By: Natalie Ginez
For my generation, it was the Furbies, created in 1998, which were all the rage. For the baby boomers in the 1960’s, the Ookpik was the latest craze. The Ookpik is a legendary bird, possibly an arctic owl or one that looks like an owl (Ukpik is the Inuit word for “snowy owl”), created by an Inuit artist and produced as a symbol of Canada.
The New Jersey State Museum’s Ookpik is made from sealskin and possibly stuffed with ptarmigan feathers. It was collected by Josephine Millner in 1965 and donated to the museum as a gift in 1979. The first Ookpik was created in the early 1960’s and was made out of sealskin. The eyes and beak were made from moose hide, along with its small black talons. It was created by a 64 year old Canadian Inuit woman named Jeannie Snowball from Fort Chimo, Canada (Fort Chimo was renamed Kuujjuaq in 1980). The story goes that Jeannie was caught in a snowstorm and was famished. An owl landed near her, so that she could capture it. She ate the owl and it saved her life. As a result of this experience, she created the Ookpik doll.
In 1963, the Ookpik was introduced to the world as a Canadian symbol and mascot for a Philadelphia Trade Fair. The organizers of the Canadian exhibition found Jeannie’s creation in an Inuit art catalog. Her stuffed doll was the perfect combination cute and adorable. The Ookpik became so popular that everyone wanted one much like everyone wanted the Furby in the late 90’s and the early 2000’s.
The Ookpik was registered under the Trade Marks Act of 1964 and adopted as a symbol of Canada. The cartoon below indicates its role as an international ambassador of Canada:
In Inuit culture, the owl serves as a source of guidance and assistance. One of the owl’s duties is to collect the spirits of the dead and bring them to the spirit world before the rising of the sun. Another myth teaches that the short-eared owl was once a young girl who was transformed into an owl with a long beak, but she became scared and flew into the side of house and flattened her face and beak. Inuit myths served as a means by which the Inuit community was brought together by common beliefs and an understanding of their place in nature.
Northern Alberta Institute of Technology’s Inuit elder, Peggy Richardson, makes an ookpik in the traditional Inuit fashion.
The seal, from which the doll is made, was crucial to the Inuit way of life. Seals were hunted as a food source, but the other parts of the seal weren’t wasted. The seal fur was used for clothing; The fat turned into oil for lamps; the bones used for the creation of eating utensils and necessary tools. The ptarmigan bird also was consumed as a food source during the winter when other small game was scarce. The ptarmigan feathers were used in baby diapers, as stuffing, and for trading.
During the Ook-pik’s brief spurt of popularity, much like the Furby, it inspired both writers and musicians alike. For the Furby, it was the Furby Boom Theme Song, while for the Ookpik it was the Ookpik Waltz. They both inspired poems and children’s books. While the Ookpik may not be remembered for what songs or poems it inspired, its enduring legacy is that of childhood memories of the fluffy doll cuddled by children around the world.
Ookpik Waltz written and performed by British Columbia fiddler, Frankie Rodgers. Copyright 1965, Frankie Rodgers.
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