Cottage Shack Articles Museum Articles

Cottage Shack Articles: All Around the Cobbler’s Bench – Nov. 11, 2021

To read the original article and others visit the Cottage Shack magazine

As curator and director of Coldwater Canadiana Heritage Museum (CCHM), I have had the pleasure of working on my interesting and informative displays. From wagons and buggies to tractors and buzz saws, the challenge is to ensure that our artifacts are well researched and well cared for.

One of our many displays is title “All Around the Cobbler’s Bench.” It is located in our carriage barn. A description based on our research accompanies the display.

Doug Binns, one of our devoted volunteers has a keen interest in the subject. He wrote about the talents of the Shoemaker in the Coldwater Current newspaper, July 2012. His article was titled “One Two Buckle My Shoe.”

The history of shoes is really quite simple. Even prehistoric man, wandering the world in bare feet regularly would have injured the soles of his feet. It did not take long for these nomads to ban together to find better ways of life. They soon began covering their feet with pieces of wood, animal hide or bark. Even today, this practice continues. An excellent resource for this information is the book All About Shoes by the Bata Shoe Company.

As society became more sophisticated, so did footwear. The simple sandal provided a much more pleasant way for walking. One’s social and financial status would eventually influence footwear fashion. Shoes also began to be designed for specific purposes, i.e., bedroom slippers, simple walking shoes, sports shoes, heavy work boots, skates and ski boots.

New fashions began to appear such as welt button, patent leather, lace and ladies’ spring heels. We are fortunate to have samples of most of the turn of the century shoes. The cost at that time would range from $1.95 for a pair of common-sense shoes to $3.00 for a more elite style. This we learned when perusing our 1906 Sears Roebuck and Company catalogue.

Although our collection is interesting, it pales in comparison to the Victoria and Albert Museum’s collection that boasts of more than 2000 shoes. Even more impressive is the fact that this display covers more than 3000 years. A shoe collector’s dream! A trip to London, England perhaps?

Although not on par with that museum, our collection includes a variety of ladies leather shoes and boots and some dainty, cloth covered shoes that usually completed a bridal outfit. The few pairs of men’s shoes and boots in our display have barely stood the test of time. Our children’s shoes, are tiny and fragile. As most of our footwear was donated by local folks, we lack examples of stylish footwear such as ones that would sport jewels, buckles or bows. DONATIONS GLADLY ACCEPTED!

As part of our display, we have some interesting tools of the trades of shoemaking and other leather works. For a long time, cobbler was a traditional handicraft – up until the invention of the industrial sewing machine in 1846 and the consequent advent of the mass production of footwear. CCHM has such a machine. It is heavy and cumbersome but still functional.

In small communities like Coldwater the shoemaker’s talents would be engaged to make all manner of leather goods including such things as saddles, reins, harnesses and other horse tack. Volunteer Bob Turnour, with a “heady” assist from Doug Binns also created a “harness rack horse” for the display of such artifacts at our museum.

If you are curious to learn more about vintage footwear, plan to visit us at Coldwater Canadiana Heritage Museum in the Spring to view our “All Around the Cobbler’s Bench” display.

Cottage Shack Articles Museum Articles

Cottage Shack Articles: All About Ladies Hats – Oct. 28, 2021

You can read the original article and others in its series at the Cottage Shack magazine

My name is Patricia Turnour and I have been involved with CCHM for the better part of 16 years. Although my role has changed many times, my dedication and commitment to this amazing place has remained steadfast. As curator, I have the opportunity to work alongside many wonderful volunteers. Whether outdoors building a fence or guiding a tour; or indoors arranging a display or greeting visitors, the work is always rewarding.

Each of us who write here about our particular interests in CCHM brings a unique perspective that, we hope, adds to the museum’s charm.

Through my articles, my passions and interest will become apparent. I have done extensive research into the history of millinery and, therefore, my first article is about hats. Not only am I a keen collector, but the museum also has a large assortment of headwear. A number of our hats were recently on display during the Coldwater Fall Fair.

Headwear has been in use since cave dwellers wore pelts to protect their heads. Through ancient Egyptian, Greek and Roman times, some sort of headdress was worn. Eventually hats even became symbols of fashion, wealth and status.

Mop caps of the 17th and early 18th centuries, like those worn by Martha Washington, were used simply to keep hair clean. Pioneer-style bonnets served the same purpose and provided protection from the sun. These simpler fashions seldom needed the skills of a milliner. By contrast, the wealthy of the day, sported fancy, and often plumed, hats and powdered hair. “Rats” were made using collections of hairs from one’s combs and brushes gathered together and sewn into a piece of netting which was then placed under a hat to increase the hair’s volume.

During Victorian times many ladies’ hats were regarded as artistic masterpieces. But hats also came to have a variety of practical uses. For example, the light-weight lingerie hat that emerged out of the Edwardian era was typically worn in summer. Frequently, at garden parties and weddings, the wealthy class adorned these simple hats with cabbage roses, daisies, poppies, ribbons and even bird’s nests.

The widow’s weeds, which is comprised of widow’s cap, weeping veil and black dress, worn during mourning became the trend when Queen Victoria wore it while mourning the death of her husband Prince Albert. We are most fortunate to have a collection of grieving clothes at CCHM. These clothes were supposed to have been burned at the end of Mrs. Woodrow’s mourning period. She being frugal, as many women in her circumstances, saved them for later use by others in the family should the need arise.

At the onset of the 20th century, although many hats shown off by ladies were still plumed and worn with matching high collar fashions, shorter hair styles began to emerge and smaller, close-fitting hats were designed to accommodate the change.

During the First World War, fashions in general were much simpler. Hats lacked the plumage and other adornments of pervious decades. Unfortunately, too many women wore black hats with netting in mourning a soldier’s death.

This fashion trend prevailed through the Second World War during which other hat designs were inspired by the military.

By the 1950s many new and creative styles were emerging. Designers were commissioned to create unique headwear for famous celebrities. For example, Jackie Kennedy popularized the pillbox hat. Paris and Milan designers created masterpieces made of glass, fruit, tule (netting), etc. Mr. Bunn, a famous Harlem milliner is quoted as saying, “Buy the hat first and the outfit to go with it is merely an accessory.”

since the 1960s hat wearing has become much less fashionable, though.

Queen Elizabeth continues to wear beautifully designed hats matching her attire on every occasion. And at some event such as the Royal Ascot Derby it is customary for ladies to be seen flaunting exciting original designs. The Hampton hat, sported by wealthy, vacationing ladies summering in the Hamptons of Long Island, New York is a brimmed straw hat decorated with ribbons, bows, and flowers.

Smaller sculptural hats called fascinations are less cumbersome but still allow women to be socially appropriate. Several have worn these unique fashions at recent royal weddings.

At CCHM we are fortunate to have a large collection of hats worn by local women in days past.

We hope this story will inspire you to visit us at Coldwater Canadiana Heritage Museum when we reopen in the Spring.

Stay tuned for Part 2, titled Widow’s Weeds.