National Tartan Day: Exploring the History of the Black Watch

posted: Thursday, April 6, 2017

Happy National Tartan Day! Today is a special day throughout Canada to celebrate national, provincial, territorial or personal tartans, and with it being (Throwback) Thursday, we thought it the perfect time to share some history on something our students wear to this day.

Tartan Day, April 6, recognizes and celebrates the contributions of Scots and their descendants in Canada. The date was declared as Tartan Day in 2010 by the Minister of Canadian Heritage, being the anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Arbroath in 1320, the Scottish declaration of independence. In Canada, the day originated in the late 1980s in Nova Scotia, where it was declared as an official day by the provincial government. It then spread across the country, with many provinces joining in. Celebrations can include parades with pipe bands, highland dancing and sports, and other community gatherings with Scottish-themed events.

The official tartan at St. John’s-Ravenscourt is known as Black Watch, the name of an infantry battalion of the Royal Regiment of Scotland, and the senior regiment of Highlanders. Both St. John’s College School and Ravenscourt School had their own Cadet Corps, the former prior to World War I, and the latter World War II only. St. John’s College School was affiliated with the Royal Winnipeg Rifles, and Ravenscourt with the Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders. When the two Schools amalgamated in 1950, a Cadet Corps was also established. The decision was made to continue an affiliation with only the Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders, with the SJR Cadet Corps being dissolved in 1965.

The Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders wore a Cameron of Erracht tartan, which is visually similar to the Black Watch tartan presently being worn as part of the SJR girls’ uniforms, also containing black, green and blue. We are not sure if there is a connection, but can speculate that perhaps the Black Watch tartan was the only available at the time the School originally purchased the uniforms that appeared similar to the Erracht tartan.

Below, you can see the Black Watch tartan currently worn by female students in the form of a skort or a kilt, as well as a Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders cap badge, which would have been worn over the original tartan material of the uniform caps. The historical photographs show the SJR student cadets at a Cadet Corps inspection in the 1960s, and the others were all taken during the Headmaster tenure of Richard L. Gordon, 1952-1968.

Historical photographs courtesy of the SJR Martin H. Ainley Archives Centre.