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.
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).