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1964: Ookpik takes Canada by storm

The Story

Symbolizing a nation is a tall order for a simple handicraft, but Ookpik has pulled it off. The fuzzy sealskin owl is hardly a traditional craft: it was created by an Inuit woman named Jeannie Snowball. When Ookpik was chosen to represent Canada at a 1964 Philadelphia trade show, an industry was born and Inuit crafters began producing Ookpiks by the dozen. As the CBC program Inquiry learns, Ookpik may make a better Canadian mascot than the mighty beaver. 

Medium: Television
Program: Inquiry
Broadcast Date: March 16, 1964
Guest(s): Frank Hamilton, Harold Mitchell, Jean-Luc Pépin, Mitchell Sharp, Lorraine Walker
Duration: 6:25

Did You know?

• In the fall of 1963, organizers of Canada's display at an American trade fair had considered using the familiar maple leaf to draw attention to their booth. But when officials from the department of Northern Affairs sent a catalogue of Inuit art, the trade department saw Ookpik and decided it was the perfect icon.
• Posters for the show teased: "Ookpik is coming."

• Ookpik was a hit at the trade fair, with hundreds of orders coming from American buyers.
• The owl figure was created by Jeannie Snowball, a worker with the Fort Chimo Eskimo Co-operative in northern Quebec. (Fort Chimo was renamed Kuujjuaq in 1980.)
• "Ookpik" is the Inuktitut word for "snowy owl" or "Arctic owl."

• Though Inuit people had been creating decorative but functional tools and carving figures for centuries before the arrival of Europeans, Inuit art as it's known today didn't become an art form of its own until the 1940s.
• James A. Houston, a Toronto artist, was instrumental in encouraging Inuit people to create art for southern markets as a way of making a living.

• Two of the most common Inuit arts are printmaking and carving. The artworks typically depict northern animals, traditional lifestyles, and mythological themes.
• Embroidered wall hangings have also become more popular in recent years.
• Watch a 1970 CBC Archives clip about sealskin handicrafts - including Ookpik - made by Inuit crafters.

• Ookpiks "are slightly silly looking, but they're oddly wise, too, and many Canadians will melt before you at the sight of one," writes author Douglas Coupland in Souvenir of Canada. "One day they simply vanished. Where? Why? Alas, they burned too brightly too quickly, and paid the price."



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