With a long tradition of supporting their community through hard times, the northern quilting community has banded together once again to help neighbours n need.

A hundred quilts were already distributed to Northwest Territories residents who lost their homes in this summer’s wildfires and also, as a thank-you, to fire-hit Hay River’s fire department. 

Now, 100 more will reach more residents affected by disasters.

Quilters, organizations and teachers have worked together to collect, make and share quilts.

The Yellowknife Quilters’ Guild, which recently shipped 90 lbs of quilts to the South Slave, has a new focus – residents of the Yellowknife townhomes that burned down earlier in October, as well as Behchokǫ̀ residents who lost their homes to the summer’s wildfires.

“It’s all about creating something that somebody else will get years of enjoyment out of and feel some comfort,” said Linda Whitford, a member of the guild. 

“That’s basically what everybody’s motivation is. [It] lets people know that they’re not forgotten.”

Recent disasters hit close to home – Whitford remembers losing everything but a single glass dish when Hay River flooded in 1963. 

When a friend lost her home to a fire years ago, Whitford made the friend’s son a quilt and told him: “Everybody starts over from nowhere at some point. If you’ve got to start over, here’s something to help you get started.”

In Hay River, Rita Kovatch stacked a shipment of quilts from Yellowknife in her living room, then allowed residents who are starting over to select their favourite one.

“When I called those young families and they came here to get their quilts, some of them were crying because they had nothing left,” Kovatch said. 

“I wanted them to pick the quilt that they loved. And to witness that happening in my living room… they went through every single quilt.”

Kovatch set aside some quilts to thank Hay River firefighters. Fire chief Travis Wright says 22 of the 24 town firefighters that fought wildfires this summer are volunteers.

“Every single firefighter on the Hay River Fire Department got one,” said Kovatch. “Hay River was mainly saved by them… they basically surrounded Hay River and kept that fire from Hay River burning to the ground.”

The department has received multiple gestures of thanks and appreciation from residents, Wright said.

“It’s really nice that the residents are saying thank-you for the hard work that everyone’s put in,” said Wright. “I think the group really appreciates it.”

Wright invited his wife to come select his quilt, which they will gift to their baby, who’s due in January.

Kovatch said a network of quilters from Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Ontario and Alberta all contributed. She knows how to coordinate that kind of effort, having spent the past 20 years distributing quilts to residents in palliative care.

Once all residents affected by fire or flood have a quilt, Kovatch says her next focus will be seniors, residents in long-term care, and those without a home.

“All quilts are made with love and when you give them to somebody, it’s like wrapping them in a hug,” said Kovatch. “I’m happy to be able to do that.”

Quilts are also en route to Enterprise residents who lost their homes in August’s wildfire.

“Children’s quilts are in the mail and more to come in two weeks,” wrote Enterprise deputy mayor Sandra McMaster, who has been collecting quilts for her community. “It’s exciting to go to the mail.”

Whitford said her love of gifting quilts comes from her family.

“I’m influenced heavily by my grandparents and they were very caring, giving people,” said Whitford, describing her own grandmother’s generosity with her quilts.

Kovatch said community is central to her quilting – from mentoring people who want to learn the craft, to gifting quilts in her community, to attending quilting retreats with others.

“Something really awesome happens when you get a group of ladies together to share not just the love of quilting, but the love of family,” said Kovatch. 

“It’s just beautiful when you have women that come together and share their love of quilting and friendship.”

By Simona Rosenfield, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Oct 30, 2023 at 06:00

This item reprinted with permission from   Cabin Radio   Yellowknife, NorthWest Territories