It may have gone out with a box of old dishes, or photo frames. Maybe it got tangled up with used children’s clothes. One thing was certain – Ceilidh Evans’ heirloom jingle dress was gone.
Several years ago, Evans’ mother, Heather Young-Leslie created the pink satin dress for her daughter when she was seven-years-old to wear while performing in Pow-wows. After lending the dress to her niece Teslin Olinkin, the dress accidently got sold at a garage sale.
Young-Leslie discovered the beloved dress missing when she phoned her sister Su Young-Leslie looking to get the dress back to lend to local schools for Aboriginal Day.
“We were heart broken because it’s such a special thing,” Young-Leslie said.
A jingle dress is a special garment that is made especially for each wearer.
“To make a jingle dress you have to dream what your jingle dress looks like,” Young-Leslie said.
Evans, a Métis, was taught about pow-wow dancing by women from the Six Nations Reserve in Ontario, where she became interested in having her own jingle dress. One night she woke up her mother to tell her she had finally dreamed of a hot pink satin dress, with rainbow coloured ribbon and tinkling copper cones. Young-Leslie then had the task of making it.
“When you dance in the dress, it jingles,” Young-Leslie said about the ceremonial dress that is worn at first nations celebrations such as pow-wows.
Because Evans dreamed up the dress herself, Young-Leslie had intended it to stay in the family when she lent it to 12-year-old Teslin to teach her about the family’s Métis history.
From age seven to 10, Evans danced at ceremonies with her jingle dress. Young-Leslie said the dress, although too small for Evans, who is 20 now, reminds her of her daughter when she was young.
“The dress has such huge personal significance to me,” Young-Leslie said. “It’s a family heirloom now.”
Evans was sad to discover her childhood jingle dress was missing.
“She was so upset,” Young-Leslie said. “She just said, ‘Well, hopefully someone who has it appreciates it.’”
Young-Leslie then became determined to get the dress back. This began a search for the precious family heirloom through local Jasperites.
“I started asking around,” she said.
Young-Leslie’s first step was to contact Janice Yeaman, who is involved with the Brownies, to see if one of the girl’s mothers had picked up the dress. Yeaman’s partner Wayne runs a local entertainment and arts email list, and the description and plea for the return of the dress was posted in a few editions.
The emails generated a wealth of tips and well-wishes from the community. Young-Leslie was overwhelmed by the response of people willing to help her find the dress.
“I had all this great support,” she said. “Jasperites (were) saying, ‘I’ll help you find the dress,’”
Jasper’s Sue Cesco was sent a copy of the email, and while reading the description, she recognized the dress as one her parents had purchased for their granddaughter Natasha at a garage sale in Jasper years ago.
The dress was found.
“Natasha has it hanging in her closet and agrees it should be returned to the rightful owner, she’s so sweet,” Cesco said in an email to Young-Leslie.
The dress is currently preparing for its journey from Salmon Arm to Jasper.
“It’s kind of like the travelling pants,” Young-Leslie said.
Since sewing the jingle dress, Young-Leslie has been inspired to delve further into studies about the Métis. She was granted a Canada Council for the Arts grant to help re-teach women in Prince George about traditional methods for garment building.
“The Métis women in Prince George were able to re-learn the techniques,” she said. The grant took her to Jasper for research, and eventually she re-located here.
Now that the dress will be returned, Young-Leslie can’t wait to reunite the heirloom with her daughter, Evans.
“She’s going to be very happy,” she said.
Through finding the dress, Young-Leslie has been astonished at how many people stepped up to help, and has met many new friends through the process.
“It has turned into a wonderful lesson in the strength and caring of the local Jasper community,” she said.
The dress is expected to arrive in Jasper sometime this month.