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New Brunswick just in time

Posted by Sylvia Olsen on

We left Quebec City about 10 am and headed towards Fredericton for a 6 pm workshop at Yarns on York. Google maps said it was less than 600 km and that it should take us less then six hours. Even with a short detour to find coffee we should have had arrived by 4 giving us lots of time for supper. We hit our first problem in Edmonston when we realized that we had crossed a time zone and it was not 2 pm it was 3. And the second problem when we found out that Google Maps is not always right—or something. The six hours turned into about eight and a half hours. We pulled up to the wool shop at 5:50, a little disheveled and hungry, but on time.

   

I had never been to Fredericton and immediately fell in love with the city’s graceful old world charm. It seemed so far from home, so Maritime, so eastern, so different. But Trish had gathered almost 40 people for two workshops. They were as engaged and interested in our west coast knitting tradition as any group we’d met so far.

 

I was excited to find June Bull, a friend from the old days at UVIC, in one of the workshops. And to finally meet ??’s beautiful sweater. Old Cowichans certainly get around. I spent some time with it. I need a sheep expert to identify the breed, but her sweater reminded me of times years ago when I used exactly the same sort of steel grey wiry wool. When I turned the sweater inside out expecting to find what I am calling Coast Salish colourwork, I was surprised to find stranding. Not just a strand here and there but a full case of strandwork.

 

It reminded me of what I love about meeting sweaters—they tell their own stories. I always say that Coast Salish knitters use a non stranding colourwork technique exclusively, but, of course, there are exceptions. Margo Hayes’ sweater was definitely not an imitation. It had all the other characteristics of a real “Indian” sweater from the 50s. Why the stranding? For the same reason you can find Fairisle sweaters with no strands—knitters are individuals with their own preferences and habits. The knitter who made Margot’s sweater either liked stranding or had not learned not to strand. The inside of the sweater looked unusual to me and made me think about the knitter—who was she? What family did she come from? Was there a group of knitters somewhere that stranded exclusively? Have I just not come across their work? Thanks Margot for sharing your sweater with me.

I know I should not mix my politics with my knitting but we could not pass the government building in Fredericton without going in to meet David Coon, the first Green MLA in New Brunswick. We met the friendly women in his office and were taken on a tour of the legislative building next door. Unfortunately David was in a committee meeting, but we were able to leave him greetings from Adam Olsen (my son and interim leader of the BC Green Party).

We also visited the Beaverbrook Art Gallery and saw Lord Beaverbrook’s personal collection—a great contribution to Fredericton culture (and Canada’s).

 

Santiago El Grande a stunning Salvador Dali, 1957

Our next New Brunswick destination—Briggs & Little Woolen Mill and we were met with the generous hospitality of Heather and owner, John Little. After visiting Custom Woolen Mills in Carstairs Alberta I had so many questions. What was the difference between wool from Canada’s two biggest woolen mills? What was the difference between wool from the east and the west? I will write more about that sometime…enough for now to say that Briggs & Little wool feels tougher and more wiry (sorry for my unsophisticated descriptions. I haven’t mastered proper “wool words”). The two mills have some different products. For instance Custom has 6 stranded and Briggs has 5 stranded wool. Custom has soft spun lopi, Briggs does not. Briggs has some newer machinery than Custom and an updated facility. Interestingly both businesses are in the process of passing the torch from one generation to the next…a good sign for Canadian wool production.

  

Have I said how much I love the Maritimes? If so I need to say it again. It feels like I have stepped back in time to a slower, more sedate and less materially focused time. Maybe it’s the small towns and the rural atmosphere. Some people say Maritimers are more friendly than people from the rest of Canada. But that hasn’t been my observation. I have found Canadians equally as friendly everywhere. Maybe it’s the historian in me that is attracted to the Maritimes. These places are old…there are ancient stories everywhere…in the barns, roads, beaches, farms, buildings…I love that about the east. 

But I miss the obvious presence of indigenous people on the east coast. Oh yes we see the signs on the highways to First Nations, but from my observation the cities and towns out here have few traces of First Nations culture. Perhaps I am more aware of First Nations culture in BC because it is home and I because live with First Nations in Victoria. But I don’t think that’s the answer. I’m still thinking about this one and will get back to you with more on the topic later.


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