With heavy heart, mother returns to Iqaluit without finding daughter's grave

Therese Ukaliannuk is returning to Iqaluit with a heavy heart today. The 76-year-old travelled to Quebec this past weekend to finally visit her daughter’s grave — but it wasn’t meant to be.

Nearly 50 years after daughter's death, Therese Ukaliannuk still hopes to find Marieyvonne's grave

Therese Ukaliannuk holds the only photo she has of her daughter, Marieyvonne Alaka. Ukaliannuk has been searching for her daughter's grave since her death 50 years ago. (Jane Sponagle/CBC)

Therese Ukaliannuk is returning to Iqaluit with a heavy heart today. The 76-year-old travelled to Quebec this past weekend to finally visit her daughter's grave — but it wasn't meant to be.

Ukaliannuk attended a memorial service on Sunday for her daughter, Marieyvonne Alaka, in the same church in Magog, Que., that the young girl's funeral was held in 1967. When Marieyvonne was four years old she was sent from her home in Igloolik, Nunavut, to a residential school in Chesterfield Inlet. She died four years later from complications of tuberculosis.

Therese Ukaliannuk and Martha Maliki hug after disembarking their flight to Iqaluit. The women were in Quebec over the weekend, hoping to visit Ukaliannuk's daughter's grave for the first time. (Vincent Robinet/CBC)

For close to half a century, Marieyvonne's family did not know where she died, but in the last few months they learned that she passed away in Austin, Que. On Friday her mother embarked on a journey to see the grave, but she ran into a number of obstacles.

It's now unclear where Marieyvonne was buried, as she had been living in a care facility in Austin, but her funeral was held in Magog.

Martha Maliki, a family friend travelling with Ukaliannuk, says there is some confusion because two churches looked after Marieyvonne's funeral and the reverend who officiated the service never made note of where the burial took place.

Unmarked graves, no documents

On Monday morning, the pair visited a graveyard in Magog.

"We came across six unknown graves with no names or no documentation. So we got a dead end with that," said Maliki.

This is the only photo Marieyvonne's family has of her. It was taken in 1959 when she was just a few months old. (Vince Robinet/CBC)

The women planned to visit the cemetery in Austin on Monday afternoon, but the cemetery's caretaker was in the hospital.

"We know that there are three different graves there that were buried and they're the same age group as her. So once they've identified these graves we'll be planning another trip there," said Maliki in Inuktitut.

Maliki says they also visited the funeral home where Marieyvonne's body was held, but it no longer has the documents saying where she was buried.

The care facility where Marieyvonne lived in Austin closed in 1987. Maliki says they're now requesting more information through the headquarters in Montreal.

'It's heartbreaking not being able to find her'

Maliki says their hearts are heavy, but she's still hopeful that people with the church will find something.

"​Finding the grave is just months away, I have a feeling we're very close to finding where she is," Maliki said.

"I'm not losing hope to finding her. Even if we don't find her on this trip they're going to continue to search for her the best they could."

Maliki says everyone they encountered on their trip, from the church to the funeral home, was nice and helpful.

"We met the people who run the church. They had a special lunch for us after the [memorial] service," she said.

"It is very difficult, it's heartbreaking not being able to find her right now. But it's also comforting to know that she was well looked after at the end of her days."

About the Author

Jane Sponagle

Jane Sponagle is a reporter with CBC North in Whitehorse. She previously lived in Iqaluit where she covered a wide range of stories for CBC from the Nunavut legislature to where to find the best pizza in the Arctic.

With files from Jordan Konek