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Rajiv Rawat shared this photo of the Rawat and Lee families at a stained glass workshop.

Artsy northerners get creative during their evacuation

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As I evacuated from Yellowknife to Edzo and Fort Simpson then back again, I collected broken glass, ceramics and other odds and ends I found along the way.

You may look at the photo below and think, “That looks like a pile of garbage” – and, dear reader, you would be correct – but maybe they’re also craft supplies?

I’ve been gathering these items with the hopes of creating some type of art piece, perhaps a found-object mosaic. (I’ve also been saving plastic bottle caps and pop tabs for the past year, like a garbage-hoarding squirrel with crafty ambitions.)

A collection of glass, ceramic pieces and other odds and ends collected during the evacuation from Yellowknife. Emily Blake/Cabin Radio

My own artistic aspirations made me wonder how many other evacuees have been making what I like to call evacu-art while away from home, or have been inspired for a future art, music or writing project.

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I put the call out and several northerners shared the beautiful things they’ve made, and the stories behind them.

From stunning beadwork to ceramics and the most fantastic pair of moccasins I’ve ever seen, here are the creative projects some evacuees are working on.

Sara Komarnisky

Sara Komarnisky grabbed her sketchbook and watercolour paints before evacuating Yellowknife and has been painting along the journey.

“I can’t call myself an artist but I like to paint,” she said. “I started bringing it on vacations and stuff like that, just to document what we’re doing in a way.”

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Sara is planning to use the art she has made, along with art and written submissions from other evacuees, to create a zine on the collective experience. Once it’s completed, she said she’ll likely place copies in little free libraries around the city, similar to Collective Nouns, a project by Sarah Swan and Mike Mitchell.

“It’s a different way to reflect on this experience,” she said.

“I just hope it’ll be like a memento or something for Yellowknifers to have and remember.”

Sara pointed to the post-apocalyptic novel Station Eleven, in which travelling actors performing Shakespeare adopt the motto “because survival is insufficient,” itself a quote from a Star Trek episode. One of the book’s themes, Sara said, is highlighting the importance of art during tough times, to share experiences and cope.

“That’s part of it for me, too,” she said.

Anyone interested in contributing to her project can send submissions to Sara on Facebook or by email.

Paintings by Sara Komarnisky during her evacuation journey.

Qillulaaq Arngna’naaq

“I evacuated to Inuvik and stopped by Just Raven to look at some of the beautiful supplies,” Qillulaaq wrote.

“I was inspired by some of the fall colours on the tundra to start beading for the first time since I had my son two years ago, and haven’t been able to stop. Redirecting my anxiety into making pretty things has been helpful.” 

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Necklaces Qillulaaq Arngna’naaq has beaded since leaving Yellowknife.

Kaye Keenan

Kaye Keenan made an NWT Strong pattern out of dollar-store cross-stitch kits, to make the project accessible for people who may not have their own craft supplies handy.

“This free pattern is dedicated to my fellow Northwest Territories evacuees from the fires we are facing during summer 2023,” Kaye wrote on Instagram.

You can find the pattern, and more of Kaye’s work, on Ko-fi. She also has an Etsy shop.

A detail from Kaye Keenan’s NWT Strong cross-stitch pattern.
A digital image of Kaye Keenan’s NWT Strong cross-stitch pattern.

Rajiv Rawat

“My wife, Monique Robitaille, was able to arrange a stained glass workshop with acclaimed Lac La Biche artist Noëlla Somerville,” Rajiv Rawat wrote.

“Our family (two daughters, Aenea Rawat and Sunara Rawat) and another family – Candace Lee, Imogen Lee and Elinor Lee – participated.”

Mushrooms and birds and cats, oh my! Rajiv Rawat shared a photo of the Rawat family’s stained glass creations.

Heather Seltzer

“I finished this awesome pair of slippers for my boyfriend who stayed behind in Yellowknife during the evacuation,” Heather wrote.

