Martine Gladu and Caroline Waneyande/Newsam, lynx paw parka (detail), ca. early 1950s, Collection of Glenbow.

Métis Parka Carries Incredible Family Stories

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June is Indigenous History Month! Throughout the month, we’ll share highlights from Glenbow’s Indigenous collections, including some exciting new items and a sneak peek at what to expect when Glenbow reopens in our new home at the JR Shaw Centre for Arts & Culture.

First up, we’re sharing a Métis lynx paw parka recently donated to Glenbow. Not only is this parka extremely unique both in our collection and that of other museums—it also carries incredible family stories, including that it saved its wearer’s life after a winter plane crash.

Martine Gladu and Caroline Waneyande/Newsam, lynx paw parka, ca. early 1950s, Collection of Glenbow.
Martine Gladu and Caroline Waneyande/Newsam, lynx paw parka, ca. early 1950s, Collection of Glenbow.
Sarah Newsman/Finch, Richard Finch and Les Finch (wearing the lynx paw parka).
Sarah Newsman/Finch, Richard Finch and Les Finch (wearing the lynx paw parka).

This lynx paw parka, plus mittens and boots, were donated to Glenbow by Cheri Finch, her brother Richard Finch and her daughter Leslie Finch, whose father/grandfather Les Finch (1920-2004) was the original wearer of the parka. Cheri and Richard’s mother was Sarah Newsman/Finch (1926-2016). The Finch family is Métis and has a rich heritage in Alberta. The parka and accessories were made by Cheri and Richard’s great-grandmother (who they call “Kookum”) Martine Gladu (1878-1959) and grandmother Caroline Waneyande/Newsam (1882-1958) in the early 1950s. Caroline was a midwife in the very early days of Fort McMurray and delivered almost all of the children born there at that time.
 
This parka is unique and unusual as its body is made completely of lynx paws, with wolverine trim. Glenbow has a collection of 396 Métis cultural belongings, and much of the clothing and accessories have distinctive floral beadwork and embroidery. Glenbow has few examples of Métis winter clothing, making this parka unique among fur items in Glenbow’s broader collections. It is also unique across museums more broadly; we have not yet discovered an example of a Métis parka quite like this in other museum collections.
 
This parka and accessories are also important as they have complete provenance, meaning we know the complete history of their origin. There are many family stories attached to them that have been passed down through generations. According to Cheri, to obtain the lynx paws, her grandmother “had to negotiate with trappers for trades such as sewing and beading, as that was all she could afford.”
 
Les Finch, the parka’s original wearer, worked at the Department of Transport (DOT), known now as Transport Canada. He travelled extensively in the DOT‘s Northern Region as a flight engineer, and later was the Head of Craft Maintenance in the DOT’s Western Region. According to Cheri, “Dad would proudly wear this parka on many trips, and in fact it was this jacket that saved him when their plane went down in a farmer’s field in the north and my father had to hike through waist-high snow to get help.” It was the warmth of the parka, mittens and boots that saved his life, while not all of the passengers on the flight survived, succumbing to their injuries or to the cold.
 
The uniqueness of this parka, its excellent condition, family stories, photo documentation and provenance make it and its accessories a wonderful addition to Glenbow’s collection. Cheri says, “There are many more stories left to tell, and my brother Robert Finch, daughter Leslie Finch and I would be proud to share them and increase awareness of Métis history and the amazing skills of the women who made these for my father.”
 
Thank you to Cheri Finch for sharing this incredible parka and its stories with us.

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