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The Northern Lights or Aurora Borealis are a natural occurring light display in the sky. They occur when tiny electrically charged particles from the sun collide with atoms in the earth’s atmosphere, create beautiful streams of light in the night sky.

Did you know that the Northern Lights can be seen just outside Winnipeg’s city limits? The lights from buildings in the city make it difficult to see lights within the city, but just outside of the city, on certain evenings you can witness this magical show.

Legends help us to understand the world around us, and help to unite us within our cultures. In Labrador, the Inuit origin myth is that when the first ancient elders that came to the land, one of them took a spear to break the earth. When he struck his spear into the earth he struck labradorite, an iridescent mineral rock with filaments running through it of gold, blue, and green. When the elder struck this rock it release the filaments from within along with frozen spirits that went up into the sky and became the Northern Lights. Some of the Northern Lights remain frozen within the labradorite rocks.

There are many different variations of Northern Lights legends. Some of the legends tell that the Northern Lights are the spirits of people living up in the heavens. Sometimes legends tell that the spirits are playing soccer in the sky, using a large walrus head as the soccer ball.

Okheena, Mary K. Shaman Dances to Northern Lights, 1991. stencil, G-91-146.

Palaya Qiatsuq, Legend of the Northern Lights, 2003, stone, 2004-70









Within your family are there legends? Does your family tell a legend about the origin of something? Challenge yourself to create a piece of artwork about a legend that you have heard, or one that is important to your family.

Watercolour Activity with salt
WAG-Qaumajuq has many amazing artworks in the collection that connect to the Northern Lights.
In this activity you will create a watercolour painting at home of the Northern Lights.


  • Paper (could be watercolour paper, or cardstock, or any white cartridge paper)
  • Watercolour paints
  • A paint brush
  • Salt


  1. Using masking tape, tape down a border on your paper. Apply water to your paint brush and cover your paper







2. With watercolour paints, create a night-time landscape painting. You can use black or blue paint for the evening sky







3. Using green and purple, create waves of colour in the sky. You’ll want the paint to be quite watery







4. Sprinkle little amounts of salt over the green and purple paint







5. Let the painting dry

6. Carefully peel away the making tape border




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WAG-Qaumajuq recognizes that land acknowledgements are part of an ongoing dialogue with Indigenous Nations, and we are grateful to live and work on these lands and waters. Institutionally, WAG-Qaumajuq is committed to acknowledging our colonial history and we are actively working to interrogate the Gallery’s colonial ways of being. Read about some of our ongoing projects to interrupt the institution.
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