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Squirrel Fur Jacket

Public Submission
Fort Smith, Northwest Territories
Materials & techniques
Squirrel fur, fox or coyote fur, cotton, metal
Eleonor McNeill
Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre 996.021.001
This little jacket of Russian squirrel fur was worn by four generations of McNeill family children in the Fort Smith area.

It is made to fit a two or three year old child. The hood is trimmed with longer fur, either fox or coyote. There is a metal zipper down the front, and plaid cotton flannel lining. Russian squirrel fur was a popular trade item in the early 20th century when Russia was a major exporter of these pelts. Squirrel pelts are supple, soft and lightweight, and affordable compared to many other furs.

Around 1916, William (Billy) McNeill of Fort Smith gave his first wife a black velvet coat with squirrel fur lining. She died young, and Billy remarried in 1924. His second wife, Eleonor Jeremie, used the squirrel lining to make a new jacket for her young stepson, Wilf. She cut the fur into little squares and artfully pieced them back together.

Eleonor and Billy were notable people in Fort Smith. Eleonor was born in Fort Fitzgerald just over the Northwest Territories border with Alberta. She was raised in her family’s traditional Dëne Sųłıné life ways, and spent most of her adult life in the Green River area and later in Fort Smith. Billy left his native Labrador in 1910 to drive a herd of reindeer to Great Slave Lake, and became chief ranger at Wood Buffalo National Park in the early 1920s.

This is a family jacket that has witnessed a long journey through time, keeping generations of boys and girls warm. In 1995, due to its age and fragility, the family decided to donate the jacket to the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre.
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