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TEMPORARY CLOSURE (Portion of External Grounds, 1878 Schoolhouse) Begins Monday, July 15, 2024.

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Bruce County Museum & Cultural Centre​

33 Victoria Street North (in the town of Saugeen Shores)
Southampton, ON Canada N0H 2L0

Toll Free: 1-866-318-8889 | Phone: 519-797-2080 | Fax 519-797-2191

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The Bruce County Tartan

Home | Stories & Artefacts | The Bruce County Tartan

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The tartan is one of the most recognizable pieces of cultural clothing. From its countless appearances in pop culture to its cultural status as ceremonial clothing for military units and those of Scottish descent, it has cemented itself as a piece of Scottish identity. Tartans continue to be created all over the world, but only a few have had the honour of being officially registered at His Majesty’s registry house in Edinburgh. Bruce County achieved this in 1965 with the unveiling of their variation of the Clan Bruce tartan.


History/Significance of Tartans


Tartans hail from the Scottish Highlands and while their exact origins are up for debate, it can be agreed that they are Celtic. Some theorize that they came into existence during the first century BCE due to Varro, a Roman scholar, describing the clothing worn by British Celts as “being woven of diverse colours.” The cloth used to create tartan clothing has existed since the third and fourth century CE, but the material was used for typical everyday wear, not for ceremony. Tartans were usually created by individual weavers and small businesses who expressed their creativity through the patterns. The concept of a “clan tartan system” had not yet been conceived.


Our modern interpretations of tartans appeared in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, coinciding with the industrialization of the weaving industry and the 1745 Proscription Act which prohibited wearing the tartan or any Highland dress. The first and only licensed tartan firm during this period, William Wilson & Son’s of Bannockburn, continued to produce tartans for the Highland Regiments. Once the Proscription Act ended in the late eighteenth century, Wilson’s began to label their tartans with names of towns, districts, and families. Family names became the most popular method of labelling tartans because they sold better and were easier to market. The resurgence of the tartan also signaled its transition into ceremonial wear as the upper and middle classes of Britain held romanticized notions of Scotland that stemmed from the failed Jacobite Rebellion of 1745. The chiefs of Scottish clans encouraged this development because it allowed for them to have unifying representation, having lost most of their political power due to English intervention. The tartan holds major cultural significance to the people of Scotland and its diaspora as it is now a symbol that serves as representation for a collective ethnic identity.


History of Scottish Immigration to Bruce County


Most Scottish immigrants came to Canada between 1750 and 1815. Many would initially settle in Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, or Upper Canada (Ontario).  By the 1850s, most were settling in Upper Canada as they were artisans and farmers. Many business and professional people, such as teachers and clergymen, also immigrated.


The early days of European settlement in Bruce County saw many immigrants from Scotland make their way to this area. Here they would permanently settle, open their own businesses, and start families all while holding their Scottish traditions and culture close to their hearts. Additionally, a strong loyalty to Scotland remained amongst these early immigrants and their descendants.


Canada’s Centennial and Bruce County’s Tartan


The Canadian Centennial took place nationwide in 1967 and celebrated the 100th anniversary of the nation’s confederation.


“Bruce County Tartan” BCM&CC 2017.014.003

The tartan for Bruce County was first proposed in 1962 by Dr. J.F Morton of Southampton when he was speaking to the Bruce Centre District Women’s Institute (WI). Just a year later, the Institute would take on the responsibility of creating and legitimatizing the tartan as a centennial project that would pay homage to the namesake of the County as well as the early immigrants to the area.


In 1964, Lord Bruce, the son of the Earl of Elgin, sent a letter and sample design of the Clan Bruce tartan stating that the WI may use it if they wished. It held a minor design deviation suggested by Lord Lyon. This was the addition of deep blue bands on either side of the white bands which would symbolize the water of Lake Huron and the surrounding rivers.


Seeking Recognition


The process of registering a tartan is more complicated than one might think. It must be approved by Lord Lyon, the King at arms, at His Majesty’s registry house in Edinburgh. Because of this factor, many tartans outside of Scotland remain unrecognized; however, this is not the case for Bruce County. At the time of its recognition, there were only four other Canadian tartans recognized by the Scottish Registry. These included Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Manitoba, Saskatchewan.


