Stitches in time: Handmade dolls portray Yukon's francophone history

Members of L'association franco-yukonnaise (AFY) have created a series of hand-made dolls, representing prominent French-speaking Yukoners, from the 19th century to the present.

'All of them have their own story ... we learned so many things about different people'

A couple of Gold Rush-era figures - Dr. Louis Alphonse Paré, who worked in Tagish, and Léa Moreau. There are 21 handmade dolls in all, representing famous Yukon francophones, from the 1800s to the present. (Claudiane Samson/Radio-Canada)

When Yukon's francophone association tried to think of a way to mark Canada's 150th anniversary this year, the decision was made to think small.

As in, doll-sized.

Members of L'association franco-yukonnaise (AFY) have crafted a collection of hand-made dolls, representing prominent French-speaking Yukoners, from the 19th century to the present.

Project co-ordinator Audrey Percheron with a likeness of Klondike stampeder Lorenzo Létourneau. (Claudiane Samson/Radio-Canada)

"We had this idea of the project, to do a fusion between arts and craft, and cultural and history things," said Audrey Percheron of AFY, who coordinated the "Stitches in Time" project.

The organizers enlisted the help of local artist Cécile Girard — a skilled and experienced doll-maker — to hold workshops where participants designed and made their own dolls.

Each participant also chose the historic figure they wanted to depict. 

There are 21 in all, including likenesses of Father Jean-Marie Mouchet, wielding a set of skis and poles, Klondike stampeder Lorenzo Létourneau, with a tiny gold pan full of nuggets, and Cécile Girard herself, sporting a bright pink coat with fur trim.

"Every doll was hand made, with recovered and recycled materials. And of course, all of them have their own story," said Percheron.

"We learned so many things about different people."

A likeness of Father Jean-Pierre Mouchet, the late catholic priest who became renowned as a cross country skier and coach. (Claudiane Samson/Radio-Canada)

Novice doll-makers

For Girard, the project was a way to marry two of her passions — doll-making, and history.

"I was excited. I was absolutely enthusiastic," she said.

Her skills — honed over a lifetime — proved essential to the project. Some of the project's volunteers had never sewn a stitch before, let alone fashioned a doll. 

"Some never did use a needle, or did that type of art, so they needed a little direction. But everybody was in it, 100 per cent," Girard said.

Cécile Girard says she was surprised someone chose to make a doll that looked like her. (Claudiane Samson/Radio-Canada)

"The results are quite beautiful."

Now, the dolls are going on the road, for a series of free "bilingual expo discussions" being organized by l'AFY in Haines Junction on Saturday, Dawson City on Oct. 26, and Whitehorse on Nov. 10. The public events will allow people to see the dolls, learn about the characters, and talk to Girard and the doll-makers.  

What happens to the dolls after that?

"That's the big question," said Girard.  

They belong to the people who made them, but Girard hopes they can find a home somewhere, together.

"Because they're like a big family now ... it will be sad to split them."

These dolls are hitting the road, for public events in Haines Junction on Saturday, and Dawson City and Whitehorse later this fall. (Claudiane Samson/CBC)

With files from Claudiane Samson and Roch Shannon Fraser


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