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People & Culture

Discover Canada's regional tartans

Explore Canada's various tartans (and the stories behind them)

  • Apr 05, 2016
  • 915 words
  • 4 minutes
Each province and territory of Canada with the exception of Nunavut has its own tartan. Canada also has a national tartan. Get to know their history and meanings below. (Map: Alexandra Pope/Canadian Geographic.)
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Every year on April 6, Canadians of Scottish descent are encouraged to wear tartans to celebrate their family and regional heritage.

Originally started in Nova Scotia in 1980s, National Tartan Day was officially recognized as a Canada-wide observance in 2010. It is celebrated in various communities across the country with parades and performances highlighting Scottish culture.

What’s the significance of April 6? It marks the anniversary of the signing of Declaration of Arbroath – the Scottish declaration of independence – in 1320.

Expand the map above to explore the official tartans of each province and territory (minus Nunavut), and read on to discover the stories behind them.

The Maple Leaf Tartan The Maple Leaf Tartan is Canada’s national tartan. It was created in 1964 by David Weiser in anticipation of Canada’s centennial in 1967, but it wasn’t formally adopted as the official tartan until 2011. Weiser chose colours that reflected the changing of leaves from the green of summer to the red, gold and brown of autumn.

Alberta Alberta’s tartan, adopted in 1961, was designed by Alison Lamb and Ellen Neilsen of the Edmonton Rehabilitation Society, an organization dedicated to teaching valuable skills to the disabled. The green represents the province’s forests, while the gold represents its grain fields.

British Columbia Designed by Eric Ward in 1966 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the union of Vancouver Island and British Columbia, the B.C. tartan is primarily blue and red, representing the Pacific Ocean and the maple leaf. It also contains green for forests, white for the province’s official flower, the Pacific Dogwood, and gold for the provincial coat of arms.

Manitoba Designed in 1962 by Hugh Kirkwood Rankine, Manitoba’s tartan contains red in honour of the Red River Settlement, founded in 1812 by the Earl of Selkirk, Thomas Douglas, and blue from the design of the Clan Douglas tartan. The green and gold in the design represent the province’s agricultural heritage.

New Brunswick The official tartan of New Brunswick was commissioned by William Aitken, Lord Beaverbrook, in 1959 and designed by the Loomcrofters in Gagetown. Its “beaver brown” colour honours Beaverbrook, while the red accents honour the province’s Loyalist settlers.

Newfoundland and Labrador The official tartan of Newfoundland and Labrador was designed in 1955 by a St. John’s business owner, Samuel B. Wilansky. Its striking green, gold and white design was inspired by the poem “Ode to Newfoundland,” which references the province’s “pine-clad hills” and wintertime “cloak of shimmering white.”

Nova Scotia Designed by Bessie Murray, the president of the Halifax Weavers’ Guild, Nova Scotia’s tartan was originally displayed as a shepherd’s kilt at a breeders’ convention in 1953, where it was greatly admired. Officially adopted by the province in 1963, it contains blue for the sea, white for the granite rocks and surf, gold for the Royal Charter, and red for the lion rampant on the provincial flag.

Northwest Territories The idea of an official tartan for Northwest Territories was proposed by Janet Anderson-Thomson after she attended an RCMP ball in 1966 and noticed that the piper was, in her words, “terribly drab.” She and her husband John, a land surveyor, both discussed the idea with Stuart Hodgson, then Commissioner of the Northwest Territories, who supported it. The tartan was designed by Hugh MacPherson (Scotland) Limited of Edinburgh, a tartan designer and manufacturer, with Anderson-Thomson’s colour suggestions: green for the forests, white for the Arctic Ocean, blue for the Northwest Passage, gold for the territories’ mineral wealth, red-orange for autumn foliage, and a thin black line to represent the tree line.

Ontario Ontario’s tartan was designed in 1965 by Rotex Ltd., but not officially adopted until 2000, when Bill Murdoch, MPP for Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound, introduced the Tartan Act. The tartan contains three shades of green representing Ontario’s forests and fields, red representing First Nations peoples, blue for water and white for the sky.

Prince Edward Island Prince Edward Island held a contest to select its official tartan. The winning design by Jean Reed of Covehead was adopted in 1960. The red-brown represents the province’s famous red soil, the green is for the grass and trees, the white is for the surf, and the yellow is for the sun.

Quebec Quebec is the only province whose tartan has not been officially adopted by an act of government. Known as the Plaid of Quebec, it was designed in 1965 by Rotex Ltd., which also designed the tartan of Ontario the same year. Its colours are derived from the province’s coat of arms, with blue from the upper division, green for the three maple leaves, red from the centre division, gold for the crown and lion passant, and white for the scroll containing the province’s motto, “Je me souviens.”

Saskatchewan Saskatchewan’s tartan was created in 1961 by Lillian Michaelis Bastedo, the wife of Frank Lindsay Bastedo, Lieutenant Governor of Saskatchewan. The predominantly yellow palette represents Saskatchewan’s identity as the “bread basket” of Canada, with gold for wheat and yellow for rapeseed and sunflower. It also contains green for forests, red for the prairie lily, white for snow, brown for summerfallow, and black for oil and coal.

Yukon Territory The official tartan of the Yukon Territory was designed by Janet Couture in 1965. Its unique colour palette represents various aspects of the territory’s history and geography: yellow for the Klondike Gold Rush and midnight sun, purple for its mountains, white for snow, blue for water, and green for forests.


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