Gaspésie now has its official tartan, thanks to the teamwork born of the initiative of a bagpiper and made concrete by the know-how and expertise of a kilt maker from Quebec.
Benoît Poulin, a bagpiper from Matane, Quebec, about 500 km north of the provincial capital, found that the more he learned about Scottish culture and music, the more he grew to like it. Given Scotland’s deep roots in the Gaspé region, he felt that this connection had to materialize.
“It happened about five years ago,” he said. “The idea [to create a Gaspé tartan] came to me spontaneously and I started to do some research.”
“At the time, I knew there was one for the Saguenay [region] and I thought ‘Well, it wouldn’t be nice to have one for with us in the Gaspé?'”
Poulin contacted Patrice MacLeod, a photographer, kilt designer and kilt maker in Quebec, credited as the co-inventor of the Gaspé tartan.
“Patrice said it was doable and you just had to find a pattern that matched the area,” Poulin said.
The couple found inspiration in an unofficial Gaspé flag, created by historian Marc-Antoine Deroy in 2001, which Poulin says was proudly embraced by people in the region.
Using the colors of the flag as a starting point, MacLeod made a design which was sent to Scotland for evaluation by the Scottish Register of Tartans.
To be formally approved, tartans must be new and unique, meet the criteria of the Scottish Tartan Register Act 2008 and show a clear link between the person registering the tartan and the name of the proposed tartan.
Poulin says the design was approved, but the registry told him they needed someone responsible from the Gaspé area to sign it. He says he contacted Jonatan Julien, the provincial minister responsible for the Gaspésie–Îles-de-la-Madeleine region, who loved the idea and signed the letter needed to finalize the process.
Patrice Lambert MacLeod, the 6th Chief of Clan MacLeod of Saguenay, says Quebecers and Scots don’t just share a love for fiddle music, dancing and joyful celebrations – they actually come from the same place.
“It’s important not to forget that Quebec culture is of French origin and that France is Celtic,” he said. “The Gauls were a confederation of Celtic tribes.”
MacLeod explains that while there were a large number of diverse Celtic tribes across Europe, culturally and linguistically, they shared many similarities and were able to communicate with each other.
“It’s a culture that dates back to 2,000 BCE,” he said, “and tartan itself has been around since at least 3,500 BCE.”
“Tartan is not necessarily Scottish,” he said.
“The Scots, especially the Highlanders, have adopted it as a national symbol but it’s not necessarily theirs, historically speaking. It’s Celtic.”
Ancient history, modern art
MacLeod retired from commercial kilt making last year, but says he still has a workshop and is happy to lend his expertise to people like Poulin who come to him with passion projects like the Gaspé tartan.
He has been making kilts for 25 years and since he started he has also studied Scottish history, genealogy and traditional weaving.
“I learned by making kilts,” he said. “Making kilts got me interested in tartans, which got me into weaving, learning all the techniques behind…subtle rules that aren’t necessarily written down and are part of the ‘Visual art.”
MacLeod says the familiar plaid pattern is traditionally created by hand and involves weaving the vertical stripes, called warp, and the horizontal stripes, called weft, at right angles.
“Real kilts are handmade and bespoke,” he said. “The tartan itself is the design, not the object.”
He says kilts have different layers of symbolism and detail, depending on their meaning.
“There is a dominant base color, for example, hunting tartans will be predominantly green, while holiday tartans will be more colorful, they will have more red, yellow, pale blue. The black line in a tartan , represents the ink of the written history.”
MacLeod says tartans aren’t just used to make kilts. Once a design is approved and registered in Scotland it becomes part of the public domain and can be used in ties, scarves, shawls – anything woolen.
Asked what having your own tartan means to people in a particular region like the Gaspé Peninsula, MacLeod said it all comes down to an individual’s sense of place, cultural pride and understanding of family history. and regional.
In his case, he traced his family tree branch by branch over the years, traveled to Scotland to learn more about his heritage, and created a tartan for his own region of Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean, as well than the one he designed for the Gaspé Peninsula. .
“When I went to Scotland in 2013, I felt like I was coming home, he says, even though our family has been in Quebec for six generations. [The connection] is very deep, it’s very difficult to explain.”
MacLeod says it’s expensive to have tartan woven in Scotland, which is part of why it took Poulin’s time to bring his idea to life. But now the design has been sent to a weaver there who will send the fabric back to MacLeod, who will create a custom kilt for Poulin.
“It’s a symbol that brings people together,” he said. “If someone identifies more with Gaspésie, they will choose the Gaspésie tartan. If he identifies more with a Scottish surname, then he will choose [that] tartan.”
“Today, in a world of people scattered and caught up in ‘me, myself and me’, having a clear identity path is the best way to reconsider our community ties.”