It’s Winter in Canada, the sledding is good, the Beavertails are cooking down in the ByWard Market, and we’re going to ensure you can safely go play in the snow.
From the top of the tete to the tip of the toe and all points in between, we’ve become expert at keeping the heat in and the Canadian winter out. This week with winter still not officially underway (but in reality, in full force) let’s have a look at the winter apparel that populates the closets of the country from the wet coast of BC to the frozen fields of Flin Flon, from the tundra of the great territories to the slippery sloughs of Saskatchewan!
Toque: Circa 1500, Middle French toque, Spanish toca “woman’s headdress,” possibly from Arabic taqa, from Old Persian taq “veil, shawl.”
The word was borrowed into the French language both for the chef’s uniform and the knit cap.
In Canada, tuque is the common name for a knitted winter hat, or watch cap. The fashion is said to have originated with the coureurs de bois, French and Métis fur traders, who kept their woollen nightcaps on for warmth during cold winter days.
Mitts: short for mittens, from Old French mitaine “mitten, half-glove (four fingers one section, thumb cover for other section). Not ideal for surgery or other delicate tasks requiring high dexterity, but perfect for keeping the fingers nice and warm all together. Very polite device, you have a thumb you can signal thumbs up, but no individual fingers for a Salmon Arm salute.
Long johns: The elegant, one-piece pre-Victoria Secret lingerie for farmers, woodsmen, trappers, miners and cowboys, made from wool or anything else that induces scratching and itching. But wow are they warm! Complete with escape hatch, put them on in October, take ‘em off in May, and hope someone throws you in a pond several times over the winter! Reputedly named after the late-19th-century boxer John L. Sullivan; the 225 year-old British company still produces long johns.
Parka: The Inuit of the Canadian Arctic created the very first versions. Inuit women used the intestines of seals and whales, as well as layers of caribou skin to create insulated and waterproof coats. These were then coated with fish oil to make them more water resistant. The women sewed in drawstring hoods to the parkas. These parkas (which were called amauti) included space for baby below the hood. The mother’s body heat warmed the child and allowed the baby to be easily moved to be breastfed without exposing baby to the cold. Down-filled parkas also became mainstay outerwear with hoods that formed a deep tunnel to keep the cold from freezing the face. Wolf fur, which won’t frost up with exhaled breath, was fixed around the rim of the hood. Clever!
Mukluks: or Kamik are a soft boot traditionally made of reindeer (caribou) skin or sealskin and were originally worn by Arctic aboriginal people, including the Inuit and Yupik. The term mukluk is often used for any soft boot designed for cold weather. Mukluks weigh little and allow hunters to move very quietly. They may be adorned with pompons and beads and may be lined with furs such as rabbit, fox and raccoon. The key component of its success is its ability to breathe, that is, to allow air exchange. This is an advantage in extremely cold conditions where perspiration may become a factor in frostbite on one’s feet. The bulkiness paired with their poor performance in slush makes them less ideal for the casual winter wearer.
Muffler or Scarfe: Not the Midas kind, it’s a long narrow piece of cloth worn around the head, neck, or shoulders for warmth or decoration… to use as a scarf. Mid 16th century as a ‘sash’ (around the waist or over the shoulder) probably based on Old Northern French escarpe or escharpe.
So now you know how to dress for Canada’s crazy winter weather, you can enjoy that knowledge from your Caribbean hacienda or Hawaiian lanai.