Marilyn Apaloota, 21 years old, is wiping down tables and re-stocking the serviettes. She works here three to six days a week, depending on demand. It started as community service that Marilyn was obliged to serve as part of a court settlement, then she returned by choice as a volunteer, now she’s on staff.

“I enjoy everything here,” she says — working with other people, learning new kitchen skills and making food that is, by her own admission, “pretty awesome.”

It was a fruitful collaboration: those working for the Cafe could also help in the daily operation of the soup kitchen
“There’s always
to do.”

The Inclusion Cafe grew out of a simple idea that addressed two deficits in Nunavut’s territorial capital: the lack of home-baked goods and the absence of inclusive employment opportunities for persons with disabilities. In 2010, the Nunavut Disability Society (The Nunavummi Disabilities Makinnasuaqtiit Society) asked the Qayuqtuvik Society Food Centre for use of its soup kitchen a couple days a week to train some of its members in the fine art of baking. Proceeds from the sales could go back into paying employee wages.

As the bakers branched out into caribou stew and chili, funding was secured to hire a chef to oversee a full catering menu under the banner of “Inclusion Cafe.” It was a fruitful collaboration: those working for the Cafe could also help in the daily operation of the soup kitchen, which in turn could incorporate the Cafe’s output into its meals.

The Cafe became a popular spot — not just to eat and hang out, but also to work. “It became clear that we had to broaden our definition of disability,” says Nalini Vaddapalli, a Disability Society board member and one of the project’s initiators. She says that many people in Iqaluit encounter barriers to employment beyond physical and mental disabilities; people with criminal records or a lack of work experience are often turned away. “They came knocking at the back door.”

Chef Lockley and Marilyn Apaloota in the kitchen of the Inclusion Cafe.

Having secured a territorial grant for skills training, the Cafe was able to hire and train up to 15 people not only in cooking but basic life skills, including managing a budget, keeping a schedule and working regular hours.

“It’s a long journey,” says Chef Lockley. And as a retired opera singer who left a life of concert halls and European tours to settle in Iqaluit and “make food for people who need it,” he knows what this means. Many of the people who come to the Inclusion Cafe have tried working for other commercial kitchens in Iqaluit and been overwhelmed by the demands placed on them. The need for skills training is huge, and Lockley is very pleased that the Cafe has just received five years of federal funding through an Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada grant to expand its program.

While some employees have been able to parlay their skills into other jobs, others are content to remain in the Cafe’s supportive environment. “I come in the morning and make myself a pot of coffee,” she says. “There’s always something to do. I’m not much of a big planner but I’d like to stay here for now.”

Inclusion Café in Iqaluit.

With one in three people experiencing food insecurity every month, Nunavut has the highest rate of household food insecurity in the country.

People in Nunavut

one in three people experiencing food insecurity

Data source:

In April 2017, the Commission travelled to Canada’s North to meet with stakeholders, community leaders and individuals to share best practices and to hear firsthand about the challenges and barriers to justice that remote, Northern communities are facing. It was during this trip that the Commission learned about the Inclusion Cafe. The positive impact that the Cafe is having on an entire community inspired some of the themes and messages that the Commission delivered to its audiences throughout the rest of 2017: that all actions can make a difference and that individual actions have the power to create broad change towards inclusion for everyone.