Wednesday, January 26, 2022

A true polar bear story

Hi! Welcome to my post of the Polar Bear Plunge Blog Hop. Many thanks to CalicoJoan of MooseStash Quilting for organising this wonderful event. When I saw the theme, I had to participate....not sure why but I was really drawn to it...and then I found this. So, let me tell you a true story 😊 

An unexpected visitor

Castaway of the North (1930's)

This was in May, in the 1930's. The Collin family lived in a village across from the islands of the Mingan Archipelago National Park Preserve (off the North Shore of QuĂ©bec). 

Map of Eastern Canada with the North Shore of Québec.
The red dot is roughly the Mingan Archipelago National Park Reserve.

Mrs. Collin was the village's telegraph operator. That night, she received a telegraph. After reading it, she goes up to wake her husband. While she tells her husband that the lighthouse keeper, Mr. Vigneau, has spotted a polar bear, their teenage son John wakes his brother Gerard. Intrigued, the boys decide that they will be the first to see this polar bear.

Travelling by ice flow

Although very unusual, there are sometimes sightings of animals that have drifted down on ice flows from the North. 

While Mr. Collin and Mr. Vigneau are assembling a group of men, the boys take their own boat and head to the island illuminated by the lighthouse.  Ashore, they see the polar bear's footprints deep in the snow. These end at the edge of the water. The bear is gone, having swum to the next island. 

The boys head back to their boat and make their way there. After landing on the island, they hear heavy breathing. As they look, they can see the air coming from the large polar bear's muzzle. At that moment, the bear's eyes stare directly at them. After a moment, the bear turns away and dives back into the water.

Polar bear sighting

To read a more detailed version of this story, "The Castaway of the North - A true story", see Related links below.

The making of the art quilt

I don't have many pictures of the making of this art quilt. I did start by tracing images of polar bears on tracing paper...and then time passed. I had no idea what I was going to do with these images, but as it got closer to the date, I knew that it would have to be relatively simple.

At work, on the Parks Canada intranet, I looked up polar bear. I thought that I would find all kinds of scientific facts....but ended up reading "The Castaway of the North - A true story". I knew that it would make a simple but interesting story. 

I found all the fabric in a bag of scraps of hand-dyed fabric given to me by a friend. The background blue and the light gray were perfect. I knew that I wanted a boat on the edge of the island and a lighthouse. 

The polar bear and the lighthouse
As you may know, I've been taking some really great workshops with Many of them include working with paper, so I thought that I would give this a try. The map is actually a piece of brown wrapping paper. I traced the map from the internet and then transferred it to the brown paper by roughly cutting out the tracing and marking the outline on the brown paper. I then coloured it using wax crayons...that was fun 😊 and I mostly coloured within the lines! Once the map was coloured I scrunched it up to make it more pliable. I covered it with clear silk organza and stitched it down. It was really great to work with. To finish it off, I found some perfect yard to couch down around it.

I cut out the gray foreground and added the boat. For the polar bear, I started by FMQ over the tracing paper. The picture was good, but on top of the gray fabric it barely showed up. So I added a layer of sheer white fabric and some batting over the first free motion quilted bear and then re-did the FMQ from the back, following the first outline. I then cut around the fabric and batting. It came out really well. I used black thread to embroider the eyes, nose, and ears.

The image of the lighthouse comes from a postcard of Eastern Canada. I just free motion quilted it on, once I had backed the entire piece with batting and backing. 

Creating the foreground with the boat and bear

It was then time to add the facing. Instead of buying specialty clips, I use paper clips. Everyone always has tons of those!

Adding facing to the piece

What I learned

  • The story was posted on the Parks Canada intranet site. I didn't want to break any rules but then I found the story posted on the Mingan Archipelago National Park Reserve's Facebook page. The link is in Related links if you want more interesting details. 
  • The story captured my imagination. It incredible that a polar bear should travel so far south on an ice flow, and I can just imagine those teenagers thinking that it would be so cool to see it.
  • I wanted to experiment with something different on this piece - so the paper map and the image from the postcard seemed right. Since I've been collecting postcards forever, it will be great to incorporate them in art pieces and let parts of them live on.
  • I am giving this to a colleague who is retiring shortly from Parks Canada. I know that she will appreciate it as she goes on to the next part of her life. 
Related links
Linking parties
I will be linking this post up to many fun linking parties. Why not check some of them out? Monday Making, Midweek Makers, Oh Scrap!, Put Your Foot Down, Off the Wall Friday, Beauties Pageant, Patchwork & Quilts, Slow Sunday Stitching, Peacock Party


Project details

Castaway of the North
10½" x 9"
Materials: hand-dyed fabric, silk organza, brown wrapping paper, postcard, commercial fabric
Techniques: drawing, colouring, free motion quilting (FMQ), embroidery


  1. Thank you for sharing the true story and the in-depth, creative journey with textiles.

  2. What an interesting project working with different textiles, love the story that was the inspiration. Well done!

  3. Thanks for the interesting story and retelling of your processes. Looks like you had fun. What an adventure! Or two!

  4. Wow, wow, wow, I love not only your project, but the story and the detailed description of how you worked your way through it. I love art quilting, but haven't done much of it in years. Now I want to break out my supplies and start playing again. Thanks for the inspiration, the wonderful story and for playing in our Polar Bear hop.

  5. Your inspiration and your art quilt is fantastic. It looks like your really enjoyed this one.

  6. I always enjoy seeing what you create. I'm not sure I'd want to come that close to a polar bear; interesting story!

  7. That's an amazing story and your quilt really puts us right there!

  8. Great story, and the quilt details it perfectly! Thanks so much for sharing!

  9. What a wonderful story and a wonderful quilt to represent the story. It is a thoughtful gift, too, for your friend who is retiring.

  10. A fascinating story, and an adventure with you as you created this art quilt. Thank you.

  11. Just when I think I cannot be more amazed with your work, I love this and I love the story too.

  12. Such creativity that represents the story, well done! Thanks for sharing your inspiration & creativity.

  13. That is a great story and your quilt creation tells it perfectly. I love it! Thank you for sharing!

  14. Love your story!!! And the art quilt is great!

  15. Excellent project and I loved the story. Darn...I was thinking those boys were sure taking a chance. It's great that you used different mediums in your quilt - perfect.

  16. So much work in this wonderful piece. The backstory is amazing thanks so much for the mini history lesson. Your friend will love this gift.

  17. What an adorable project with the sweetest story to boot! I was was reading it wondering if something awful would happen to the boys. What a relief that the bear was more afraid to see them than perhaps they were to see it.

  18. What a captivating story! Your quilt is charming too. Thank you for sharing.

  19. Brilliant project for the Hop, Andree!!

  20. That's a pretty amazing story, and your quilt is fabulous. I'm glad that the story ended happily. It would be SO cool to see a bear in the wild; just not so near.

  21. Thank you for sharing a great story, and your quilt is awesome. I love how you shared your process too.

  22. What a special project! Great story to go along with it. Thanks for sharing your process!

  23. That is an interesting story and your project is perfect.

  24. What a great quilt! Thank you for sharing a piece of Canadiana that I hadn’t heard before. My sister used to live in Flin Fln and often saw them wandering around.

  25. Magnifique ! L'histoire, et le quilt qui en résulte, j'aime tout ! Merci de partager ton inspiration, et le processus de création.

  26. Wonderful quilt, love the true Story and your creative process in working your quilt.

  27. Wow, love the story and quilt! You're very talented :)xx


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