Written by Lynn E. McElfresh
posted on March 13, 2013 07:45
It’s estimated that around 5 million people in Canada and 20 million people in the United States are of Scottish decent. I’m not one of them. But with a last name like McElfresh, you might have already guessed that my husband, Gary, has Scottish roots. In recent years, Gary has embraced his Scottish heritage. We just returned on March 2 from our second trip to Scotland.
On our first trip 5 years ago, Gary bought two kilts. He enjoys wearing them to special occasions and formal events. And no matter what I’m wearing, he’s the one that gets all the compliments.
Okay, I’m a little jealous. For those of you who don’t know, Scotts celebrate their heritage through tartans. Each plaid designates a specific family, region, company, organization or perhaps even a charity. I’m German. No tartan for me. I was feeling a little left out. So I was excited to find the St. Lawrence Tartan at the Thousand Islands Museum last summer. My mother-in-law had a small bag she made from the fabric so I was familiar with the tartan. I bought the shawl for my trip to Scotland and now when Gary dresses up in his kilt, I can wear my St. Lawrence tartan shawl. The St. Lawrence tartan is my tartan as my heart belongs to the St. Lawrence and her islands.
The St. Lawrence Tartan was designed by Mrs. Helene Cobb, who at one time owned Clan Woolen on John Street in Clayton.
The shop opened in 1951 when Helene moved to the area after her husband retired from the Air Force. She sold kilts, sweaters and other Scottish imports.
Helene decided to capture the magic of the Thousand Islands in a tartan of her own design. She chose a pale blue, surrounded by deeper blues to mimic the play of light on the water. The greens were for the cedars along the shore. There’s just a hint of white and black that Helene hoped would capture the wind-tossed whitecaps on overcast days. The red is for the dazzling sunset over the islands. It took Helene 2 years to get the combination just right, then another year to get the pattern registered. The St. Lawrence Tartan was introduced to the world in 1961. Helene’s hard work paid off. The St. Lawrence Tartan made an immediate splash winning a gold medal for design at the San Francisco International Textile Exposition.
Helene’s other passion was the local history of the area. She served as curator for the Thousand Islands Museum for many years. When Helene died in 1971, she left the trademark of the St. Lawrence Tartan to the Thousand Island Museum, with the stipulation that the tartan could only be sold in Clayton, NY.
April 6 is National Tartan Day, a day that honors and celebrates Scottish culture and the role it has played in the development of the United States and Canada. For those of you who may not have Scottish roots, but a love for the St. Lawrence, you can celebrate it by proudly wearing the tartan of your heart and be part of a Clan St. Lawrence River.
By Lynn McElfresh, Grenell Island
Lynn McElfresh is a regular contributor to TI Life, writing stories dealing with her favorite Grenell Island and island life. We have learned a great deal over the past three years from Lynn McElfresh’s musings, from moving pianos to island weddings or from plumbing problems to meeting old friends, taking nature walks and the importance of trees. Recently she presented several articles about Grenell for its 100th Birthday. This month she presents this history of the St. Lawrence Tartan – as well as a retrospective of Save the River!