Hay River artist looks to the North

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Hay River's April Glaicar explores the hills above Ulukhaktok on Victoria Island in July 2017 during phase one of her art project called 'Our True North', which features Ulukhaktok and Sachs Harbour. The results of that project - photos and glass art - will be presented to residents of Hay River on May 6. Photo courtesy of April Glaicar
Hay River’s April Glaicar explores the hills above Ulukhaktok on Victoria Island in July 2017 during phase one of her art project called ‘Our True North’, which features Ulukhaktok and Sachs Harbour. The results of that project – photos and glass art – will be presented to residents of Hay River on May 6.
Photo courtesy of April Glaicar

A Hay River artist has been working for two years on a project to give Canadians a look at Northern life that most may never have seen before.

The project by April Glaicar is called Our True North.

“It’s celebrating the Northern communities of Sachs Harbour and Ulukhaktok, formerly Holman, as they were in July of 2017,” said Glaicar. “A bit of a visual time capsule, which I wanted to correspond with Canada’s 150th.”

She explained she thought it would be interesting for Canadians to be able to see the real North.

“When people think of Canada, they think North, but there’s a whole other part of the North that people don’t get much opportunity to see, and I wanted to record some things for other Canadians and anybody in the world to see – images and stories of this life,” she said.

So in late July of 2017, she spent eight days between the two communities – the most northerly settlements in the NWT.

The photography part of the project features landscapes, plants, people, buildings and more.

“It’s a little bit eclectic, the mix,” said Glaicar. “A lot of stories and a lot of personal story connections came of it.”

The now-finished exhibit features over 60 photos and eight glass art pieces, which have been inspired by some of the photos.

Glaicar returned to Sachs Harbour and Ulukhaktok from April 8-15 to present the exhibit to the communities.

“It was very important to me that I return to the communities and share it with the people who opened their life stories and their homes to me,” she said, adding she was very pleased with the positive reactions.

The exhibit will also be opening at NWT Centennial Library on May 6 at 7 p.m. and will be displayed throughout May. Glaicar will be on hand at the opening to talk about the project.

For Glaicar, personal connections to Sachs Harbour and Ulukhaktok led to the project.

“It connected dots for me personally along the process,” she said.

One of those connections was a friendship 50 years ago between her parents and a couple who had moved to Hay River from Sachs Harbour.

“I saw pictures of them,” she said, noting that created curiosity about the couple’s home community.

While doing the art project, Glaicar actually visited the grave of the man from Sachs Harbour man, who was the best man at her parents’ wedding.

“But the seed for the project actually was planted when I was five years old,” she said. “We were living in Inuvik and I went to a drum dance and fell in love with the parkas, the sunburst parka hoods from the region, and for my entire life have the picture in my mind of that parka and the hood.”

Then in 2016 Glaicar brought her art to the Great Northern Arts Festival in Inuvik and met some artists from Sachs Harbour and Ulukhaktok.

“That sealed it for me,” she said. “I vowed that summer I was going to do this project. I wasn’t going to think about it anymore. I was going to do it.”

So in July of 2017 she travelled to the two communities without telling anyone there what she was planning.

“I landed boots on the ground and met people as the encounter happened,” she said. “And that’s one of the things you have to learn with anything creative, you just have to go with it. Sometimes it’s not for you to plan. It just happens.”

Glaicar said the people were curious about what she was doing, sometimes wondering whether she was with the government or a scientist or a consultant before being told she was an artist.

“I think initially they were a little surprised because it’s a tough trip to do,” she noted, adding they were welcoming and happy to see someone take an interest in the day-to-day life of their communities.

Glaicar found the people to be beautiful, resilient and resourceful, and with a special history.

“That’s exactly what I’m hoping to share is something that I was blessed really to experience,” she said.

Glaicar noted that she was sometimes invited for tea, while also being advised to watch for polar bears.

On her last day of photography in Sachs Harbour, hunters returned with a beluga whale and the whole community gathered on the beach.

“To stand on the beach while they’re harvesting up a beluga whale was a great honour,” she said.

Glaicar hopes to take the exhibit to some other communities, such as Fort Smith, Inuvik and Yellowknife, and she will also be putting it online.

“Eventually, I’d like to see it as an exhibit in one place where many people could see it,” she said.

Glaicar noted that Our True North was supported by the NWT Arts Council, but about 80 per cent of the project was self-funded.

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