Paddling Home: The return of a traditional kayak

The Paddling Home Program was designed to facilitate the return of a historic Copper Inuit kayak to its home community of Kugluktuk.

A ‘mystery’ Kayak

In the spring of 2014, the Kitikmeot Heritage Society was contacted by Lola Baydala, an Edmonton woman who was seeking information about an old Inuit kayak stored in the basement of her parents’ house. We requested photos of the boat so that we could help assess the boat’s condition and identify the general region, time-period and construction style to which it belonged. When these images were presented to us, we were surprised to discover that the boat was made of caribou skins, in very good condition, and almost certainly belonged to an Inuinnait  style of construction. In further interviews with Lola, she indicated that her parents knew nothing about the boat’s history—it had been in the basement when they moved into the house in 1971—and were willing to donate the boat if its original home could be found.

After research into Edmonton municipal records, we located the name of the house’s previous owner and contacted him regarding the story of the kayak. The kayak and an accompanying set of copper lances were originally purchased for $700 from a Hudson Bay Company store in Edmonton in the late 1960s, where they were being used as a display accompanying soapstone carvings from the Central Arctic. The boat had been sourced years earlier by HBC directly from the Arctic. The kayak’s new owner took the boat back to his house in Edmonton, where he had to have carpenter’s remove a large window well to fit the boat into his basement. Not wanting to repeat this carpentry work, he simply left the boat in place when he moved several years later.

Through close work with the Kugluktuk Visitor Heritage Centre, we were able to determine that the boat originally came from that community.

Bringing the Kayak home

In the summer of 2015, the KHS extracted the kayak from the basement of the Edmonton home with the help of conservator Margot Brunn and carpenter Gordon Baergen.  The KHS constructed a specialized, 20-foot long shipping crate for the boat, which was flown back to Kugluktuk. Working with Yellowknife carpenter, William Leard, the KHS has designed a special environmentally controlled exhibit case for the kayak. We are currently working to mount the entire display as a next exhibit for the Kugluktuk Visitor Heritage Centre.

For more information about this great program, please visit the below press and media links:

Nunavut Kayak – 1:41:30
CBC As It Happens (2015)

‘Mystery’ Inuit Kayak is Finally Going Home
National Post (2015) 

Project Sponsors

This project would not have been possible without the hard work of Kugluktuk Visitor Heritage Centre staff and the generous support of Buffalo Airways and the Nunavut Department of Culture and Heritage.