbing his mentorship as a violin player.

“His stamina was amazing. He’d be on stage entertaining everybody and then when somebody else picks up the fiddle, he’d go on the dance floor and grab a partner. He just loved it,” he said. “I don’t think I’ve met anybody that loves square dancing as much as him.”

Mandeville was just nine years old when he first saw Adjun in action close to 35 years ago.

“I was intrigued by him because the way he interacted with the audience was pretty unique… people were dancing pretty lively. It just put a bug in me, I wanted to do something like that,” he remembered. “He was a charismatic character.”

And Mandeville did just that four years later, pursuing his love affair with the musical instrument at age 13, with a helping hand from Adjun.

“He encouraged me all the way through. He was a really positive guy, generous. He shared his music. He taught me a few songs. I really liked Faded Love and Red River Jig,” he said.

They would go on to combine their talents on stage many times over the next few decades, just as Adjun did with his son, Gustin.

“You look at his son and he looks just like him, and he’s got a big smile like his dad,” Mandeville said. “I hope (Gustin) carries on with (fiddling).”

Kuliktana started playing with Adjun in the mid-1990s. A few years later they toured together, landing in Fort McPherson for the Midway Music Festival.

“I was amazed at how many different walks of life knew him. It just showed me that (through) his musical talent, he had a lot of connections,” he recalled, adding that his parents also listened to Adjun’s music, as do his children and grandchildren. “He would never refuse if he was asked to play, that was Colin.”