NNSL Photo/Graphic

Canadian North

Home page text size buttonsbigger textsmall textText size Email this articleE-mail this page

Woman donates 100-year-old aboriginal items to museum
Items came from her missionary parents who lived in the North during the early 1900s

Miranda Scotland
Northern News Services
Published Saturday, Aug. 4, 2012

Peering through a glass case at a collection of aboriginal-made goods, tears well in Gwen Tremain Runyard's eyes as she realizes the items she treasured as a child will be preserved for future generations.

NNSL photo/graphic

Gwen Tremain Runyard, right, came to see the aboriginal goods she donated to the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre, including 100-year-old moose hide jackets. Standing with her is her son John Runyard, middle, and director of the museum, Barbara Cameron. - photo courtesy of the GNWT department of education, culture and employment

Since 1989 Runyard has donated 12 aboriginal-made items to the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre, including 100-year-old moose hide jackets, moccasins and a porcupine quill belt.

The collection was put on display in June and last month Runyard, who lives in California, came to Yellowknife to see it for the first time.

"To think that theyíre going to be here in order and looked after, itís beyond words," she said with emotion in her voice. "Itís just wonderful, absolutely wonderful. All my stuff is right there, all of it."

Runyard inherited the collection from her English-born missionary parents, Rev. Walter and Lottie Tremain. The family was stationed in Fort Norman, now Tulita, and later Fort Simpson from 1914 to 1919. Later they moved back to England and then to New Zealand where Runyard was born.

Runyard said her parents had a strong connection to the people in the North and when they left they were given many parting gifts. Growing up Runyardís mother would tell her stories about the items and the people she got them from.

Her motherís favourite present, Runyard said, was 20 pairs of moccasins.

Back in England, people would say she would never get into her shoes again if she kept wearing the moccasins but she never listened, Runyard said.

"She wore her moccasins and loved them," Runyard said. "She said, ĎI really should save them for posterity you know.í So she took two pair and put them aside very, very unhappily but she knew she had to do that. Thatís why thereís even two pair (in the collection)."

The exhibit also features photographs of the areas, taken by Lottie Tremain between 1914 and 1919, moose hide and velvet mittens, a model-sized canoe, toboggan, snowshoe, an ice scoop, and a baby rattle.

There is also a strange addition to the exhibit: a velvet shelf valance with a daffodil embroidered on it. An aboriginal woman, who had never seen a daffodil since they donít grow near the Arctic Circle, made the piece, Runyard said. The woman created the valance after seeing a picture in one of her motherís copies of Mission House magazine.

Joanne Bird, curator of collections, said the museum was thrilled when they received the collection and was amazed at how well taken care of it was.

"It's all in lovely condition. One of the things that I find really interesting is that the pieces came out of the North, they went to England, they came back to California, they got played with by children and they're still in really good shape," Bird said. "So that's pretty amazing."

Runyard said she loves all the aboriginal pieces but her favourite item her parents brought back with them from the North was a sling used to carry babies. Runyard loved it so much that visitors wonít find it in the collection.

"I used it to death, I guess. But, everything I love," she said. "Everything has its own place."

E-mailWe welcome your opinions. Click here to e-mail a letter to the editor.