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History of tartan header

Tartan, a patterned fabric often associated with Scottish identity, has a complex and ancient history. Commonly linked to clan allegiances, many of these colours stem from the weaving industry formed by the Wilsons of Bannockburn, who scoured the Highlands for old patterns, as well as the clan histories put together by the Sobieski Stuart brothers during the 1830s and 1840s.

Early Origins

The history of tartan can be traced back to ancient times, with the earliest known tartan remnant being woven between 700 and 1200 BCE. However, the use of tartan disappeared between 1200 BCE and the 16th century CE. The late Jamie Scarlett MBE, a prominent tartan historian, suggested that it was always present but not well-documented during this period.

Evolution and Modernization

Tartan has undergone various transformations throughout history. A significant transformation occurred with the use of modern dyes, introducing vivid colours. This marked a shift from the former use of vegetable dyes, which became known as Ancient tartan colours. Additionally, a third colourway emerged called Weathered or Reproduction tartans, which were colours reproduced from fabric found on battlefields or homesteads.

Cultural Significance

For several centuries, tartan remained part of the everyday garb of the Highlander, particularly in the Highlands where its development continued. It became synonymous with the symbol of clan kinship and was used to make traditional Scottish dress, including the kilt and trews. The popularity of tartan continued to grow, with many Scottish clans still having their own specific tartan design associated with their family name, worn to celebrate heritage and pride towards their ancestry.

History of tartan in Canada header

The history of Canadian heritage tartans is closely linked to the celebration of Scottish culture and the recognition of the contributions of Scottish descendants to Canada.

History of tartan in Canada timeline

Origins and Significance

The tradition of wearing tartans to celebrate family and regional heritage in Canada has its roots in the 1980s, particularly in Nova Scotia. National Tartan Day, observed on April 6th, was officially recognized as a Canada-wide observance in 2010, marking the anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Arbroath, the Scottish declaration of independence in 1320.

Regional Tartans

Each of Canada's provinces and territories has its own regional tartan. The first province to adopt an official tartan was Nova Scotia in 1955, and the most recent province was Nunavut in 2009. There is a registered Quebec tartan, but it is not yet offically recognized by the province of Quebec. 

Maple Leaf Tartan

The Maple Leaf tartan, originally designed in 1964 by David Weiser, became the official national emblem of Canada in 2011. It symbolizes the significant contributions of people of Scottish heritage to the founding of Canada.

Cultural Heritage

Canadian heritage tartans have a rich history intertwined with the celebration of Scottish culture and the recognition of the contributions of Scottish descendants to Canada. The tradition of wearing tartans to celebrate family and regional heritage continues to be observed across various communities in Canada.

Click here to explore our full range of tartans.

Canadian provincial tartan tie selection