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Tartans are much more than a simple criss-cross pattern of interwoven threads. As fabric representations of cultural heritage, tartans symbolize the rich history and unique identities of provinces, especially in a country as culturally diverse as Canada. Each one boasts its distinct tartan design, telling a fascinating story through the choice of colours and patterns, symbolizing various elements of their past, present, and future.

This post will unfold the story of Ontario’s Tartan, a beautiful and symbolic emblem that intertwines the province’s cultural heritage, natural beauty, and human history. Each thread, each colour, and each woven pattern narrate a tale as rich and diverse as the province it represents. So, let’s embark on a journey through time and explore the rich tapestry of Ontario’s provincial symbols. Stay tuned!

Tartan Tidbits

Ontario is represented by an official tartan recognized by the province by the Tartan Act of 2000, which had to be changed in 2006 due to inaccuracies in the parliament bill. While a tartan, Ensign of Ontario, designed in 1965, was commonly used before, it was never officially recognized.

The official tartan of Ontario was designed in 2000 by Jim MacNeil, Chairman of Scottish Studies at Ontario’s University at Guelph. His tartan replaced the previously used design and became the officially recognized symbol of the province.

Ontario’s official tartan beautifully captures the province’s character through its selection of colours. Green represents its lush forests and fields, red represents the First Nations of Ontario, blue represents the waters, and white symbolizes the sky above Ontario.

The Fabric of History: Unraveling the Origins and Creation of the Ontario Tartan

Ontario, Canada’s most populous province, boasts a vibrant history rich with diverse cultural influences. Its connection with Scottish heritage is still noteworthy, while not as prominent as in some other Canadian provinces. Ontario has been a home for Scottish immigrants for centuries. In the early 19th century, many Scottish started to choose Ontario over the Maritimes, contributing significantly to the cultural mosaic of the province.

The story of Ontario’s tartan begins in 1965 when a clothing manufacturer, Rotex Ltd, designed what was then known as the Ensign of Ontario tartan (Scottish Register of Tartan number 3140. Inspired by Ontario’s provincial coat of arms, this design was widely accepted and used but did not receive official recognition. The colours represented different elements on the coat of arms: yellow for the three maple leaves, red for the Cross of St. George, black for the bear, and brown for the colour combination of the moose on the left and the deer on the right of the shield.

Ensign of Ontario tartan and provincial coat of arms

Fast forward to 2000, Ontario’s official tartan journey took an exciting turn. Encouraged by the efforts of Bill Murdoch, member of the Ontario Parliament for Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound, a new tartan was introduced. It was designed by Jim MacNeil, the Chairman of Scottish Studies at the University of Guelph and was said to be loosely based on the tartan of Sir John Sandfield Macdonald, the province’s first Premier.

However, the tartan’s journey to official recognition hit a snag due to inaccuracies in the parliamentary private bill (probably due to its complicated pattern or ‘sett’), causing a six-year delay. The original Tartan Act of June 23, 2000, had to be replaced by the current version of June 22, 2006.

Today, the tartan is proudly registered under the Scottish Register of Tartan number 6627. A beautiful tribute to Ontario’s cultural heritage, it is a testament to the province’s vibrant history and enduring connection with Scottish traditions.

Woven in Colour: Decoding the Design of Ontario’s Tartan

The Tartan Sett

The intricate design of Ontario’s tartan is a true embodiment of the province’s unique attributes. The design, or ‘sett,’ consists of various colours, each representing distinct elements of Ontario’s landscape and people. The sett of Ontario’s tartan is as follows (half sett with full count at the pivots):

  • Green 38
  • Red 2
  • Green 4
  • Red 4
  • Green 30
  • Red 2
  • Black 26
  • White 2
  • Blue 4
  • Red 4
  • Blue 42
  • Red 2
  • White 6

Here are the hex color codes:

  • Green 006818
  • White E0E0E0
  • Blue 2C2C80
  • Red C80000
  • Dark Green 003820
  • Black 1C1C1C

Its pattern doesn’t carry any special significance, but the colours do.

Ontario official tartan

The Palette of Ontario

The shades of green represent Ontario’s abundant forests and fields. The province is known for its stunning landscapes, verdant forests and fertile lands.

The blue threads portray the vast water bodies that Ontario is famous for. Water plays a pivotal role in Ontario’s geography, from the Great Lakes to the countless rivers and streams.

The inclusion of red represents the First Nations of Ontario, paying homage to the province’s indigenous people. This colour is a significant reminder of their historical presence and continued influence in the region.

Finally, the white depicts the Ontario sky. In the grand tapestry of the Ontario tartan, the white threads intertwine with the other colours, encapsulating the province’s majestic natural beauty under the vast, open sky.

The design of the tartan is a thoughtful representation of Ontario’s heritage and landscape.

