by Madelle Morgan
A proud Canadian, I’ve been fortunate to travel across Canada from the Atlantic to Pacific to Arctic coasts. I’ve lived in three provinces but the highlight of my vagabond life was the adventure-filled five year period I lived in the Northwest Territories (NWT). Together with the other two northern territories – Nunavut and Yukon (adjacent to Alaska) – the territories in grey on the map comprise Canada’s last (and bitterly cold) frontier.
During frequent trips for my first job after graduating with a degree in civil engineering, I stayed for a few days or weeks in isolated communities of only a few hundred indigenous First Peoples. These tiny hamlets are scattered hundreds of miles apart along the vast Arctic Ocean coastline and on the shores of major rivers and lakes for traditional access to hunting, fishing, and trading. I flew in small planes across the northwest passage to barren Ellesmere, Baffin, Victoria and Banks Islands literally at the top of the world.
Above the treeline, the only trees you’ll see are on satellite TV or the internet. The Inuit maintain ancient traditions of handcrafting clothing and footwear from tough waterproof sealskin to withstand fierce winter winds and -60 deg Fahrenheit.
Below the treeline, the Dene aboriginals had contact with fur traders who introduced imported European woolen cloth and beads. The Dene women today continue to design and sew articles of clothing and footwear made from caribou, moose hide and stroud (a type of woolen cloth that was originally made in Stroud, UK). The items are trimmed with beaver or rabbit fur, and decorated with beads, embroidery or dyed porcupine quills in patterns similar to those of their North American aboriginal and Métis counterparts below the 60th parallel.
|Custom Beaded Moccasins|
In winter indoors I wore these cozy mukluks below lined with stroud and trimmed with dyed rabbit.
|Beaded Lined Mukluks|
These are my well-worn leather mittens from Baffin Island, trimmed with sealskin. The removable stroud lining facilitates drying.
|Embroidered Lined Mittens|
|Caribou Hide Mitts|
|Rabbit Fur Mitts|
|Embroidered Stroud Hat and Lined Mukluks|