Fabric of Canada
Canada’s oldest company, The Hudson’s Bay Company, is a substantial part of the history and fabric of Canada. Literally. Founded by grant from King Charles to his cousin, Prince Rupert in 1670 as “The Governor and Company of Adventurers of England trading into Hudson’s Bay”. Use of Hudson’s Bay point blankets for trading started around 1780, still long before Canada officially began. The design of the iconic point blanket fabrics comes from French weavers who used indigo lines, or points, to indicate the finished size of a blanket in the mid 18th century.
Desired by First Nations the thick wool blanket fabric had practical uses for warm clothing, boot liners, bedding, even cabin doors. Designs were prized for their colourful green, yellow, red and indigo stripes.
Woven into Canada’s history are plenty of other materials. Official tartans of the clans of Scotland were brought by generations of settlers. Those traditions became part of Canada’s fabric too. Provinces have official tartans. Many are found as part of Canada’s formal uniform kit for military.
Among the oldest are the Black Watch of The Royal Highland Regiment, and Davidson of the 48th Highlanders. Both traded their tartans for green serge and were folded into the Royal Canadian Regiment in 1970. Continuing the tradition, tartan kilts continue to be worn for ceremonial bands. The RCR’s 2nd Battalion Pipes and Drums now wears Maple Leaf Tartan kilts, Canada’s official tartan. Designed by David Weiser in 1964, the Maple Leaft tartan commemorates the new Canadian flag. It was made an official emblem of Canada in 2011.
“The tartan captures the natural phenomena of the changes in colour throughout the year of the maple leaf: green is the early colour of the foliage, gold appears at the turn of autumn, red shows up with the coming of the frost, and brown alludes to the leaf at the end of its life cycle.” Royal Canadian Regiment
An Official Canada Plaid?
Commonly called “plaid” is a familiar fabric that has tartan-like intersecting colours. Plaid is related to traditional tartan, but much more casual, modern and inclusive. Many sorts and styles if plaid a popular fashion choice today for Canadians, young and old, urban and rural, summer, winter. Plaid can be made of soft cotton flannel, or warm wool. It can be worn to work, to sleep, to bundle the kids, to warm your seat on cold grandstands or the inside of a sleeping bag.
Since plaid is already a bit of a Canadian fabric cliche, we wondered: is it time to create an new official Canada Plaid?
To honour Canada’s 150 year milestone: it could be a fabric we could call our own, wear on our sleeve, be recognizable the world over. It could be a nod to tartans of founding settlers and our military heritage. Just as Hudson’s Bay point blankets taught us how to trade with Canada’s First Nations peoples. An official Canada Plaid could become a valuable and uniquely Canadian export commodity. Like French Champagne or Italian Parmesan. Only less elite.
A Canada Plaid would be for the people. National colours of red and white, maybe a little black mixed in for ‘fashion’. That kind of fabric would become a signature, like the maple leaf, but easier to wear and use daily. Roots, the iconic brand born from the Canadian wilderness in Algonquin Park might help with the design. Or Parks Canada’s new clothing collection could feature it. Even Hudson’s Bay could give us some, er, pointers. To be truly representative, the design of our own Canadian plaid would probably best done by democratic process.
Like the country, an official Canada Plaid fabric would be woven together with equal parts old and new. It would remember our 150 year history, but face confidently forward to the future: grounded, honest, practical. Favoured by fashionistas to farmers, a Canada Plaid could be worn and loved by all.
A Canada signature plaid could be just like our country: practical, warm and yet ‘cool’ at the same time.