April 3, 2019 3:03 pm
Updated: April 4, 2019 11:30 am

Maple Leaf tartan: McCord Museum explores history of one of Canada’s lesser-known official symbols

WATCH ABOVE: Step aside beavers, make room for another official symbol of Canada. Global's Andrea Howick is joined by the McCord Museum's curator to talk about the Maple Leaf tartan.


Can you name Canada’s official symbols? There’s the maple leaf, of course, the beaver, the coat of arms and the national flag (to name a few), but have you heard of the Maple Leaf tartan?

The pattern was created in 1964 by David Weiser, whose family fled pogroms in Eastern Europe in the early 20th century. It was officially declared a national symbol in 2011.

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“Very few people know that. Today, it’s very obscure, but it was actually created… in anticipation of Canada’s centennial,” said Cynthia Cooper, curator of dress, fashion and textiles at Montreal’s McCord Museum.

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She said there is a common misconception that the symbol recognizes the historic contributions of Scottish Canadians.

“I thought, as I was beginning to discover its history, what a missed opportunity,” Cooper told Global News.

“Fifty years [after Weiser’s family arrived in Canada], he felt enough of a sense of belonging that he could pitch a national symbol that really did take on in the 1960s and 1970s. It was very successful in its own kind.”

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The colours symbolize the life cycle of the maple leaf: the dark green foliage of the summer, the golden tones of fall, the red of the first frost and the dark brown colours of the winter.

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“As I thought about it, I thought this is really the environment — and if there’s one cause all Canadians can get behind right now, that is it,” Cooper said.

“I thought, ‘What a potential as a symbol [it is].'”

The Maple Leaf tartan is used by the Royal Canadian Regiment Pipes and Drums, and has been worn by the second, third and fourth Battalions.

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As a way to honour this lesser-known symbol of Canadian pride — on National Tartan Day, no less — Montreal’s McCord Museum is granting free entry on Saturday to anyone wearing tartan — maple leaf or not.

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“It’s an occasion for people to wear tartan and think about what it expresses to them,” she told Global News.

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There will also be a talk and presentation diving in the checkered past of many Canadian tartans designed in the mid-1960s, including one called the plaid du Québec.


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