Beaver Hats to Hockey Pads: A Social History of Felt in Canada (redux)

Introduction

Beaver Hats to Hockey Pads was originally published as an essay accompanying the exhibition I curated about felt for the Textile Museum of Canada in 1999-2000. This version has been edited and expanded to form a series of twelve posts that is not so much a chronology as it is a collection of stories that use felt objects to illustrate aspects of Canadian history and culture from the fur trade though popular culture.

Felt was complicit with colonialism, driving the early days of trade through European millinery. Felt grew with industrialization and manufacturing side by side with steel, peaking through World War II and the subsequent wave of optimism in North American engineering and design. Felt struggles through globalization, but continues unrivalled in some industries, remaining contemporary in quality and sustainability.

Felt is an ancient material, but this is a new-world history that traces the material culture of modern manufactured felt in a North American context. It is at once a series of cliches and a story of survival as felt is worn through use, through weather and through time.

1. Pelts and Felts: A vagary of fashion that was the success of us and the death of many long before Confederation…

2. Hats: Canadian classics, and how some indigenous folks stick it to the man…

3. Wilderness Tips: Capitalizing on the great outdoors, and how an old felt hat can save the day…

4. Boots: A Cold War, in which felt meets rubber…

5. A Story of Immigration: To the Prairies where felt is good for the sole…

6. First Nations: A museum artifact tells a story of survival…

7. Industrialization: Where steel is found there is bound to be felt…

8. The Military: Ordnance and ornament…

9. American Influence and Affluence: cars, white-goods and poodle skirts…

10.Inuit: Neevingatah, a unique art  form…

11.Rural Living: On the horse and around the hearth…

12.The Golden Age of Hockey: Inspiration is found in a harness shop…

Left: The First Public Sale of Furs, 1672. The traders wear beaver hats in the cavalier style popular throughout Europe in the 17th century (Hudson’s Bay Archives, Provincial Archives of Manitoba). Right: Terry Sawchuck, widely known as one of Canada’s greatest goal-tenders. Here, in 1947, he wears shoulder pads made of felt (The Imperial Oil Turofsky Collection, Hockey Hall of Fame).

 

1. Pelts and Felts