Inuit stone carvers turn to Montreal day shelter for help with fair compensation

The Open Door is providing its clients who are stone carvers with all the tools and soapstone they need — and helping them get a fair price for their carvings.

Open Door provides the tools and soapstone, as well as advice on setting a price for their work

John Awa is just one of the many Inuit carvers who have made the Open Door shelter their new studio space. (CBC)

In an effort to make sure they are fairly compensated for their work, Inuit stone carvers are turning to the Open Door for help.

The drop-in centre near Cabot Square, whose clients are largely Indigenous, is providing carvers with all the tools and soapstone they need — and it is also helping them get a fair price for their carvings.

"There's also an additional benefit, when people come by to buy the carvings, of encouraging a fair price for the carvings," said David Chapman, the acting director of Open Door.

"The carvers have reported stories of not only galleries but also individuals trying to lowball them."

John Awa is one of the many Inuit artists to take advantage of everything Open Door is offering.

He says he's been shortchanged by galleries in Old Montreal before. 

"Some art galleries in Montreal, they would buy a carving for, like, $50, and then they would sell it for $200 to $300," he said.

Now, Awa sells his carvings at the Open Door, by posting on Facebook or through word of mouth.

Carving is therapeutic

Chapman says most of the people who come to use the Open Door's tools are homeless or dealing with poverty. Many find carving therapeutic and a way to stay connected to their culture. 

"I like carving. To me, it's a lot of fun," said Awa, who is originally from Pond Inlet, in the far north of Baffin Island in Nunavut.

"My grandpa, my dad and my uncles and some other family members did carvings. It's basically in the blood."

Charlie Tookalook spent a lot of time watching his friends carve before taking up the tools himself.

"I think one of my grandpas also carved," he said.

"I like working with my hands, making money, and it's fun."

John Awa uses a grinder to roughly cut the shape of an inukshuk out of a block of soapstone. (CBC)

About the Author

Sarah Leavitt


Sarah Leavitt is a journalist with CBC Montreal.