A great Nunavik matriarch passes away

Daisy Watt: 1921-2001


MONTREAL — Four small boys each picked up a shovel in Kuujjuaq last week to pile dirt on their great-grandmother’s grave — and so ended a burial service for one of Nunavik’s great matriarchs.

Daisy Watt died in Kuujjuaq August 19, only 10 days short of her eightieth birthday.

She was one of Kuujjuaq’s best-known elders, and mother to two of Nunavik’s most accomplished leaders, Senator Charlie Watt and ICC Canada’s president, Sheila Watt-Cloutier.

Daisy — as her son called her — was known throughout Nunavik for her skills as a healer, interpreter and musician.

“She was quite a character,” Charlie Watt recalls, saying his mother was always ready to play the accordion at dances.

“She could make the accordion talk,” Watt said. “I grew up with it, but I never learned to play it.”

Daisy was respected for her work as an interpreter for countless nurses and doctors who visited the region.

In the 1950s, she worked on board the hospital ship C.D. Howe, where she assisted medical workers who visited coastal camps throughout the Eastern Arctic.

“She used to act as a nurse, a doctor, and a spiritual advisor,” Watt said.

Born in Old Fort Chimo, Daisy learned English as a young girl when she worked as a dishwasher for the Hudson Bay Company.

Her father and grandfather were HBC employees.

While going through his mother’s papers last week, Watt said family members were finally able to confirm a longstanding family story about his grandfather.

The family had always heard how a trader had wanted Daisy’s grandmother to follow him to the South when he left the Arctic. They found a letter from him pleading with her to join him.

“She didn’t want to go. This was all she knew,” Watt said.

“But it was in three pieces. She [Daisy] may not even known it was there,” Watt said.

Watt said he intends to gather up his mother’s many photos, papers and mementos so they can be catalogued and conserved for future generations.

Watt said he feels a sense of peace, as if Daisy may now be reconnected with his sister, Brigit, who died two years ago.

Watt said his mother remained feisty right up until the end.

Daisy endured a triple-bypass heart operation more than 20 years ago, but was reluctant to return to Montreal for another operation that could have prolonged her life.

“She was very determined. She didn’t want to go the hospital,” Watt said.

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