Festival celtique de Québec shows its colours for Tartan Day

Photo: Ruby Pratka

Festival celtique co-founder Guy Morisset, Ted and Louise Gunn, and designer Patrice MacLeod proudly display the official Festival tartan.  

The Festival celtique de Québec will be showing a little more colour this year. Organizers unveiled the Festival's official tartan at a ceremony at the Pub St-Alexandre on April 6, World Tartan Day. 

After a spine-tingling skirl of the bagpipes from 78th Fraser Highlanders piper Rock Pomerleau, Quebec City kilt-maker Patrice MacLeod, who designed the tartan, unveiled the colourful fabric.

"There are around 6,000 registered tartans in the world, 500 of which are produced regularly," MacLeod said. "Of those 500, only five in the world are official festival tartans. The Festival celtique tartan is the fifth. 

"I wanted it to be festive, joyful, as we want the Festival to be, and also something to bring us together. It represents the Celtic nations that are still alive today - blue and white for Scotland, green, white and orange for Ireland and the dark line for Brittany. They're all here. And if you look at the coat of arms of Quebec City, you'll find exactly the same colours.

"A tartan needs to be distinctive; you can't have one that resembles somebody else's," MacLeod explained. "And the colours and colour combinations need to be harmonious. Also, a good tartan, you need to be able to identify with it." 

The fabric was designed in Quebec in 2013 and woven in Scotland. "The first 60 metres [of fabric] arrived in Canada in December 2014 and the first kilt was made shortly after," MacLeod explained. A sample of the fabric stayed at the National Tartan Registry of Scotland in Edinburgh. 

"Coming from Nova Scotia, I really wanted a tartan," explained Allison Caughey, general manager of the Festival. Caughey wore the official blue-and-green tartan of Nova Scotia, her "home colours." 

"A tartan is our identification; it made sense to use it to bring together the Celtic community as a family in Quebec City," Caughey said.  

And for Ted and Louise Gunn, it made sense to unveil the tartan on April 6. The couple have been behind Tartan Day ceremonies in Quebec City since the city's first Tartan Day in 2004.

Louise Gunn explained that the first tartans were worn in Ireland and present-day Scotland by the Celts about 2,500 years ago. "Before the 15th century, in Scotland, the word ‘tartan' was used to describe any material coming from the Highlands. Eventually square motifs incorporating different dyes from the plants growing in a particular region became popular, which told a person where those wearing the tartan came from and to what clan they belonged." 

Thousands of Highlanders immigrated to Quebec after the British conquest. "They integrated so fully into the community that today they share their Scottish heritage with a large number of Québécois, and have participated widely in the development of Canada, whether in politics, shipping, business, science or education," Louise went on. 

The first Tartan Day - unsurprisingly - was celebrated in Nova Scotia in 1986. Ontario adopted the tradition in 1991. Quebec adopted the tradition in 2004, by a unanimous declaration of the National Assembly. 

Although there was no official municipal celebration this year, as the date fell so close to the long Easter weekend, the Pub St-Alexandre was packed full for the ceremony and the accompanying show by Celtic folk group Matching Keys. 

"The pipes are calling for everyone, it's part of our DNA, whether we're Breton, Irish, Scottish, Welsh or anything else," said James Donovan, a member of the Festival celtique committee and co-organizer of the Défilé de la Saint-Patrick. "We're all rediscovering that." 

"We're looking to develop more of a year-round presence, and the proof that it's working is in this crowd," said Caughey. She promised "loads of surprises" for the Festival's 10th anniversary edition, scheduled for this September.