Tartan in Tradition: Usage and Significance of Ontario’s Tartan

The Ontario tartan, steeped in historical significance and cultural symbolism, serves more than just an aesthetic purpose. Its meaningful design celebrates the unique characteristics of the province and its people, making it an emblem of provincial pride that transcends fashion.

The tartan is widely used in a variety of ways throughout Ontario. From clothing such as kilts, scarves, and ties to decorative items like blankets and cushions, the distinctive pattern is a common sight, especially during significant cultural and official events. It is often seen at Celtic festivals and Highland Games, a series of traditional competitions and celebrations of Scottish and Celtic culture. These events, hosted in multiple locations across Ontario, see a delightful display of the tartan in different forms:

  • Almonte – Almonte Celtfest
  • Cambridge – Cambridge Scottish Festival
  • Cobourg – Cobourg Highland Games
  • Fergus – Fergus Scottish Festival & Highland Games
  • Georgetown – Georgetown Highland Games
  • Goderich – Goderich Celtic Roots Festival
  • Kingsville – Kingsville Highland Games
  • Kingston – Kingston Scottish Festival
  • Kincardine – Kincardine Scottish Festival & Highland Games
  • Maxville – Glengarry Highland Games & Tartan Ball
  • Orilla – Orilla Scottish Festival
  • Ottawa – National Capital Highland Games
  • Toronto – Celtic Island Festival
  • Uxbridge – Uxbridge Scottish Festival
  • Woodstock – Embro Highland Games

On Tartan Day, celebrated on April 6 annually, people across Ontario and Canada wear tartan to commemorate their Scottish heritage and this regional symbol. In recognition of Scotland’s historical independence, the date was intentionally selected to coincide with the signing of the Declaration of Arbroath on April 6, 1320.

Finally, the tartan also embodies certain traditions and customs associated with it. From its incorporation in dance costumes and bagpipe covers to its display during Robbie Burns Day celebrations, the Ontario tartan is a cultural cornerstone that continues to be revered and celebrated.

In the world of tartans, clan tartans are associated with specific Scottish families, and district or regional tartans belong to geographical areas. The Ontario tartan is not tied to a clan but represents the province as a whole, meaning it can be worn and appreciated by anyone.

Showcasing Heritage: Purchasing and Crafting with Ontario’s Tartan

Ontario’s tartan, with its vibrant colours and meaningful design, isn’t just a piece of fabric. It’s a token of cultural heritage that can be brought to life in many ways. If you wish to own this distinctive tartan, there are a few places to purchase it.

Locally within Ontario, various boutiques and fabric stores carry tartan products, such as ‘The Wee Tartan Shop,’ ‘The Scottish Company,’ Burnett’s & Struth Scottish Regalia,’ ‘William Glen & Son,’ or ‘MacLeods Scottish Shop.’

Online, ‘ScotlandShop’ and ‘Lochcarron of Scotland’ are reliable retailers offering quality tartan fabrics. It’s worth noting that these are the same places where I’ve purchased my tartans, ensuring their authenticity and quality. I love the idea of getting my tartans from Scotland.

Product ideas with the Ensign of Ontario unofficial tartan – Credit ScotlandShop

Beyond merely purchasing ready-made tartan products, crafting with tartan fabric allows you to create personalized items that resonate with this rich cultural symbol. You can make everyday items like clothing, accessories, home decor, or special occasion items like wedding accessories or holiday decorations. Not only do you get a product steeped in symbolism, but you also partake in keeping a centuries-old tradition alive.

The tartan fabric can be used for clothing, from full-length kilts and sashes to ties, scarves, and caps. Consider creating pillow covers, table runners, or wall art for home decor. These items can bring a touch of Ontario’s heritage and a pop of colour into your living space.

Regardless of what you decide to create, each crafted item can be a conversation starter, providing an opportunity to share Ontario’s tartan’s rich history and significance. So, whether you’re wearing a tartan tie to a business meeting, adorning your living room with tartan cushion covers, or even wrapping a tartan scarf around your neck during a chilly Ontario winter, you’re not just showcasing a pattern; you’re celebrating a rich cultural tapestry.

Conclusion: Celebrating Ontario’s Cultural Tapestry

As we’ve seen, Ontario’s tartan is much more than an array of colours arranged in a specific pattern. It represents the province’s distinct identity, people, and historical roots. From its conception and official recognition to its contemporary use in clothing and other items, the tartan is a testament to Ontario’s rich cultural heritage.

Next time you see this tartan, remember its narrative, one of harmony between nature and people, a salute to the First Nations, and an ode to Ontario’s sparkling waters and beautiful skies. Let it serve as a reminder of how we weave our stories and identities into the fabric of our cultural heritage.

Finally, I encourage you to appreciate the Ontario tartan and share its rich story with others. Whether you wear it, craft with it, or recognize it, you become part of the ongoing story that this piece of cultural heritage continues to tell.

Sources:

  • Scottish Registry of Tartan
  • Ontario Tartan Act, 2000