North

One-of-a-kind parka comes back home to N.W.T., thanks to Ontario couple

A couple from Ontario found a unique sealskin parka at a country auction house and made it their mission to bring the coat back North.

'I'm totally of the belief energetically that it has to be back with its ancestors,' says Jill Carty

Jilly Carty, left, and her husband Brian Walker, flew from Ontario to bring a sealskin coat made by the Holman Eskimo Co-op in 1978 to the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre in Yellowknife. (Emily Blake/CBC)

In the basement of a Yellowknife museum, Jill Carty shows off a one-of-a-kind sealskin parka.

"That collar, isn't it beautiful how it comes up? It's just stunning. The back of it is just, it's seamless."

Carty and her husband Brian Walker, who hail from Almonte, Ont., recently donated the coat to the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre in Yellowknife.

The parka first came into their lives in June in the most unlikely of places — at a country auction house in Perth, Ont.

Amid ammunition, guns, fishing gear and farm equipment, the coat was a hidden treasure.

"Wow. That was the moment I found the coat," Carty recalled.

"It was incredible to see this coat at the back of the room hanging just partially out of this bag. It was a work of art and it's something that I have never seen in Ottawa before, even at a museum."

Carty was taken by the parka's swaths of striking sealskin, sunburst fur hood, fur trim and inlaid patterns of igloos and dogs. The parka was sealed in a plastic garment bag.

It also came with its original pink sales slip. Dated June 20, 1978, blue cursive details the costs for the coat that was made for a woman in Elderado, Sask. Green print across the top reads Holman Island Eskimo Co-operative Limited — which is in Ulukhaktok, N.W.T.

Jill Carty found this parka sealed in a plastic garment bag with its original bill of sale at a country auction house in Perth, Ont. (CBC)

"I wanted to purchase the coat to get it out of there," said Carty. "I knew I could take care of it and that's selfish. But there was a lot of men there so I knew they weren't going to be very interested in it."

Carty borrowed a dress frame from a friend to help the coat keep its shape and kept it in a spare room. She said she wanted to find a way to return the coat back to the North.

"Sometimes you wonder if it comes to you for a reason. I'm totally of the belief energetically that it has to be back with its ancestors," said Carty.

"I'm just a messenger and I'm just delivering it back."

Carty did some research and eventually got in touch with the Yellowknife museum. Then she and Walker hopped on a plane and brought the coat to Yellowknife recently.

As unique a find as the coat was for Carty and Walker, curator of collections Joanne Bird said it's a bit of an oddity for the museum too.

Joanne Bird, left, curator of collections at the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre examines the sealskin parka donated by Jill Carty, right. (Emily Blake/CBC)

"It's unique because it has survived in such good condition," Bird said.

"We do see other coats that are coming up on Kijiji and Etsy, other sealskin coats from the 1970s time period. But often when materials go down South, they sort of get worn out."

Bird said the coat will help with documenting Ulukhaktok's history — which changed its name from Holman in 2006 — as well as the Holman Eskimo Co-op which still exists but no longer has a fur shop.

She said the coat may even become part of a future exhibit at the museum.

That's what Carty had hoped for when she donated it. 

"I'm just so glad that it's here," Carty said.

"I'm glad that it's going to be taken care of, I'm glad possibly some people will see it and it'll be used to teach people and just to show them that this coat is a work of art."

The parka will help with documentation of Ulukhaktok. (Emily Blake/CBC)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Emily Blake is a reporter for CBC News, based in Yellowknife. She has worked on and off as a journalist for the past 10 years and her work has appeared in a number of Canadian print, radio and online publications. She covers a range of topics including health, gender, justice and climate change. You can reach her at emily.blake@cbc.ca or follow her on Twitter @BlakeEmily.

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