A crate filled with precious handmade artifacts from Taloyoak, Nunavut, has been missing for nearly a year, leaving behind a trail of uncertainty about where it disappeared and how. These valuable items, dating back 50 years, are tied to the history of the Arnaqarvik collective, which was founded by a group of women in Taloyoak.
The missing artifacts were intended to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of this remarkable collective’s inception. The items were shipped to Taloyoak for the occasion and then sent back south to the Ontario home of one of Arnaqarvik’s co-founders, Judy McGrath.
However, the mystery unfolds upon their return to Ottawa, as one of the four crates never reached Judy McGrath. Among the missing treasures is a large embroidered blanket that holds special significance. It was created using sample embroidery from each woman involved in the project, with their names embroidered in syllabics.
Judy McGrath, who was a part of Arnaqarvik’s early days, is deeply saddened by the loss of the crate, particularly the blanket. “I’m heartsick over the missing crate, especially the large embroidered blanket which was made of sample embroidery from every woman working on the project and included their names embroidered in syllabics,” McGrath expressed.
In 1971, Judy McGrath moved to Taloyoak (then known as Spence Bay) with her husband, who was posted there as an economic development officer for the Northwest Territories. During her time in Taloyoak, she and Arnoyak Alookee worked together to create a line of fashion and other arts and crafts, including dolls. Their creations transcended the North-South divide and garnered attention as far away as New York.
Over the years, Judy McGrath collected numerous works from Arnaqarvik, preserving the legacy of this collective. Today, the Arnaqarvik project, which is now available online, is a collaboration between Cambridge Bay’s Pitquhirnikkut Ilihautiniq/Kitikmeot Heritage Society and two of the original collective’s founders, Judy McGrath and Arnoyak Alookee, to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the Taloyoak women’s craft movement.
The missing blanket, which was a cherished part of Judy McGrath’s collection, had a special story. “My husband John had to leave Taloyoak before I did, so the women made the sampler into a lined blanket and gave it to him to keep him warm and so he would remember all of them,” McGrath recalled.
The blanket and other items were meant to be part of a traveling exhibition. However, the crate containing these invaluable pieces mysteriously disappeared between its shipment from Ottawa and the courier truck heading to Pakenham, Ontario, during the return from Taloyoak.
Brendan Griebel, the historic society’s manager of collections and archives, conducted an investigation and discovered that an employee at the Canadian North warehouse in Ottawa distinctly remembered handing over all four crates to Purolator.
However, Purolator’s senior manager of corporate communications, Courtney Reistetter, recently stated that their internal investigation did not yield conclusive evidence that the shipment had ever been picked up and processed through their system. Reistetter explained that when a shipment is created in Purolator’s system, a parcel identification number (PIN) is generated, and a pickup scan is applied when the courier takes possession of the item. Unfortunately, there were no records of scans in their system for the missing cargo, indicating that Purolator had never taken possession of the items.
The Pitquhirnikkut Ilihautiniq/Kitikmeot Heritage Society is seeking any assistance in locating these missing artifacts, which are viewable on the Arnaqarvik website. If you have any information about the artworks’ whereabouts, you can contact the Pitquhirnikkut Ilihautiniq/Kitikmeot Heritage Society.
This unfortunate incident underscores the importance of preserving and safeguarding cultural artifacts and the need for diligence in their transportation and handling to ensure their protection for future generations.