 “The significance of tartan would be destroyed if every county or town was to have its own tartan.” – Elizabeth A. Bruce (Lord Lyon’s secretary in Edinburgh)


Members of the First Bruce County Tartan Committee, 1965. Mrs. J.E. Rowe, Mrs. Tessie Greig (Warden), Dr. J.F. Morton (Chairman), Mrs. O. Gateman, Mrs. Kathleen Jacklin, Mrs. Olive Hepburn. From BCDWI Tartan Scrapbook, Copyright Bruce County District Women’s Institute. BCM&CC A2014.049.672

To have something acknowledged by its original creator is always exciting, and the acceptance of the County’s tartan is no exception to this. The Bruce County tartan was formally recognized in Edinburgh on January 19, 1965.  It was adopted by the County of Bruce as its official tartan through by-law 1851 that year.  Its dedication ceremony was held at Jubilee Park in Southampton on July 10, 1965.  It was then registered in Canada with letters patent and trademarked in 1966. Alongside the tartan, the Bruce County Coat of Arms was also created.  A unique County crest was a requirement for official tartan registration.


The tartan, and tartan attire, were officially launched in Bruce County in 1967 at the G.C. Huston Public School auditorium in Southampton. A decade later, the International Plowing Match was hosted in Port Elgin and opened by Lord Elgin, who was presented with the County version of the Bruce tartan.


The Tartan’s Appearance in the Community


The Bruce County tartan continues to be used in the community. The County tartan along with numerous other clan tartans may be seen every summer at the Kincardine Highland Games which aims to celebrate Scottish culture by enhancing and engaging with the rest of the community through dancing, sports activities, and culture workshops.


Showing Bruce County Tartan Wares. Including Marion Teasdale, Reta Davis, Muriel Busch, Mrs. Donald Cameron, & Constance Forbes. From BCDWI Tartan Scrapbook. Copyright Bruce County District Women’s Institute. BCM&CC A2014.049.672

From 1973 to 2003, the Bruce County District Women’s Institute (BCDWI) was granted the exclusive right to produce and sell the tartan pattern on various materials, along with the County, through a number of County by-laws. In 2003, responsibility for Bruce County Tartan production and use permission reverted to the County.  That responsibility is now carried out primarily by the Bruce County Museum & Cultural Centre, a department of the County of Bruce.


The tartan remains a point of pride within the community of Bruce County. Beyond paying homage to the Scottish roots of the early immigrants to the area, the process of designing and registering the tartan was a community effort and would not have been possible without organizations and individuals coming together to work towards a common goal.


“Wear the Bruce County tartan with pride. It is our own with a great future ahead.” – Women’s Institute



Bruce County District Women’s Institute.  Bruce County District Tartan Scrapbook Bruce County District Women’s Institute fonds. Bruce County Museum & Cultural Centre A2014.049.672

Bruce County Tartan History [article], Bruce County Museum & Cultural Centre A2023.086.002

Bruce County Women’s Institute Tartan Notes 1962-1968. Bruce County District Women’s Institute fonds, Bruce County Museum & Cultural Centre A2014.049.671

Canada.  Registrar of Trade Marks.  Notice of adoption and use of tartan by County of Bruce. Bruce County Museum & Cultural Centre AX975.039.001.

Hepburn, Olive E. Bruce County Tartan History. 1975. Bruce County Museum & Cultural Centre A2012.032.003.

MacLean, Charles and David McAllister. Clans and Tartans Pelican Publishing. 1995.

Mcleod, Norman. The History of the County of Bruce and the minor municipalities therein 1907-1968 Province of Ontario, Canada. Owen Sound, Richardson, Bond, and Wright Limited, 1969.

Newcome, Matthew. “Brief History of Tartan.” The Scottish Tartans Museum and Heritage Center. 2003. Accessed June 3, 2024.  Brief History of Tartan – The Scottish Tartans Museum and Heritage Center, Inc.

To view more resources and examples of the Bruce County Tartan, visit BCM&CC’s Online Collections, Here.

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