Travis Frost, an Old Crow trapper. (Courtesy of Archbould Photography)

I’m Fur Real offers platform for artisans to sell their work

‘There’s nothing better than buying something from the person who made it’

Lisa Preto sells her furs all over the place, but she likes it best when locals buy them.

“Here, people are actually wearing them because they’re cold,” she says with a laugh.

Preto runs Minus 40 Furs in Haines Junction.

She started the business (selling fur ruffs, head bands, pompoms and more) years ago when her husband became interested in trapping and got a line near their hobby farm in Haines Junction.

“The prices of fur were so low at the auction we started keeping furs that we liked, wolverine and wolf, and I started sewing more things to get a bit more of that gas money back that we put into things,” she says.

Preto’s experience is typical of Yukon trappers, says Kelly Milner.

Milner is the event producer for UnFURled — one of many events associated with I’m Fur Real, a weeklong celebration of local furs that’s been put together by organizations including the Yukon Trappers Association and the North Yukon Renewable Resources Council.

A couple of years ago, Milner was visiting friends in Old Crow, talking to them about trapping. They had mentioned the season was going well, but they weren’t planning to send any furs to auction because they weren’t getting enough money to make it worthwhile.

Over the course of a couple of years, the concept was born for I’m Fur Real, a series of shows, workshops and events taking place in Whitehorse from March 8-10.

Wild Lives is a joint project between photographer Cathie Archbould and writer Leighann Chalykoff that brings together the stories of Yukon trappers. It’s taking place at Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre until April 30.

Also at KDCC, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on March 10, Bunny Bruton will teach participants how to make fur mitts.

UnFURled is the flagship event, bringing together furs and the handiwork of makers from Mayo, Whitehorse, Carcross, Burwash Landing, Teslin, Haines Junction, Dawson City, Tagish, Johnson’s Crossing, Old Crow and more.

The free event marketplace opens at KDCC from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m.

“There’s nothing better than buying something from the person who made it,” says Milner. “And knowing where the materials came from and that it’s all homegrown and from the Yukon Territory. And that you know 100 per cent of the selling price is going back to the person selling it.… It’s our original industry.”

There will be mitts, hats, cuffs, and winter pompoms, just like the ones Team Yukon will wear to the Arctic Winter Games this year.

That’s new, says Milner. Years ago, she says the team had fur poms on their toques, but that hasn’t happened in a while. This year, as part of I’m Fur Real, a team of sewers in Haines Junction sewed 500 pompoms, some of which are going to the team.

Preto headed up that project. She says roughly 60 people came out to help sew. Some were experienced, while others had never done it before.

She says it was great to teach new sewers the tips and tricks. When she started working with fur, she took a lesson with someone from the Northwest Territories, and learned the rest by watching YouTube videos.

She says there’s a lot to learn about working with fur. Cutting it can be difficult, and being able to plan ahead, as far as which parts of the pelt to use for which projects, is also a learning process.

The sides and back of a wolf are best for pompoms, for example, while the neck hair makes for nice ruffs, and shorter leg hair works better for jewellery.

That kind of talk is another reason she was happy to participate in UnFURled.

“I love this industry,” says Preto, whose lines outside of Mayo and along Kluane Lake bring in wolf, wolverine, lynx, marten, beaver and the odd fox.

“Crafters and trappers often don’t talk so much to each other. It’s not very often that we come together and we share information. (This way) we can talk about specific things like sizing patterns or working with patterns or what we get frustrated with.”

She said trappers can also share stories about baiting in different areas, and share advice that can help the industry as a whole.

“Trapping and harvesting fur is really different in different areas of the territory, the country and the world,” she says. “You really need to talk to people in your area because it’s not appropriate everywhere. You can’t keep trapping wolverines in Colorado because its a really different situation than here where we have a huge natural environment and it is sustainable.”

She hopes UnFURled will help cultivate an understanding of the industry and a market for it.

Contact Amy Kenny at amy.kenny@yukon-news.com

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