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

11. Rural Living

On the horse and around the hearth…

At the time of Confederation, 84% of Canada’s population was rural. Though the balance has shifted to a more urban nation since the 1940s, agriculture remains a vital part of the economy.

In the early days when horsepower actually meant powered by horses, felt made excellent padding on saddles and harnesses. It continues to be used by farmers and ranchers today who recognize that felt is superior than synthetic substitutes when it comes to animal well-being. Newer materials may come in many colours, but they trap heat. None compare to the way the wool of felt breathes and reduces heat build-up. Felt wicks moisture away from the horse, and prevents pressure points that lead to sores. And, felt has lasting power, outliving newer materials that break down more readily.

LEFT: saddle with felt pad; RIGHT: felt dress shield, felt hat, harness of felt and leather

Living on the land is sustained by thrift in the home. Penny rugs, often hung on the wall or laid by the hearth, are so-called for their use of circle shapes and low cost. They are made from scraps of found materials, often felt, and old clothes, and usually backed with burlap bags or feed sacks. Penny rugs are common to the Atlantic regions where a larger share of the population lives in rural areas compared to other parts of the country. KW

2 penny rugs

LEFT: penny rug of felt scraps, 1912, Collection of the Textile Museum of Canada; RIGHT: penny rug of felt, 1930s, fringe made from cut up felt pennants


Felt pennants, 1940s to 70s, made of wool felt. Similar pennants now mark the land in synthetic non-wovens.

10. Inuit 12. The Golden Age of Hockey