IN GRAND STYLE
Cambridge museum marks Canada’s150th birthday with a fashionable flourish
Cambridge museum marks Canada’s 150th birthday with a fashionable flourish
You can discover clothes older than Canada in a former Cambridge post office, a treasure trove to help celebrate the nation’s 150th birthday this year.
Jonathan Walford and Kenn Norman collected the iconic pieces for the Fashion History Museum they co-founded. They plan to exhibit some special pieces as a tribute to 150 years of Canadian style, celebrating achievements ranging from beaver pelts and Cowichan sweaters to the wire hangar and Wonderbra.
The couple had just closed the fashion museum for the 2016 season when we talked about the stylish shows scheduled this year. One of their three gallery spaces will be devoted to an exhibition titled
Fashioning Canada Since 1867.
Walford’s wide knowledge of fashion is enlightening. Consider this concept: shopping as a way to build a nation.
“More than any other country in the world, Canada has relied upon the department store as a form of nationalism,” Walford says.
“Whether you lived in Nova Scotia or the interior of B.C., you got the same Eaton’s catalogue; the same products were available. Eaton’s was primarily the main one, followed by Simpsons, which was mostly in Ontario, and Hudson’s Bay, which was Western Canada. Those were the three big ones that really unified Canada through merchandising and shopping, so it was nationalism through shopping.”
Although big department stores defined much of the country’s early retail years, women still produced garments at home, sewing their own clothes. This will be another theme in the birthday exhibition, the rise of the home sewing machine and dressmaking from patterns.
Walford says Canada was the largest manufacturer of sewing machines outside of the U.S. from 1868 to 1875, and there was a massive sewing machine industry in Hamilton.
Early Canadian retail stores often combined imported goods and dressmaking materials. You would go to the stores where you could buy your accessories – shawls and purses and stockings – off the shelf. You could buy yardage of laces and things like that. And then you could also have your dresses made and coats made,” Walford says. The Made in Canada concept will run throughout the exhibition. Although many goods related to clothing were manufactured in Waterloo Region, Canada wasn’t known for its fashion design. “We didn’t rely upon our own talent to design our look. We borrowed, knocked off what was happening in Paris and Europe. It was influenced by it. We usually were copies of copies of copies,” says Walford. It wasn’t until after the Second World War that Canadian designers began to emerge. “It really took off with the boutique movement in the 1960s. You had Marilyn Brooks and Pat McDonagh opening their own little shops and those were the places that really defined the Canadian style and created a Canadian design esthetic.” The museum will feature a section of Canadian Firsts, showcasing innovations such as the wire hangar, the athletic supporter – the cup, not the strap – and bulky wool sweaters. Canadian fashion icons such as Elizabeth Arden, Rosemary
The Fashioning Canada Since 1867 exhibition will include a gala gown circa 1954 by Toronto couturier David Artibello. JONATHON WALFORD