Inuit soapstone carvings are more popular than ever, with international demand growing for these cultural works of art.

But as demand rises, good quality carving stone is hard to find, difficult to access and is rapidly being consumed.

For years, the Government of Nunavut[1] has worked to improve the availability of quality carving stone in communities across the Kivalliq region – particularly in Baker Lake, a major arts community and home to many internationally renowned artists[2].

Approximately 170 kilometres northwest of Baker Lake lies Agnico Eagle’s Amaruq deposit, part of our Meadowbank mining complex.  It wasn’t long before Nunavut’s resident geologist, Mike Beauregard, contacted Amaruq’s geology team to see whether the deposit, which began producing in 2019, contained good quality soapstone.

According to Agnico Eagle geologist Jérôme Lavoie, “Through our exploration activities, we found a substantial amount of good soapstone alongside the Amaruq deposit. Fortunately, it is accessible from both our surface and underground operations.”

Jérôme and his colleague Eric Marcil worked closely with Mike to identify and test[3] soapstone from the property.  Two carvers – Salomonie Pootoogook and David Arngnasungaaq – visited Amaruq to assess the stone carving quality, which they deemed as particularly good.

In August 2020, Agnico Eagle was delighted to provide the soapstone handpicked by Salomonie and David to support their artistry and Kivalliq region’s artistic community.

Pujjuut Kusugak, Agnico Eagle’s Director of Nunavut Affairs says, “Soapstone is the lifeblood of many of our Inuit artists and communities. By showing us sculptures and carvings of how our ancestors lived – our tools, legends, animals and games – our Inuit artists are keeping the history and traditional way of life alive.”

The community hopes to receive more soapstone from Amaruq in order to transfer their cultural traditions and carving skills to the next generation. Not only does soapstone play an important role in Nunavut’s social fabric, it is also important to the local and territorial economy. Without it, many artists would be unable to make a living and support their families.

Pujjuut adds, “When the government approached us about the depletion of good carving stone in the area, we saw this as an opportunity to make a difference – a difference in people’s lives and in the social and economic wellbeing of local communities.  We hope to be a continuing source of good carving stone for the Kivalliq region. We want to encourage local artists to share their stories, their heritage and their culture with Canadians and the international community. It is a way for all of us to learn more about their lived experiences in the Arctic over millennia.”

Salomonie Pootoogook and David Arngnasungaaq each handpicked their own soapstone pieces during a visit to Amaruq.  Salomonie is originally from Kinngait and is quite a well-known artist. David is originally from Baker Lake and has learned his craft from his father, Barnabus Arngnasungaaq, whose work is highly prized internationally.  The artists, Nunavut’s resident geologist, Mike Beauregard, and Amaruq’s geology team worked together to assess the soapstone quality.


[1] As well as other designated Nunavut organizations including the Kivalliq Inuit Association, the Hunters and Trappers Organization, and Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated.

[2] Well known Baker Lake artists include Jessie Oonark, Simon Tookoome and Marion Tuu’luq.

[3] Soapstone is a term that covers all carving stone used by Inuit artists – including steatite, serpentinite and argillite – which can naturally contain minerals associated with asbestos, a potential health risk to carvers, who must be careful not to breathe in dangerous dust generated from their power tools. Most Inuit sculptors work outside, even in wintertime.