Joy Suluk of Arviat, Nunavut, was only 10 years old when she first saw a picture of Queen Elizabeth.
It was 1963, and like in most government buildings at the time there was a image of the Queen hanging on the wall at the Eskimo Point Federal Hostel where Suluk went to school.
“We used to sing God Save the Queen,” Suluk recalled.
“And there was a picture on the wall in the front of the classroom. And I thought she was the most beautiful person on earth.”
Nearly 60 years later, Suluk’s admiration has only grown.
“She’s a very strong person and very compassionate. And spiritual. And she cares about people,” Suluk said.
“She puts her position over and above her personal needs.”
Suluk’s admiration for the monarch isn’t the only thing that’s grown over the decades — there’s also her collection of Queen Elizabeth memorabilia. She started collecting all things Elizabeth in the 1980s.
“This is the first piece that I got,” Suluk said, pointing at a burgundy-coloured tin canister. “It’s my favourite because that’s what got me going.”
Stamps, plates, salt and pepper shakers, magazines, books, spoons, newspaper clippings — Suluk’s treasure trove of memorabilia is on display in two glass cabinets in her home, or in storage.
“I need the space for my sewing, too,” she said.
Suluk’s sewing is what led her to meet the Queen in 1994, when the sovereign made a stop in Rankin Inlet. The Nunavut community was still part of the Northwest Territories at the time.
Suluk flew 215 kilometres from Arviat to Rankin Inlet for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
“Ever since I was a little girl I said, ‘I want to see the Queen with my own eyes,'” she recalled.
Joy had responded to a call for artisans to display their work during Elizabeth’s visit to Rankin Inlet. A large tent was set up and the Queen walked from table to table looking at the crafts.
Suluk’s sewing creations caught the Queen’s eye.
“I heard her say, ‘Did you make this?’ My voice left me … I actually had pins and needles all over me,” Suluk recalled.
She flashed back to those days singing God Save the Queen.
The Queen continued on to the next craft table, while her staff approached Suluk.
“The gentleman said, ‘The royal party would like to buy your quilt and your cushions’ — and at that moment I forgot how to speak in English,” Suluk said with a laugh. She mainly speaks Inuktitut.
The relationship between the monarchy and Inuit in Canada is complicated by colonial history and the legacy of residential schools.
The Indian Residential School History and Dialogue Centre Collection shows the Federal Hostel at Eskimo Point — now Arviat — operated from 1962 to 1967. It was a local day school that was part of Canada’s residential school system.
Suluk chooses not to focus on that troubled history. She says it’s about forgiveness.
“Things happened in the past but we can’t live in the past,” she said.
Always looking for new collectibles
Looking through her collection of memorabilia, Suluk picks out another of her favourite items — a teapot with the Queen’s picture on it. It came from an antique store in Winnipeg and Suluk has never used it.
Suluk routinely searches for items online and at secondhand stores when she travels south. There are no antique stores in Arviat.
“I take pictures of what I have and carry them in my cellphone. And when I come across [something], I quickly check to see if I got it. And if I don’t, I buy it,” she says.
She’s got some duplicate items — purchased in the days before she had a cellphone to keep track of what she had.
There’s at least one more item Suluk hopes to add to her collection. It’s a Barbie doll, designed to resemble the Queen in an ivory gown, blue sash and a tiara. It was released this year to mark the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee, which celebrates her 70 years on the throne.
Asked what she’s going to do with her collection, she says she might pass it on to her children, or somebody else who “loves the Queen as much as I do.”