How the kindness of northerners helped a small, stuffed cat get home to Chisasibi
Tale has been made into a children's book written in French and Inuktitut
This is a story about a grey, stuffed cat named "Chat" and a young boy named Vincent — and the heartbreak of losing each other in northern Quebec, near where James Bay ends and Hudson Bay begins.
But it is also a story about how the kindness of northerners helped "Chat" (cat in French), travel 500 kilometres back by boat and plane to the worried four-year-old.
"It's just a small story," said Ginette Moreau, Vincent's mother and author of Perdu dans la toundra, a children's book in French and Inuktitut inspired by what happened back in 2003.
Perdu dans la toundra (which means "Lost in the Tundra" in English), tells the story of how "Chat" traveled from Chisasibi, Que. to Cape Jones Island, Nunavut and back again, via Umiujaq and Kuujjuarapik, Nunavik.
Moreau worked as a teacher in Chisasibi from 1994 to 2003. Her husband was the chef at the local Mitchuap Restaurant and Vincent is the youngest of their three children.
The family was on its way to Whapmagoostui in 2003 with a friend, Cree hunter Bobby Snowboy, when bad weather forced them to camp on Cape Jones Island. It was there that "Chat" went missing during a game of hide and seek.
"My son was very sad. The next day we looked for it but we couldn't find it," said Moreau, adding the storm forced the group back to Chisasibi.
Bobby Snowboy took Vincent's father back to Cape Jones Island when the weather cleared so he could continue the search, but again they came up empty-handed.
They did, however, share the tale with an Inuit family which was camping on the island.
A few days later came word that "Chat" had been found and taken to Umiujaq, Nunavik, farther up the coast of Hudson's Bay and then sent back with someone else to Kuujjuarapik, Nunavik, which is side-by-side with the Cree community of Whapmagoostui.
"Chat" was closer, but not quite home.
But then a few weeks later, someone coming from Kuujjuarapik to a funeral in Chisasibi arrived at the Mitchuap Restaurant with the stuffed animal in tow.
"I was very impressed by all the kindness of the people who organized all that just to make a little boy more happy," said Moreau.
She says it's been a story she's wanted to share since then, in part because so many Southerners don't know enough about the North and the generosity of the Cree and Inuit who live there.
"That's why I felt this story must be known," she said, adding most everyone who hears it is touched by it.
"It's also a story about friendships between different cultures and it shows that we can be kind to each other," said Moreau, who now lives in Waterloo, Que. southeast of Montreal in the Eastern Townships and works as a special education teacher.
The little grey stuffed cat is still a "cherished" part of the family, an important symbol of so many things - kindness and the friendships of their time in North - to name a few.
"Chat's" story not over?
Moreau also has dreams of more adventures for the little, grey, stuffed cat and is hoping to travel North next summer to make a film and try to track down some of the people who showed such kindness to strangers so many years ago.
Bobby Snowboy passed away many years ago now, but Moreau is hoping to get the original painting of one of the book's illustrations to Bobby's widow, Elizabeth.
"Bobby was a good friend. I wanted [the illustration] to be an homage to him," said Moreau, adding she wants all those involved with getting "Chat" back to Chisasibi to know their kindness hasn't been forgotten.
Moreau says she doesn't remember much about the Inuit families and individuals involved in the story.
She is hoping for anyone in Umiujaq, Kuujjuarapik, Whapmagoostui or Chisasibi who might remember hearing of such a tale to be in touch.
"I would like to find those people," said Moreau. "I would like to tell them how this story touched my family and how this story will be known all across Canada. It's a story that brings us all together."
Moreau is also hoping to one day have Perdu dans la toundra translated into Cree and English.