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Explorer’s Journal: Hockey love in Arctic style

People in Pond Inlet, Nunavut, use specialized sewing skills to celebrate the teams they love.

Nina Kautuq goes everywhere with her sealskin Oiler’s bag.

Nina Kautuq goes everywhere with her sealskin Oiler’s bag. (Eric Guth)

My first clue to the hockey obsession of this town was Nina’s bag, which is handmade from sealskin and decorated with an Edmonton Oilers badge.

Once I clued in, I realized the community was peppered with mittens, hats, parkas, and kamiks (sealskin boots), often handmade, that celebrate what some in Canada simply call “the game.”

At the local flea market, writer Jennifer Kingsley stands with Erica Koonark to publicize the photo shoot.

At the local flea market, writer Jennifer Kingsley stands with Erica Koonark to publicize the photo shoot. (Eric Guth)

Hockey is popular all over this country, but places like Pond Inlet, at the northern tip of Baffin Island in the Canadian Arctic, are most often associated—for a southern audience at least—with hunting, snowmobiles, and seal meat. Not with the national winter sport.

To celebrate hockey and showcase the beautiful clothing these fans wear, we invited everyone to a portrait session at the edge of town.

All afternoon, with the mountains of Bylot Island in the background, we greeted people and tried to capture their love for the game. We wanted to showcase the clothing, and, more importantly, share an aspect of Arctic life that most southerners don’t see. There are many, many things that make this community tick – including hockey!

With the Stanley Cup playoffs in full swing, fans all over the continent are gathering to watch the games. The north is full of fans too, and here are a few, cheering for their teams, Arctic style.

Elizabeth Inuaraq made these hockey jerseys – Montreal Candiens (left) and retro Vancouver Canuck (right) – for her sons Tony and Jack.

Photo by Eric Guth.

Elizabeth Inuaraq made these hockey jerseys – Montreal Candiens (left) and retro Vancouver Canuck (right) – for her sons Tony and Jack.

 Lily Idlout, Sherry Saunders and Jaypeedy show off their homemade Montreal Canadiens parkas.

Photo by Eric Guth

Lily Idlout, Sherry Saunders and Jaypeedy show off their homemade Montreal Canadiens parkas.

Simon Sangoya has a custom Oilers parka made by Tapisa Koonoo and a hat to match.

Photo by Eric Guth

Simon Sangoya has a custom Oilers parka made by Tapisa Koonoo and a hat to match.

Louisa Amarnalik shows off her Maple Leafs amauti that she made herself.

Photo by Eric Guth.

Louisa Amarnalik visited Toronto in 1985. “I’m not a hockey fan,” she said, “I just sew.” She has used this Maple Leafs amauti many times to keep her warm and to carry children on her back.

Nina Kautuq’s signed Jordan Eberle jersey was a very special gift from the Edmonton Oilers themselves.

Photo by Eric Guth.

Lots of people wear a combination of store bought and homemade fan wear. Nina Kautuq’s signed Jordan Eberle jersey was a very special gift from the Edmonton Oilers themselves.

Toronto Maple Leafs key, keychain, and tiny handmade kamiks in team colours.

Photo by Eric Guth.

Accessorize! Robie Aglak wears Toronto Maple Leafs from head to toe, but it’s these details – key, keychain, and tiny handmade kamiks in team colours – that really set the whole thing off.

Kirt Pitseolak with his jersey, stick and sealskin mitts.

Photo by Eric Guth.

Kirt Pitseolak with his jersey, stick and sealskin mitts. Express your style!

Thank you to the people of Pond Inlet who participated in this day and who welcomed us to the community.


This article was first published in the Explorer’s Journal at National Geographic on May 19, 2017.

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