Northern romance: Nunavut man tracks down traditional dolls around the world for fiancée

A Nunavut man expresses his love for his fiancée in a unique way: stone-faced dolls.

'There’s a lot of romance with the dolls. I find them to be my greatest treasures,' says Adina Tarralik Duffy

Adina Tarralik Duffy's love for traditional dolls began when she was a little girl. She said she would ask her mother for permission to play with the doll on display in their living room wall. (Submitted by Adina Tarralik Duffy)

Aaron Regnier's love language isn't words of affirmation. 

"I'm very much a 'tell me you love me' person, or I tell people I love them," says Regnier's fiancée, Adina Tarralik Duffy. "Whereas Aaron is less verbal and more showing of his affection and his love."

Ever since moving to Nunavut three years ago, Regnier has been scouring the internet for the next hand-made, traditional doll with "presence" and brings it over to Coral Harbour from across borders — from California, to Alaska, to Greenland. And all this for his beloved fiancée, who props it up against the wall of her current collection of 27.

Adina currently has 27 traditional dolls as a part of her collection. (Submitted by Adina Tarralik Duffy)

Come Valentines, birthday, or a special anniversary, Tarralik Duffy says Regnier will find a unique doll and buy it for her.

"When they come back to Nunavut, I just feel like that's where they belong."- Adina Tarralik Duffy

"You're just literally showered by someone's affection for you," says Tarralik Duffy, who's love for traditional dolls began as a young girl when she played with her mother's dolls displayed on the living room wall.

Fittingly, Regnier prefers to stay behind the scenes on this story, letting his fiancée do the talking about his grand, Northern gesture of romance.

From Florida to Coral Harbour

His most recent surprise gift for the love of his life?

This stone face traditional doll bundled up in caribou fur — a little over-dressed for a doll that recently flew over from Florida:

The most recent doll in Adina's collection came from Florida. (Submitted by Adina Tarralik Duffy)

She has a soapstone face. Her feet are adorned with kamiks; her hands, beaver mitts. On the bottom of her feet, there's an etching that says "Anna" with a faded smudge for the last name.

"It literally takes your breath away," says Tarralik Duffy. "And you just wonder about the person who made it."

The couple says they don't have much information on the doll, other than that the seller says it was purchased from the North in the 1950s. They originally thought the doll was from Inuvik, N.W.T., but now think it's from the Baffin region in Nunavut, based on their research on the doll's style of clothing.
'It literally takes your breath away,' says Adina Tarralik Duffy about her dolls. (Submitted by Adina Tarralik Duffy)

Unearthing its origins is a part of the experience, says the couple, who've successfully traced the roots of some of the dolls.

Regnier has become "a scholar on the dolls," says Tarralik Duffy.

"You just think of the person who made it and also who had purchased it, and then how many hands it has passed through before getting all the way to Florida, and then making its journey back to Nunavut to me," she says.

"They really do have a life, and a presence about them."

'Journey back home'

Tarralik Duffy says it feels like the dolls made "the journey back home."

"When they come back to Nunavut, I just feel like that's where they belong," she says. "It just feels right."

The couple says they enjoy solving the mystery of the dolls' origins. (Submitted by Adina Tarralik Duffy)

The couple says they have a tendency to be "cynical, pessimistic types, and talking about romance is kind of eye-rolly."

But when reflecting back on their unique romance, Tarralik Duffy says it was an emotional moment and she even got teary-eyed.

"There's a lot of romance with the dolls. I find them to be my greatest treasures," she says.

"I just hope to be as thoughtful," she says, adding: "I'm being so cheesy right now."

Editor's note: This story was updated on April 20 to reflect the couple's further research into the origins of the Florida doll. 

With files from Loren McGinnis