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Tourism workshops draw crowds

Bryce March from Whitehorse picks through porcupine quills during a workshop at the visitor centre on Aug. 21, while Astrid Sidaway-Wolf, also from Whitehorse, prepares her thread. Monday, Aug. 21, 2017

A summer workshop series designed to teach visitors about life and culture in the North saw a jump in participants this year – so much so that organizers had to turn some people away.

Approximately 600 people had attended the workshops as of Aug. 21, according to Lindsey Bodnar-McLeod, an interpretive event planner with the Department of Industry, Tourism and Investment.

She was running the final few activities outside the Western Arctic Regional Visitor Centre with her colleagues from the Tourism and Parks division last week.

“Our numbers have reached really high in our programming,” Bodnar-McLeod said, adding she was surprised with the tally last week.

The group had run 53 workshops since June, with more than 10 people attending each one, “a big jump” compared to last year's attendance, Bodnar-McLeod said.

She estimated 450 people took part in the activities last year, which included everything from a fish fry to making earrings out of porcupine quills.

Local “pharmacy walks,” in which participants learn about the medicinal uses of plants grown in the area, was also a “favourite” this season, she said.

The purpose of the workshops is to share Inuvik's culture with visitors stopping in from all different parts of the world.

“We've met people from China, Australia, Scotland,” Bodnar-McLeod said. “The first thing we always ask people when we meet them is 'Why did you come here?' And they tell us, (it's) because they're interested … in the North, in the people and the ways of life here.”

It's also drawn people to the visitor centre. The workshops have been taking place at their doorstep this year.

Amber Ritias and Amie Charlie, who work at the visitor centre, said the workshops have been a big attraction this summer.

“Their numbers are very high this season,” Ritias said. “One day they had a huge group just show up and they had to ask the second group to come back.”

She added she thinks it's important for the community to be able to share its culture with other people.

It's also a chance to help boost the economy, Charlie added, explaining staff encourage visitors to check out local arts and craft stores and businesses.

As for the visitor centre itself, it's expected to bring in just as many – if not more – people than last year.

John Cournoyea, manager of Tourism and Parks in Inuvik, said 4,090 visitors had come through the visitor centre this year, as of Aug. 19. Of those, 3,486 were visitors to the NWT.

The centre opened May 29.

Last year, he said, the centre saw 4,716 visitors between May 31 and Sept. 12, with 3,835 of those being visitors to the NWT.

“It's significant, because visitors to the NWT are actually bringing in new money to the economy,” Cournoyea said.

According to Bodnar-McLeod, the summer workshops have been hosted annually since 2011.

The final workshop of this summer was Aug. 25.