A Hometown Hero’s welcome in Ottawa

Article / February 4, 2020 / Project number: 20-0016

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By Lisa Nault, Army Public Affairs

Ottawa, Ontario —Inuk Elder, Qapik Attagutsiak, was recognized as a Parks Canada Hometown Hero at the Canadian Museum of History.  The Elder was commemorated for collecting bones in the Canadian Arctic during the Second World War.  The bones were then sent to southern Canada to make ammunition, fertilizer and aircraft glue to support Canada’s war efforts. 

Now close to 100 years-old, Qapik addressed the audience of distinguished guests that included her extended family, local school children, and government officials.  With the help of one of her daughters to translate, she recounted how it felt living in Igloolik, in the Eastern Arctic, during the time of the war.     

“It seemed very terrifying at the time. We had heard rumours about the war that would be happening, but then it became so true when the boats started coming in and they were bringing burlap bags.”

Qapik and many other community members, from what is now a part of Nunavut, scavenged animal carcasses and placed them in these burlap sacks for transport.

It is thought that Qapik is the last living person to have participated in this untold story from Canada’s history.

In attendance at the ceremony, Major-General Derek Macaulay, Deputy Commander, Canadian Army thanked Qapik. He noted that securing allied victory in the Second World War was an enormous undertaking and how important it is to acknowledge those who contributed right here at home in the shipyards, factories, kitchens and Canada’s Arctic.

MGen Macaulay also shared another unique connection between Qapik and the Canadian Army.

“The war ended in 1945 but the requirement to protect our country did not.  And such a duty is not always easy given our vast geography,” he said. “In 1947, the Canadian Rangers were created as a military presence to patrol the isolated regions of Canada. One of the founding members was none other than Qapik’s husband.”

Today, the Rangers are a force of roughly 5,000 members that work collaboratively with soldiers from across Canada. Qapik’s message of the day was the spirit behind these relationships. 

“Even during the war effort, when we were collecting bones,” she remembers. “We had to work together. It was scary for all of us, for the whole community. But we had to help each other.”

This is a belief that she shares and holds true to this very day. 

“Embracing to help each other, that is hope. We help each other, we are there for each other,” says Qapik. “So my message is, do not give up.”

The Hometown Heroes event that honoured Qapik included lighting of the Qulliq, a traditional oil lamp used by Inuk people, a welcome to traditional lands by Elder Simon Brascoupé, dancing by students of Ottawa’s Nunavut Sivuniksavut school, and throat singing by one of Qapik’s great-granddaughters. 

The Canadian Armed Forces band played a special selection, including one of the elder’s favourites: square dancing music. Qapik was presented with a story panel that illustrates this part of her legacy that can now be shared with Canadian generations to come. 

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