'My pride and joy': Yukon woman helps keep moosehide tanning tradition alive across territory

Margaret Douville of Teslin, Yukon has been tanning hides since her early teens. Now she's helping various communities in the Yukon to learn the skill.

'They say it's a dying art, but if I keep it up, keep passing it on, somebody's gonna learn it'

Margaret Douville of Teslin, Yukon wants to pass down her knowledge of mooshide tanning to the younger generation. (Karen Vallevand/CBC)

Margaret Douville's first moosehide was full of holes.

So much so that she remembers an elder and her son passing by and making a comment on the hide that she fleshed for 16 days straight.

"Her son told her, 'Mom, mom, look, look how big that fish net is! There are so many holes on it,'" recalled Douville, who was only 13 years old at the time.

Douville is teaching a workshop on moosehide tanning at the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre in Whitehorse this month. (Karen Vallevand/CBC)

Douville said the elder turned to her son and told him: "You don't say that about her. Maybe one day, if she don't give it up… it's going to get easy for her."

Years later, Douville said the son, now an older man, ordered a pair of moosehide slippers from her.

"I said, 'Would you like it full of holes?' and he just said, 'Wow, all them years went by and you remember that?'" said Douville, laughing. "I sure do."

Today, Douville says she can flesh two moosehides in one day. Originally from Teslin, Yukon, Douville is teaching the traditional skill of moosehide tanning across the Yukon. She shares the knowledge in hopes that she'll pass on what her grandparents and mother taught her as a young child.

Moosehide tanning in Whitehorse

6 years ago
Duration 1:02
Margaret Douville is teaching a workshop on moosehide tanning in Whitehorse this month.

She is teaching a group of people in Whitehorse the skill of tanning moosehide at the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre this month.

"I'm so happy doing this course for other First Nations people, passing my knowledge on," Douville said. "I have to. I gotta pass it on to the younger generation."

A lot of ab work and dedication

Pauline Livingstone, a student in Douville's class, was short of breath during the workshop.

"From what Margaret keeps saying, you can't tickle it. Get angry with it. A lot of pressure goes into it, and ab work," she said.

"Because both my mother and grandmother are gone, I didn't get a chance to learn any of these skills, and now that I can, I'm more than happy to learn as much as I can," Livingstone said.

She said that while learning the skill, she realized on what her ancestors went through to make clothing. 

"A lot of work and dedication goes into it for sure," said Livingstone.

"This is my pride and joy," said Douville. "They say it's a dying art, but if I keep it up, keep passing it on, somebody's gonna learn it."

With files from Leonard Linklater