Woman seeks maker of mystery parka that warmed 12 little girls over decades

Joella Hogan wants to know who made the traditional parka that has kept her, and 12 other little girls, warm over the past 40 years.

It's a hand-me-down mystery that Joella Hogan hopes to solve

Bonnie Lee, pictured left, and Sandy Washburn's daughter Mattie, pictured right, are both wearing the same parka, but years apart. (Submitted by Bonnie Lee, Sandy Washburn)

It's a parka that has kept little girls warm across the North for generations, and it starts with Joella Hogan's story — for now.

The young Hogan was only six or seven years old when she received the coat — a First Nations peer at her Whitehorse school was moving away and that family offered the parka to Hogan.

"My mom was so grateful and I wore it," said Hogan, who first cozied up in the embellished, navy, wool coat in the 1980s.

And the rest was family history.

The parka has been passed down to 12 little girls since, mostly within Hogan's extended family.

"All of the little girls that have worn it are my little cousins, or my cousin's kids," said Hogan.

"It's interesting we held on to this one [parka] so tightly."

Bonnie Lee, right, was five years old when she was photographed in Dawson City, Yukon, wearing the mystery parka. (Submitted by Bonnie Lee)

Recently Hogan, now the heritage and culture manager for the Na-Cho Nyak Dun First Nation, has been searching for the seamstress of the hand-me-down.

With her mother Donna, Hogan has been digging through yearbooks and photos, trying to find clues.

Together, they mapped out the parka's journey the past four decades, but Hogan wants to know just how far back it goes — and more importantly, where its origins are.

"I definitely wasn't the first person to wear it."

Style unique 'like a fingerprint'

The navy duffel is adorned with intricate pink roses and green leaves on a white canvas. The edges are lined in tufts of fur — replaced by one of Hogan's aunts 10 years ago. Inside is a lining of plaid material.

Hogan said she suspects the family that passed it on to her was Gwich'in, and says the coat's style may have come from the Mackenzie Delta region of the Northwest Territories.

Since posting it on social media, Hogan says she received many comments pointing to Aklavik, N.W.T., as a possible place of origin.

The parka is made of a navy wool and embellished with flower patterns and fur. Inside, it's lined with plaid material. (Submitted by Joella Hogan)

"Elders and sewers, all of their style is unique like a little fingerprint, so somebody would need to look at it up close," said Hogan, asking anyone with a keen eye to have a look.

Hogan said she wants to express her gratitude to the parka's seamstress, or their family if they have passed on.

"I would just communicate deep appreciation for the craftsmanship and dedication and really all that original love."

5-year-old girl sporting parka in Mayo

The parka is now with a five-year-old girl in Mayo, Yukon — the daughter of a close family friend of Hogan's.

Joella Hogan poses with the most recent recipient of the parka, five-year-old Mattie in Mayo, Yukon. (Submitted by Sandy Washburn)

"She loves it. She thinks it's gorgeous. She really likes that it was Auntie Joella's," said Sandy Washburn, whose daughter Mattie is now wearing the hand-me-down.

"She was thrilled. And it came at perfect timing, just before Christmas."

But the parka is now leaving a bigger mark on the community.

Washburn, coordinator at Yukon College Mayo campus, recently brought it into the school to be used as a teaching model for students at a parka-making workshop taught by an elder.

"[The parka] is a little bit different, the embroidery work on it is a bit different," said Washburn.

Five parkas on display at Yukon College Mayo campus for a parka-making workshop. (Submitted by Sandy Washburn)

Washburn said after her daughter grows out of it, the parka will go back to the Hogan family to be passed on to the next little girl.

"It's overwhelming gratitude that Donna and Joella have allowed us to be a part of this," said Washburn.

With files from Alexandra Byers, Marc Winkler, Peter Sheldon