Monday, 9 January 2017

Canadian Costume ~ Part 1: Research

It all started when I stumbled across this picture and rare reference to Canada in Punch Magazine from 1883.

Lord Lansdowne in 1883.

First, I noticed the coat was similar to Canadian blanket coats that you see in reference to fur-trade, and early Canadian winter carnivals. Then I noticed the caption, "Lord Lansdowne: in his Canadian Costume specially adapted to remaining some time out in the cold".

I found it interesting that they referred to this as 'Canadian Costume'. I was curious to know whether they thought this was a Canadian national costume, and if it reflected a Canadian stereotype of the time. I began to think that this may be the outfit for me to celebrate Canada's 150th birthday.

I went looking in my other Punch Magazines for cartoons depicting the same outfit and I found another from 1862.

"Oh, it's all very well to laugh! but it was too bad of Little Binks
to come in his Canadian Dress and Snow-shoes to our Fancy Ball." 1862.

This cartoon referred to this style of outfit as 'Canadian dress'. After seeing both outfits, I was  convinced that I was looking at a Canadian stereotype of the time. With this knowledge in hand, I began scouring the internet for more references to this style of clothing, using search terms such as "Canadian Blanket Coat 1880s" and "Canadian Costume 1880s".

My searches came up with several extraordinary results from the McCord Museum, which happens to have several original Canadian blanket coats of the 1880s.


                    Source                                                                         Source

With more searching on the museum webpage, I discovered a collection of William Notman Photographs. William Notman (1826-1891) was a Montreal photographer famous for his winter scenes. Within his photographs, there are nearly a hundred that depict Canadians in this style of dress engaging in various winter activities, such as tobogganing and snowshoeing.



Snowshoeing and tobogganing. Source

After seeing Notman's stunning photographs, I knew I had to make one of these outfits (being a Canadian, of course), even though I live in Vancouver, the one part of Canada that rarely gets snow.

The other major incentive for making this outfit was that I wanted to create an outfit specifically for the Sesquicentenary (150th) anniversary of Canada's Confederation.  This outfit is perfect as many of Notman's photographs of this style of dress date from 1867, which is the year of Canadian Confederation.

I religiously started collecting photos and prints to my Pinterest as reference materials.

Happily, a book I had received years ago as a gift, entitled "Canada - 1892: Portrait of a Promised Land" contains some of the same images I was now collecting.

During the course of my investigations, I discovered that people of the time most commonly referred to this outfit as a "Snowshoeing Costume". This style of outfit was used by the Montreal Snowshoeing Club as their official club uniform.

The Montreal Snowshoeing Club. Source

I also found a book called "Fashion - a Canadian Perspective" which included a full chapter on these Snowshoeing Costumes. This book gave me a lot of information on the history of the blanket coat and its impact on Canada. The chapter explores this uniquely Canadian outfit and its use within the sport of snowshoeing. There's no way I could summarize the sheer amount of information I found on the subject of the Canadian Costume.

Armed with the reference material, I was ready to begin planning the outfit!

(All McCord images can be found on their website.)

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