Textile Society of America


Date of this Version



Textile Society of America 9th Biennial Symposium (2004)


Presented at “Appropriation • Acculturation • Transformation,” Textile Society of America 9th Biennial Symposium, Oakland, California, October 7-9, 2004. Copyright 2004 Textile Society of America.


A banner like this, hung in the central passage of a training institute … cannot fail to impress itself on the character of some, giving their tastes a bent in those directions which you would desire to push them into.

Albert Henry George, 4th Earl Grey (b.1851-d.1917). Letter, National Archives of Canada, Dated 13 March 1906.

This illustrated presentation introduces a series of early twentieth-century embroidered and appliquéd banners that were the inspiration of Lord Grey, Governor General of Canada between 1904–11. The medium – needlework – was specifically chosen because of its historic connotations. By literally fabricating material memories these banners were meant to play an integral role in the construction of a Canadian cultural identity that was to privilege the British of an American model. Historians have recognized government supported campaigns that proselytized Imperialism, such as Empire Day and the IODE (Imperial Order of the Daughters of the Empire); however, the importance of textiles in the creation of Canadian cultural identity has been virtually ignored.

Lord Grey’s correspondence suggests that no less than ten banners were shipped to Canada. Of these, eight represented Saint George, patron saint of England, Englishness and Empire, and one the personification of Canada. The message sent via the banners was a transparent one – to elicit loyalty in young men. Nonetheless, two of the banners proved to be stylistically problematic and these were held back whilst Grey reconsidered the use of embroidery and tradition in the construction of masculinity and national identity. His solution would in fact underpin Canada’s identity within the Empire – a dutiful daughter of Britannia.

Through the examination of these banners we see how Imperialism and middle-class British aesthetics came together in an attempt to tighten the ties of Empire. We will also consider the Canadian response to what Lord Grey called his “little scheme.”