It’s the time of year again to bundle up and bunker down for winter. If you live in Canada’s North, it’s been that time again for oh, about two months now.
In mid-October of every year, keeping warm becomes the single most important thing for anyone who lives in the North. Ask any of the 100,000 or so people up in the Northwest Territories, Yukon or Nunavut. And parkas are crucial – you will wear it every single day from October to April, or until the ice breaks up.
But sometimes, it’s hard to get excited about a jacket that makes you look like a Michelin Man. And if you do find one you like, it’s likely that it won’t be warm enough. That cute pea coat you got from H&M – not going to come close to cutting it in -40 temperatures.
People wearing identical Canada Goose parkas have been roaming the streets of Iqaluit, Yellowknife and Whitehorse for years, although they have only recently come to fashion in more southerly parts of Canada, much to the chagrin of Northerners. While warm, they leave a little to be desired on the style front.
That is by no means a knock against the Gooses (full disclosure: I have one, too), but they’re not the most exciting when it comes to fashion. They’re also getting harder to come by, as demand for the down-filled jackets is at an all-time high.
My personal preference? Traditional-style parkas. You know the ones – until recent years, they were sitting in your mom’s closet or gathering dust in a thrift store.
I found my own parka at a flea market in Nepean, a suburb of Ottawa, where I grew up. The market is only open on Sundays and it’s run by some lovely old ladies who sell the best stuff at cheap prices. I’d tell you the location but then I’d have to kill you.
My parka, which is damn warm, looks like it comes straight out of the 1974 Hudson’s Bay catalogue. It was a great find at only $100. I love putting it on every day, and I get tons of compliments on it, too.
Kayla Cooper grew up in New Brunswick and Yellowknife, and spent a few years in Paulatuk, N.W.T., during her formative years. Paulatuk is straight-up Arctic, so this girl knows what she’s talking about when it comes to staying warm.
She also happens to have an awesome parka. Hers is dark brown and has some drum dancer appliqués along the bottom. She got hers for an astounding $10 at the St. Pat’s Flea Market in Yellowknife, and it’s good to go in temperatures as cold as -40. It’s made of boiled wool, which is the standard for these jackets and you can’t beat it for warmth and durability.
“I like how northern it is and it’s really different-looking, and it’s warm and at least there’s a little more style to it,” said Cooper. “It’d be neat to figure out who had it first and why they got rid of it. Stupid, because it was in really decent condition when I bought it.”
Another northerner with a great parka is Nicole Garbutt, who is involved in most artsy things in Yellowknife. She also happens to be the arts writer/editor for the Yellowknifer newspaper.
She got hers custom-made at a shop in Yellowknife called Sunlines. It’s a funny place, to say the least. It sells chips and pop, tacky tourist t-shirts, Korean wedding dresses, and, of all things, parkas and moccasins.
Nicole chose a deep purple with wolves and inukshuks along the hemline. The jacket cost her about $500, which is about the same price as a Canada Goose. The store had it ready in a week and it also comes with an outer shell to cut the wind on particularly cold days.
“I like to collect things that are traditionally northern, like caribou earrings and stuff like that. I always just wanted something that was a bit more traditional, too,” said Garbutt.
She adds that it most definitely passes the warmth test, but it’s a good idea to throw on a sweater underneath.
One of the pricier jackets I’ve seen around is Sandy Craig’s. The Yellowknife-based artist got hers as a gift a few years ago, but she estimates that it cost about $700. It’s long, black, lined with lots of warm silver fox fur and has some beautiful embroidery, which is somewhat rare for parkas.
Craig says the parka was a life-saver.
“I had always had a hard time finding parkas that would fit me because I’m the smallest person in the world,” she said.
That’s where having it custom-made came in handy.
“I like the fact that it’s black because a lot of them are a really bright blue or purple, which isn’t really my style,” she adds.
She says it’s sometimes too warm to wear a sweater underneath, which is as good a testament to its quality as I’ve ever heard.
Craig does, however, acknowledge the high cost of custom-made parkas.
“Down south you’d spend your money on shirts or whatever, but up here you have to buy the proper warm clothes,” she says.
It’s also easy to spend on parkas instead of shirts and dresses when the only stores in town are Reitman’s, Mark’s Work Wearhouse and Wal-Mart. But that’s beside the point.
All of the parkas mentioned here are lined with real fur. If you’re opposed to wearing fur, you have ample opportunities now to get fake stuff. nIt’s worth noting, however, that most jackets made in the North use materials from local hunters and trappers. And when it comes to staying warm, real fur is tough to beat.
As for staying sane in the long, cold, dark northern winters? Get involved in local volunteer activities, sports, and be sure to get outside during the day when it’s light out.
~ Laura Wright