'A piece of my heart just coming back': Daughter of late Inuvik artist to be reunited with his artwork

·3 min read
Onida Banksland is the daughter of John Banksland, a residential school survivor and an accomplished painter, who passed away in 2017. Paintings by Onida's father are making their way back to her. (Submitted by Onida Banksland - image credit)
Onida Banksland is the daughter of John Banksland, a residential school survivor and an accomplished painter, who passed away in 2017. Paintings by Onida's father are making their way back to her. (Submitted by Onida Banksland - image credit)

A few days ago, something caught Onida Banksland's eye as she scrolled through Facebook — she was tagged in a post on Inuvik Bulletin, a community social media page.

Whitehorse resident Carmen Gustafson had posted three photos of paintings of a dogsled team, painted in 1968. A label on the back of the paintings said the artist was John Banksland, Onida's father, a residential school survivor and an accomplished painter who passed away in 2017.

It was an emotional moment for Onida of Inuvik, N.W.T. — she doesn't have a piece of his artwork of her own.

"It's like a piece of my heart just coming back," she said. "It was emotional, exciting."

Gustafson from Whitehorese had made the post wondering if anyone knew the artist or the family.

And Onida immediately responded that she did.

John had started painting in residential school and was an accomplished artist. He died in 2017.

Submitted by Onida Banksland
Submitted by Onida Banksland

Onida and Gustafson started chatting on Facebook messenger, and now there's a plan to send Onida's fathers paintings back to her.

"And right away, I shared with my family in between messaging," she said. "My mother has one piece and my sister has a piece. So now I'm finally getting a piece."

Onida had never seen her father paint, but when he was younger it was a large part of his life. Onida said he was orphaned from the age of four, and that's when the painting had started. All of his siblings were artists too, she said. He used his art to help pay for his education, including to attend Ryerson College in Toronto.

Later he would paint as a side business, Onida said, to provide for the family he started.

Onida said the timing of this discovery of her father's painting is "almost like fate" given the Pope will soon arrive in Canada to apologize to residential school survivors and their families for the role the Catholic church played in abuses against Indigenous people.

Found at a garage sale

Gustafson, a Whitehorse lawyer, had spent time in Inuvik in the past. When her grandmother was at a garage sale in B.C. one day, she noticed what looked like northern paintings and bought them for Gustafson.

"[I] saw them and instantly fell in love with them," she said.

Submitted by Carmen Gustafson
Submitted by Carmen Gustafson

The paintings were of mushers and were 11 inches by 16 inches in size, sitting in heavy frame wood frames, she said.

"I instantly recognized that they were definitely from the North. And then I saw the name Banksland, and I thought, oh, that's probably from the Beaufort Delta."

'Complete again'

Gustafson was fascinated by the origins of the painter behind the artwork, but for a while, she hung them up and held onto them.

"I had them in my office or in my house and got lots of compliments on them. And I guess always they kind of felt they just had this sort of presence about them. And I always thought I should find out who the artist is," she said.

"I think it's important to return them to the family."

Onida said when the art makes it home, her family plans to have an unveiling party where they can "just let everyone admire" the artwork.

"It's almost like, we're gonna feel complete again," she said, "just knowing that his art is making its way around and back home."

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