The shortest month of the year is upon us. Elsewhere in the country, February evokes the harshness of Canadian winters. But for many here in Manitoba, February is a chance to spread one’s joie de vivre and to celebrate Métis and Franco-Manitoban culture at the Festival du Voyageur!
Just about everyone knows that a seasoned festival-goer would never leave home without donning a sash. Also known widely by its French name, ceinture fléchée, the sash has become a perennial symbol of Métis and Franco-Manitoban culture. Québécois historian, E.Z-. Massicotte, called the sash a “masterwork of Canada domestic industry.” But where does it come from?
Clothing Steeped in History
Many associate the sash with Métis culture, forged as it is out of the encounter between French fur traders and the Indigenous peoples of Western Canada. These mixed origins of the Métis Nation lead many to see the sash as the result of cultural syncretism between the French and Indigenous peoples, or alternatively as an Indigenous creation that was later appropriated by the voyageurs. Unfortunately, the exact historical origins of the sash have been lost in the passing of time.
What we do know for sure is that sashes made out of wool have been present in North America since Jacques Cartier’s establishment of New France in 1534. Between 1534 and today, the sash has performed multiple functions. Sometimes, it served a practical role. Voyageurs tied the sash around their coat or it was even used as a rope to transport heavy objects. At other times, the sash was seen as a symbol of reciprocity and mutual respect between the two founding peoples of the Métis Nation.
Weaving Techniques in Constant Evolution
Just as the principal role of the sash varied over time, so too did its appearance change across generations. The evolution of weaving techniques and the development of the wool industry exerted a large influence on the appearance of the sash. By 1835, the production of the sash in Canada took place primarily in the Assomption region of Québec. Hence the nickname sometimes used for the sash: the Assomption sash. At this moment, the sash took on its current appearance, characterized by herringbone stitching and blue, white, and red colouring.
The sash, relegated to the wayside for most of the twentieth century, saw something of a resurgence in popularity during the 1960s, as a result of the growing nationalist sentiment that was taking hold across much of French Canada. From the Gaspé region to the Red River Valley, many artisans and amateurs learned how to stitch the sash by hand to pay tribute to their Francophone and Métis heritage. This revival carries on to this day. Indeed, it is likely that Georges Forest, the founder of the Festival du Voyageur and a defender of French language rights in Manitoba, was inspired by this revitalization when he was promoting the first edition of the Festival in 1970.
Now a Vibrant Tradition
Today, the sash continues to symbolize Francophone and Métis pride. Although weaving the sash by hand is a demanding and difficult process, many local artisans show off their craftsmanship in so doing. Indeed, today you can even find online courses that teach you how to weave a sash. If that doesn’t tickle your fancy, it is now easier than ever to buy yourself some high-quality sashes from local boutiques.
Where to buy your sash: