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Vintage sealskin parka left in Edmonton Goodwill donation bin: ‘It’s a rarity’

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WATCH ABOVE: Goodwill receives all kinds of unique donations but this may be their most interesting find yet. Sarah Ryan explains. – Jan 7, 2020

The Whyte Avenue Goodwill store in Edmonton is trying to find the owner of a sealskin coat — which they found in their after-hours bin last week.

Goodwill Industries Alberta marketing manager Doug Roxburgh said when the parka was discovered, they immediately knew it was special.

“We recognized it had extreme cultural significance,” he said.

“This is an item that usually doesn’t get donated, and may very well have been donated by accident. It may have come from an estate sale, or it could have been buried in a box and someone didn’t realize,” Roxburgh explained.

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A sealskin coat donated to the Whyte Avenue Goodwill store in Edmonton, Alta.
A sealskin coat donated to the Whyte Avenue Goodwill store in Edmonton, Alta. Supplied

Staff got to work trying to learn more about the unique find.

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“We found it, sourced it, researched it and realized this is just one of those items that has too much cultural significance for us, as we want to represent our community of Alberta — and this was traced right back to the Northwest Territories.”

Based on the tag, they found the parka was made by the Holman Eskimo Co-operative and would likely have been made in the 1960s or 70s.

Joanne Ogina is the business officer for the hamlet of Ulukhaktok, N.W.T., where the co-op was located.

When she saw photos of the jacket on Facebook, it took her back in time.

“It brought many memories of sitting beside my grandmother and watching her sew — and my mother too,” Ogina said.

She recalled sewing dolls and stuffed animals herself, starting around the age of eight.

“Every week, the ladies would go there — and the young girls — and see what was on the orders list and see what they could take home to sew. The co-op provided all the material. It was up to the ladies to cut them out at home and put them together and return them to the co-op.”

The job paid well, one of few sources of income in the isolated community, located nearly 1,000 kilometres north of Yellowknife.

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Even in Ulukhaktok, Ogina says it’s rare to see a sealskin coat today — only toddlers wear them.

“It does have a lot of cultural significance because a lot of these jackets were made by our older elders, who put so much time and many stitches into them. They were all handmade.”

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The Holman Co-op, which remains a hub in Ulukhaktok, is trying to help Goodwill find the artist who might have made this particular parka, as women often added their personal design to the bottom of the jacket.

“We get unique items all the time. I have to say this is probably near the top of the list. This particular item, because of its cultural significance — you don’t see these very often. It’s a rarity.”

A sealskin coat donated to the Whyte Avenue Goodwill store in Edmonton, Alta.
A sealskin coat donated to the Whyte Avenue Goodwill store in Edmonton, Alta. Supplied

Goodwill shared their find on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram hoping to learn even more about the traditional coat, which just so happens to be in great condition.

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“We have had a number of people reach out, from Edmonton to Calgary, right up to the Northwest Territories and Yukon — even Manitoba and Ontario,” Roxburgh said.

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Roxburgh said the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre in Yellowknife, N.W.T. was helpful in providing some history on the parka, but it wouldn’t be a potential home for the piece.

The government-run museum said they aren’t accepting any more of these particular jackets, as they already have too many.

A sealskin coat donated to the Whyte Avenue Goodwill store in Edmonton, Alta.
A sealskin coat donated to the Whyte Avenue Goodwill store in Edmonton, Alta. Supplied

Now, Goodwill is looking for another museum to help preserve the jacket.

“While we could sell it, while we could raise more funds for people with disabilities in helping them find gainful employment — at the end of the day, it’s about doing what’s right, and this is what’s right.”

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