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Clan St. Lawrence River


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!

  • Lynn McElfresh choosing her St. Lawrence Tartan scarf.

    Lynn McElfresh choosing her St. Lawrence Tartan scarf.

  • I really liked the Princess Diana (Rose) Memorial tartan used to raise funds for her charities.

    I really liked the Princess Diana (Rose) Memorial tartan used to raise funds for her charities.

  • This is known as the Hero Tartan for charities for returning vets in Scotland.

    This is known as the Hero Tartan for charities for returning vets in Scotland.

 

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Comments

Cheryl Meagher
Comment by: Cheryl Meagher ( )
Left at: 10:39 PM Thursday, March 14, 2013
Beautiful!!! I am of Scottish desent and will definitly get the St. Lawrence tartan when we visit Clayton in May for the season. Our family has summered in Cape Vincent since the 1930's.
Dave Fownes
Comment by: Dave Fownes ( )
Left at: 10:24 AM Friday, March 15, 2013
Hi Lynn, My family bought a place on Stave Island two years ago and cherish our new found life there and really appreciate all of the stories about the area. Like Gary I have also become involved with the Scottish community at home in Montreal. That includes contributing to the St. Andrews society and taking up the bag pipes. I am lucky enough to be part of three pipes and drums bands including the RCMP. I can't help wanting to obtain another kilt and would like to know whether one can order the tartan or must one go to the store in Clayton. We look forward to meeting you some day.

All the very best, Dave
Geraldine Last
Comment by: Geraldine Last ( )
Left at: 1:17 PM Saturday, March 16, 2013
I have lived on the St. Lawrence River for ten years, but have just started to delve into its history and take part in community activities. Now I see I should have started to do this ten years ago. I love the thought of being a part of Clan St. Lawrence...loved this article. Will have to go to Clayton this summer and get my tartan.
Juanita Gibson
Comment by: Juanita Gibson ( )
Left at: 8:33 AM Sunday, March 17, 2013
My husband, Steven, descended from the clan Gibb, thus his tartan is different, but oh so beautiful. I am excited to hear about the St. Lawrence tartan! On our next trip home we will be stopping by the shop, for now I can have a beautiful tartan of my own! Thanks for the wonderful article! Juanita and Steven Gibson - Charlestown, IN
debbie cougler
Comment by: debbie cougler ( )
Left at: 12:57 PM Sunday, March 17, 2013
I grew up in Watertown, NY and I have fond memories of trips with my father to the store so he could get his clergy tartan. He had several kilts made for us and I am sure they originated from this store! I spend much time on The River and continue to enjoy buying the St. Lawrence tartan from the museum store. I have a pillow in my living room and have purchased other items to give as gifts! Great article!
Brian Johnson
Comment by: Brian Johnson ( )
Left at: 5:19 PM Sunday, March 17, 2013
I well remember how thrilled the late Vicki Stewart was when she bought several St. Lawrence River tartan cushions for her home on Button Bay Wolfe Island. Victoria was very involved with the St. Andrew's Society both in Montreal and later, in Kingston. An island newcomer,she founded our Wolfe Island Historical Society. A member of clan Stewart, their motto: Virescit vulnere virtus 'courage grows strong at a wound' was a creed she lived by. Her own tartan was displayed in her living room but I can't remember its pattern or colour. Thanks again, Lynn for another very informative article, as always.
Brian Johnson
Ken McClellan
Comment by: Ken McClellan ( )
Left at: 1:19 AM Monday, March 18, 2013
The St Lawrence River tartan was well received by my family in Scotland when I wore the tartan to a dinner party last summer. All were facinated by the story of the St Lawrence River tartan and how it came about. With family and friends coming for a month this summer my gift to all will be the St Lawrence River tartan. The McClellan tartan welcomes the beautiful St Lawrence.

Thank you Lynn for the very informative article.
Best regards,
Ken McClellan MD




James Turnbull
Comment by: James Turnbull ( )
Left at: 4:37 PM Monday, March 18, 2013
Great article. I am 7th Generation Scot. We trace ours back to Antwerp NY. I have ties with the official Turnbull tartan. I will have to add a St. lawrence tartan to my collection
Jim
Cathleen
Comment by: Cathleen ( )
Left at: 7:41 AM Tuesday, March 19, 2013
Enjoyed your article very much, it really hit home!
Debbie Hull
Comment by: Debbie Hull ( )
Left at: 8:59 PM Thursday, March 21, 2013
Many years ago my grandmother made a shirt for my grandfather using the St. Lawrence tartan. She made a shirt for herself using the Maple Leaf tartan. When they both passed on, I inherited these shirts. Unfortunately, moths had gotten to them. But, there was enought fabric to make an angel that still hangs on my livingroom wall. It reminds me of them, the River, and my Scot heritage (I am a Clan McPhearson).
carl kincaid
Comment by: carl kincaid ( )
Left at: 7:25 PM Sunday, March 24, 2013
Lover the article onthe St. Lawrence Tartan. I am of scottish desent being a member of the Kincaid Clan. My mother was a very good customer of Clan Woolens when she lived on Watch Island back in the 50s.
Barbara Fontaine
Comment by: Barbara Fontaine ( )
Left at: 7:31 PM Sunday, March 09, 2014
I am a graduate of St Lawrence University, class of '65.

When I was taking my daughters on their college visits at St Lawrence, we stopped by in Clayton and bought St Lawrence tartans.
Today i decided to give my scarf to a friend whose daughter is class of '15.

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