Our Canadian Tapestry

Continuing on with our tapestry studies during our virtual Wednesdays, Catherine Nicholls of our ABC team gave an informative presentation about the details of how this tapestry came to be. Read on….

Picture credit of East Panel and West Panel – image by Vasgen Degirmentas

The Canadian Embroidery Tapestry was first conceived in May 2014 during a tour of Rideau Hall when the Ottawa Valley Guild of Stitchery was hosting the Embroiderers Association of Canada/Association Canadienne de Broderie (EAC/ACB) seminar.

As the tour group wound its way through the official residence of the Canadian monarch and their representative, the Governor General of Canada, it was noted there were paintings and sculptures everywhere, but no textile arts on display.  It was decided that a textile project would be created by the members of EAC/ACB to address that omission and to celebrate Canada’s incoming 150th birthday in 2017.

Helen McCrindle was asked to take the lead on the project by then-president Beryl Burnett.  Helen agreed and asked three other women – Catherine Nicholls, Bonnie Adie, and Pat Ross – to assist with the massive venture.

Before the first stitch was placed, hours and hours of planning went into the project. Numerous meetings were held, as Catherine worked on the design and samples were stitched to see how certain details would look.

The fabric used in the project was sturdy linen twill and the threads were a combination of Appletons crewel wool for the larger stitched areas, DMC cotton floss for details, and metallic threads for highlights.  By the time the design was finalized, there were 118 different colours of Appletons and 133 colours of DMC for the two 2-foot by 3-foot panels (60 cm x 90 cm) panels.  DMC (US headquarters) kindly donated two skeins of each thread, while Helen supplied the Appletons wool. 

Stitchers worked from a coloured rendition of the design. Pictured below on the right is the full design for the Eastern panel, while shown on the left is a detailed picture.

Outlines of the symbols, buildings, flora, and fauna were transferred to the fabric using Saral transfer paper. The project was divided into 24 six-inch (15 cm) squares with the corresponding collection of threads stored in little clear bags. Detailed instructions were also created with rules such as no knots, two strands of DMC (unless specified), and one of crewel. Most importantly of all was the rule to follow the coloured images. Pictured at left are samples of a stitched item. The fabric was next attached to roller frames, which allowed up to two stitchers to work on the project at once.

The East panel began its cross-Canada odyssey in Truro, Nova Scotia and the West panel debuted at the 2015 seminar in Calgary, where it was then taken to its first chapter, the Vancouver Guild of Embroiderers.  The first two people to place stitches were Beryl Burnett and Amanda Baxter, co-chair of Seminar 2015.  The two panels were reunited at Seminar 2016 in Toronto and then switched paths, with the East panel crossing the Prairies to the west coast, while the West panel travelled across Ontario and Quebec to the Atlantic provinces. 

Logbooks travelled with the panels, where stitchers wrote down their thoughts and reactions to working on the project.  By the time the project was completed, more than 650 stitchers had worked on the two panels, logging more than 8,000 hours, and the project had visited more than 30 chapters of EAC/ACB across Canada. The project had been scheduled for completion for Canada’s sesquicentennial in 2017, hence, its original name, Project 150: however, events unfolded otherwise, and the panels were finished in early 2018.

The two completed panels were then cleaned, blocked, mounted, framed, and photographed, with the frame stained to match the brown of the central maple tree.  The Government of Canada arranged for the two panels to be shipped from Vancouver to Ottawa.

In May 2019, the Canadian Embroidery Tapestry was accepted into Canada’s Crown Collection.

In March 2020, Helen was informed by the Manager of Interior Design and Crown Collection for National Capital Commission, Ann Malone-Bianconi, that the two panels had been hung at Rideau Hall.  That same day, Rideau Hall was shut down due to the Covid pandemic.  What was hoped would be a few weeks of closure for the building stretched into months, extending into 2021.  However, as the pandemic waned, it was hoped that the Canadian Embroider Tapestry would be available during public tours of Rideau Hall.

Today, the Canadian Embroidery Tapestry hangs in the Pauline Vanier Room of Rideau Hall.  Pauline Vanier was the wife of Georges Vanier, Canada’s first Canadian-born, French-speaking Governor General, who served from 1959 to 1967.  The room, just off the Reception Room, is part of the original 19th century building and over the decades has served as a boudoir and most recently as an aide-de-camp smoking room before being remodelled in the late 1950s.  The room serves to showcase Canada’s heritage in arts and crafts.  The Canadian Embroidery Tapestry now hangs alongside works by celebrated Canadian artists, such as Kenojuak Ashevak, Emily Carr, and Norval Morrisseau.  The room also has sculptures, handcrafted furniture, and numerous books on Canadian art.  The Pauline Vanier Room is used as an informal room for events, such as media interviews, but has been included in publicly accessible tours of Rideau Hall.

As Helen wrote, the Canadian Embroidery Tapestry is a “tapestry of what it means to be Canada…a Canadian tapestry of celebration”.



Some of the Canadian Embroidery Tapestry’s symbols

The project features a maple tree at its centre.  The tree is shown through the four seasons with spring buds and a bucket to capture maple sap, summer foliage, its dying leaves in autumn, and barren branches for winter.

The three golden ribbons represent the Trans-Canada Highway, the Trans Canada Railway, and the Trans Canada Trail (formerly known as the Great Trail from September 2016 to June 2021).

  • Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus) for Alberta
  • Steller’s Jay (Cyanocitta stelleri) for British Columbia
  • Great Gray Owl (Strix nebulosa) for Manitoba
  • Black-Capped Chickadee (Poecile atricapillus) for New Brunswick
  • Atlantic Puffin (Fratercula arctica) for Newfoundland and Labrador
  • Gyrfalcon (Falco rusticolus) for the Northwest Territories
  • Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) for Nova Scotia
  • Rock Ptarmigan (Lagopus muta) for Nunavut
  • Common Loon (Gavia immer) for Ontario
  • Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata) for Prince Edward Island
  • Snowy Owl (Bubo scandiaca) for Quebec
  • Sharp-Tailed Grouse (Tympanuchus phasianellus) for Saskatchewan
  • Common Raven (Corvus corax) for the Yukon Territory

Picture of view of Pauline Vanier Room – image credit Helen Williamson