“And yes… that is Deadpool riding a unicorn.”

Moccasins Heather Seltzer made for her partner during the evacuation.

Katie Ades

“I made a new beaded butterfly brooch design during evacuation as a thank-you to both my cousin, who has kindly hosted my cats and I for the entirety of the evacuation, and my aunt, for suggesting her when I asked around the family for anyone in Edmonton who might have space for me and my two cats,” Katie wrote.

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“I call them the Sun-and-Fire (for cousin Sandy) and Moon-and-Water (for aunt Marilyn). Both can be devastating forces – I mean the elements in this case, not my family, but that’s true too – but we will always persevere.”

Katie continued: “As much as the evacuation has been a trying and stressful event, for me, my cousin Sandy is a silver lining. I met my first cousin, once removed on my father’s side for the first time after 26 hours in a car. She is a lovely, funny, and brilliant woman who welcomed me, a stranger (with blood ties yes, but still a stranger) and two traumatized cats, into her life and her home without question and a lot of love.

“I am grateful to have had this chance to meet her and some of her amazing extended family. They and my friends made this experience so much better than it otherwise would have been. Thank you, Sandy!”

Katie submitted this photo of a beaded butterfly brooch she made during evacuation.
Katie submitted this photo of a beaded butterfly brooch she made during evacuation.

Catherine Fairbairn

“I was lucky enough to be able to spend the evacuation with my parents in Kamloops, and my mom has a beautiful little pottery studio in the basement,” Catherine wrote.

“Inspired by Yellowknife and things I’d seen on my trip (I was on holiday when this started), I decided to try something new! I am making wall tiles to put in little hanging shadow boxes.”

Tiles Catherine Fairbairn made before they were glaze-fired.

Corey Francis

Corey Francis wrote this poem on September 1.

Our Home

Our city, sat quiet, awaiting its fate
Empty, evacuated, an Emergent state
No cars on the roads, meaninglessly moving in line
It should be back to normal – 23 / 09 / 9.

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The days are all blended. A whitewash of delusion
They’ll have us race home, a state of intrusive confusion
To a land that’s still burning…and aching…in pain
Is it to early?! Is it all done in vain?!

All the push to return, to a place so empty and cold
But the protection of all that we love and behold?
Mother Earth is just shedding her centurial skin
To cleans all the hurt, Saipan’s brought in

I yearned to be home, to our comforts abode
But the work isn’t done, they still carry the load
The beast isn’t gone, OH NO! not yet is she done
I sure hope we don’t all go and think that we’ve won

This bastard will burn through the months of the snow
The cold -40. While frigid winds blow
Stay vigilant, wise and aware
Of all that surrounds us, even if it seem bare

The homecoming. 20,000 souls descend
On a city barely ready to mend
They can’t comprehend
The madness will blend,
With heartache instead
But our hero’s have led
A true path to contend
A future once bred…

On love and devotion among women and men
To protect our home, for right now and from then
From the first call to arms, you don’t hesitate
To step up and face fear, many can not relate
Want to be front line and fight to the end…
We can’t thank you enough for the sacrifice, we contend.

Going home now seems like a far faded dream
Will it happen on time or just all go down stream
Reality is, chaos will ensue
Down to the last mile, last minute or two

Be thankful our home is still standing tall
With the fire at bay, for now, entering fall
With winter so close knocking at the door
Will it help in our plight or will we need more.

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September sixth… a day to rejoice
Cries must have been heard, such a powerful voice
A family of people, heading back to our North
Our home. Our strength, brought Forth.

Robyn Scott

“Wiley and I are enjoying a Sunday afternoon barting (making art in bars) at the Pint on Whyte Ave in Edmonton, where they are offering a free meal to evacuees,” Robyn wrote.

“It’s no Black Knight, but they have great food and service here.” 

Robyn Scott shared this photo, showing anywhere can be an art studio.