An arctic installation, by artist Maureen Gruben, marks Canada’s 150th with stitches of scarlet broadcloth that weave across the icy tundra outside Tuktoyaktuk, Northwest Territories.
This past April, as the green of spring transformed much of Canada, a bright red zigzag appeared in the snowy tundra outside Tuktoyaktuk, Northwest Territories, one of the country’s northernmost towns. Mimicking the patterns of Inuvialuit Delta braid appliqué, local artist Maureen Gruben worked with a team of community members to weave giant stitches of scarlet broadcloth through more than 100 holes drilled into the ice, winding across the expanse of Pingo Canadian Landmark toward the settlement in the distance. Stitching My Landscape is a visual expression of Gruben’s desire to hold together the place from which she draws her inspiration: a town on the front line of climate change, where rising temperatures are eroding and reshaping the Arctic coastline. Part of LandMarks 2017 (a curated series of art projects installed in national parks and at historic sites across the country as part of Canada’s 150th birthday celebrations), the work represents a creative alliance that ties together the nation’s disparate landscapes.
Gruben’s piece also evokes another connection set to change the landscape forever: in November, the first all-weather public roadway linking the Arctic Ocean to the outside world is set to open. Replacing the seasonal ice highway that provided Tuktoyaktuk with a precarious route to the south for four to five months each winter, the new infrastructure will offer year-round access. By chance, Stitching My Landscape followed the path of the winter road, just before it melted away for the last time. “It was like we were closing up the ice road,” says Gruben.
After one final summer of isolation, this hamlet of 950 people will throw open its doors. Anyone with a vehicle will be able to drive over 138 kilometres of permafrost between Inuvik, where the existing highway network ends, and Tuk. At the culmination of the new artery visitors can dip their toes in the Arctic Ocean and experience another part of a diverse cultural fabric, stitched together by a common thread now made manifest.
Erin Donnelly, Azure’s senior associate editor, has road-tripped Canada from coast to coast and can’t wait to take a spin up to the Arctic.