It’s hard to imagine how remote Pond Inlet is until you land in its Starbucks-sized airport.
A three-hour flight north of Iqaluit (which is already three hours from Ottawa), the tiny Nunavut community of 1,600 people sits on the northern tip of Baffin Island amongst vast nothingness; the next settlement is 250 undrivable kilometres away. The tundra’s otherworldly green is visible in all directions, baby icebergs idle in the milky-blue waters, and primary-hued dwellings emerge between a blink-and-you-miss-it gap in the mountain ranges.
And then there’s the cold: During the winter, and its 24 hours of total darkness, the wind chills often dip to -50 C for weeks on end. And so, on the backs of four-wheelers and along the muddied, late-summer streets that wind toward the shores of Eclipse Sound, the primarily Inuit locals sport hand-fashioned coats designed to endure the conditions.
These coats are the reason Toronto-based outerwear purveyor Canada Goose is in town for the day. The brand’s Resource Centre Program, a project in partnership with northern airline First Air, works alongside community leaders to donate discontinued materials, surplus fabrics, buttons and zippers to residents of northern communities. The initiative began back in 2007 when Meeka Atagootak and Rebecca Kiliktee, two sewers from Pond Inlet, were invited by the brand to Toronto to create a commemorative coat. While the pair were touring the Canada Goose facilities, they spotted post-production scrap material and asked if they could bring fabric home to create their own coats. The request evolved into this project, the aim of which is not to outfit the locals in retail-ready parkas (the climate here demands something beyond what Canada Goose produces), but rather offer traditional sewers and craftspeople the opportunity to assemble their own iterations befitting of the environment.
When the more than 10,000 metres of fabric arrive at the local community centre, there’s already a snaking line out the door. The excitement is palpable as some 200 women eagerly eye the material that is normally unavailable to them. According to Stats Canada, nearly 50 per cent of the population’s total income is less than $20,000, and in a place where a small box of cereal costs more than $13, that doesn’t leave much for the parka-appropriate fabric that sells for $17 a yard in the co-op.
The scene spans multiple generations: Grandmothers squeal “Yes!” when they spot a particular pattern, while young mothers, carrying little ones in traditional amauti — a parka with a pouch built in the back — shepherd their eldest children around the abounding fold-out tables.
For Canada Goose’s CEO, Dani Reiss, the nearly 10-year old program that’s served seven hamlets is about establishing meaningful alliances with the locals. “It’s important for us to stay connected with these communities,” he says on the ground in Pond Inlet following the donation event. “I think this is a really great way of doing that: Giving them materials they wouldn’t otherwise have access to, to create their own products for their own drive and culture.”
Talented, resourceful women such as Killiktee are common in Pond Inlet. Jessica, a shy 23-year-old who learned to sew under her mother’s guidance, as is the case with many of the women here, tells me that she’s scooped up some fabric to create a coat for her 5-year-old daughter. Another woman carries her share of a reflective, snowflake-printed fabric and notes that in just two days she’ll be able to produce outerwear for her own young daughters.
While it only takes 15 minutes for the textiles to be completely cleaned out, the material is not taken lightly. Nothing is thrown away here; leftover scraps are fashioned into tents and thin, summer-appropriate jackets. If one’s haul yields some extra material, says one local, she’ll share it with her neighbours, or maybe sew something for her at no charge. It’s the kind of community-minded outlook that allows this tiny hamlet to thrive in one of nature’s most beautiful and rugged locations.
Pond Inlet native Apphia Killiktee, who has handmade seven coats for friends and family this year alone, says being able to customize her handiwork from top to bottom is key. She shows me a zipper-less, pull-over-style parka that she crafted for her 39-year-old son, Kane. The minimalist black piece extends past the knee and gains its windproof quality from a double layer of an insulating fibre called Hollofil (down doesn’t provide enough warmth in these parts, Killiktee explains). It’s outfitted with reflectors for visibility and a big pocket across the belly that holds a radio and flashlight — all necessities required by the many dark months of winter.
“It’s made out of love, I guess,” she says with a smile.
Travel and accommodations for Jillian Vieira were provided by Canada Goose. Canada Goose did not review or approve this article.