13. 1870 Dress, McCord Museum

#11 Afternoon Dress
About 1870-1873
Blue-green and darker blue-green silk taffeta, sage-green silk faille
Gift of Mrs. J. Reid Hyde M971.105.6(.1-.2)
Worn by: Mrs. Hugh McLennan (Nee Alice Stewart).
Provenance: Mrs J. Reid Hyde, Westmount (Quebec), until 1971
Exhibitions: Montreal, McCord Museum, January 15-April 15, 1972





The birth of the Dominion of Canada, in 1867 found it’s 3.4 million inhabitants divided amongst 4 provinces; Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick. Almost 80% of the people were born here and at the time were called “Natives of British America.” The balance of the population were, in majority, of French origin, the remainder being of English, Welsh, Irish, Scottish and “Foreign” origins. Most did not live in urban centres but for those that did, they were well aware of, followed closely and wore the then-current fashions of their homeland.

The above image comes from the McCord Museum of Canadian History in Montreal, in the catalogue of their show; “FORMES ET MODES Le Costume a Montreal au XIX siècle / FORM AND FASHION Nineteenth-Century Montreal Dress” 1992/1993. The show long over, the catalogue remains as one of the few sources of information about clothing in Canada in the 19th Century and it does an amazing job of demonstrating “how” the fashions being worn, whether made in Canada or abroad, so closely paralleled those of the then-current European trends. It is so interesting to see a periods fashions portrayed using clothes worn, and some even made, in Canada, as examples describing the latest trends, from such an early time in our countries history.

I chose this dress as it is dated just 3 years from Canada’s founding date and, as it’s catalogue description concludes with the statement, taken from the Montreal journal “L’Album de la Minerve”, January 1, 1872 issue,

“Although Canada cannot claim to create fashion, we have no objection to importing it. My role in all this is a simple one: to point out the prevailing and future modes.”

I take this statement as a challenge, as although correct in the sense of “High Fashion” I think I have already begun to demonstrate that we have our own way of doing things in Canada, whether they rate on the “High Fashion” scale or not!