In the 17th century, the lucrative trade in beaver pelts for manufacture into fur hats encouraged European exploration and settlement in Canada. The beaver’s soft, velvety fur, or duvet, was combed and separated from its coarse outer hairs before it was felted into a fabric. The mercury used in the felting process was toxic and often affected the minds of hat makers – the Mad Hatter in Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland was one such unfortunate artisan. By the mid-19th century, beavers were almost extinct when, luckily, Europeans took a liking to silk hats instead.
Where was this textile created?
North America: Canada, Central Canada, Quebec, Eastern Townships
Woven jute, hooked with wool yarns and woven strips
90 cm x 48 cm
Gift of Dr. Howard Gorman
T91.0126 Textile Museum of Canada
An iconic beaver poised over a log dominates the centre of this sturdy rug. The person who wove it plied subtly varied wool strands together to create heathery tones throughout the surface, and filled in the beaver’s eye and the log ends with woven strips to vary the texture. Like quilts, hooked rugs were domestic products of thrifty pioneer families who created them from scraps of yarn and cloth. Many such rugs were treasured for the creativity and skill that went into making them.
The beaver graces the coat-of-arms of the Hudson’s Bay Company and the City of Montreal. It also appears on the first Canadian postage stamp printed in 1851. In 1974, the government of Canada proclaimed the beaver a symbol of Canadian sovereignty, and put the buck-toothed rodent on the front of the nickel coin where you will still find it today.
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