Quilts from across Canada will soon reach residents of the Northwest Territories communities of Enterprise, the Kátł’odeeche First Nation and Hay River. 

Some residents of those communities escaped with little more than their lives when a wildfire tore through the N.W.T.’s South Slave region on August 13, destroying homes and businesses.

In the aftermath, Enterprise deputy mayor Sandra McMaster and husband Craig returned to a community totally changed.

“Words don’t describe it,” said Craig. “It’s all changed. Every window you look out of is completely different.”

The couple returned to find their home was one of the few left standing in Enterprise, while the place their three grandchildren once called home is gone.

“There’s nothing there. It’s just a pile of nothing,” said Sandra of her grandchildren’s home. “We just see it from the road. It’s devastating.”

Among the many things lost in the fire are quilts Sandra made for her grandchildren, aged eight, 12, and 17.

“They lost their beautiful quilts that I made for them,” she said.

Following that discovery, Sandra came up with the idea of distributing quilts as a way to support neighbours, friends, and family who lost everything. 

The plan is to get quilts to residents over the coming months, and especially the period leading up to Christmas. She has three queen and king-size quilts earmarked for the cause. Each one took her more than 55 hours to make.

“I want to do it for everybody. They’ve all been through so much and they deserve some comfort,” she said. “It’d be nice to see their eyes light up, to get a brand-new quilt.”

Sandra has enlisted the quilting community’s help – or “reaching out to all my best friends that don’t even know me,” as she calls it, asking for quilt donations to northern residents.

Since her callout, quilts are coming in from as far as Edmonton, Toronto and even Prescott, Ontario. The initiative reached the inbox of Watergirl Quilt Co., a Prescott-based quilt shop, which quickly decided to help.

The company will host a charity sewing event on October 4, where 10 volunteers are invited to get together and sew quilts for northerners.

“We hope that the residents will feel the warmth of a hug when they wrap themselves in the quilts,” wrote Watergirl Quilt Co. owner Michelle Peters in an email to Cabin Radio. “We hope that, with this gesture of a quilt made with loving care, residents will gather strength from our support.”

In collaboration with another quilt store, Quilty Pleasures, Peters hopes to donate 25 quilts in total.

Hay River resident Rita Schamehorn Kovatch says she has joined Sandra’s cause, collecting quilts to distribute. 

A Fort McMurray resident from Hay River, Jolleen Pick saw Kovatch’s Facebook post requesting quilts and decided to donate three.

She hopes residents who receive her quilts will “feel like maybe everything is not lost and it can start again and rebuild – everything will be alright.”

Pick learned to quilt as an adult after watching her grandmother make them when she was young. “My grandmother made quilts and it was always interesting to me,” said Pick. “She passed away before I was old enough to learn from her.”

Sandra hopes to pass on the skill and passion to her grandchildren, who she says enjoy selecting the design and fabric for the quilts she makes.

“When you start quilting, it’s like everything else leaves your mind and you’re just concentrating on the quilt,” she said. “It just helps so much more to take your mind off everything else that is going on in the world, and it puts you in a happier spot.”

Quilts gifted to friends and family are long-treasured, Sandra said.

“I have a picture of my grandson and he’s curled up on the floor in his quilt,” she said.

“He was all curled up in his beautiful quilt with black bears on the back of it. They’re just precious.”

One of the quilts Sandra plans to donate is decorated with stars.

“That’s what I say: You’ll be able to sleep underneath the stars,” she said. “And it’s just beautiful.”

By Simona Rosenfield, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Oct 01, 2023

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