The Culture of Cloth

The Manitoba Tartan

« Return to Lessons


Identify and understand how communities and cultures express themselves through craft practices and traditions. Focusing on the symbolism and meaning of colors and lines, explore how the Manitoba tartan has its own language, expresses certain parts of Manitoban identity and encourages an appreciation for this traditional Scottish symbol.

General Learning Outcomes:

  • Describe ways in which family expresses culture and identity.
  • Value family and community stories, languages, traditions, and celebrations.
  • Recognize that many people immigrated to Canada.
  • Appreciate personal connections to a community's past.
  • Connect with goods produced in Canadian communities.
  • Value individual contributions to one's community.
  • Recognize cultural and artistic achievements of Manitobans.
  • Identify contributions of ethnic and cultural communities in Manitoba's history.
  • Understand how migration and cultural contact can affect identity.


What is a tartan?

Tartans originated in Scotland sometime around the 16th century. Initially developed to visually and symbolically identify clans (familial groups), tartans came to represent the people within specific land districts as well. There are some tartans specifically reserved for royal use.

Scottish people have emigrated and traveled to many areas of the world, taking the tartan tradition with them. Thanks to this custom, district tartans from the United States, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia have been officially registered in Scotland.

Facts about Tartans:

  • Tartans are traditionally woven out of wool.
  • Tartans are characterized by a pattern of color and line known as a "sett", which is the distinguishing feature between tartans.
  • The colours and patterns chosen are usually symbolic of the family or community represented by the tartan.

To learn more on the Canadian District tartans:

What is the Manitoba Tartan?

Hugh Rankine, Winnipeg-born of Scottish parents, developed the Manitoba tartan. Recovering in Scotland from injuries during the Second World War, Rankine became interested in setts, tartans and the history of the clan system. He decided upon returning to Winnipeg to design a Manitoba tartan. Rankine, who worked as a postman, learned how to weave and from 1956 until 1962 he researched the history of the Province and experimented with colors and designs until he came up with a design that he felt symbolized Manitoba's historical identity. He and his wife, Dorothy, wove the original cloth.

The Manitoba tartan was approved by the Legislative Assembly of Manitoba and received Royal assent on May 1, 1962. It was also approved by the Lord Lyon King at Arms, guardian of Scottish heraldry, and registered in Scotland by the Keeper of the Records of Scotland at Her Majesty's General Register House as the official tartan of the Province.

On July 11, 1994, a bill was passed declaring April 6 as "Manitoba Tartan Day" in honor of the contributions of the Selkirk settlers and others of Scottish descent.


Creating the Manitoba Tartan:

What is weaving?

Weaving is the interlacing of lengthwise (warp) and horizontal (weft) threads, usually on a loom, to create cloth. In plain weave, the weft is woven over every second warp thread in an over, under, over, under pattern. If the weft is woven over and under two or three warp threads each time, the results are quite different.


Image of a Child's Kilt, Manitoba Tartan

"Child's Kilt, Manitoba Tartan"

This child's kilt, featuring matching, detachable suspenders, is made of wool. It is an example of the Manitoba Tartan, with its characteristic green, maroon, light blue and yellow pattern.

Reflect & Discuss:

How did a familial symbol from Scotland become representative of Manitoban identity?

Today many people of diverse nationalities and cultural backgrounds call Manitoba home. However, the earliest immigrants to this province were largely of European descent, and they brought with them a number of cultural traditions which have since been "woven into" the fabric of Manitoban cultural identity. Even though Hugh Rankine was born in Winnipeg, he identified with his Scottish heritage and was interested in how Manitoban and Scottish identities intersected. This "intersection" is evident in the crossing stripes of Manitoba-inspired colors that make up the Manitoba tartan.

How is craft itself expressive of identity and culture?

A craft object can frequently tell you something about the person or group of people who made it. Each person brings to it his/her own personal style, preferred materials and techniques. Distinct craft traditions and styles are also often associated with specific cultures. Tartan weaving is uniquely Scottish. By studying the Manitoba tartan, we can learn something of the value Hugh Rankine placed on his Scottish heritage and how he envisioned Manitoba.

Looking at the Symbolism within the Manitoba Tartan

Each color in the Manitoba tartan has its own symbolism.

Dark red squares: the Red River Settlement (1812), and the fur trade posts from which many of Manitoba's urban centers developed.

Green squares: the rich natural resources of the Province - farmlands, forests, minerals, fisheries and waterpower.

Azure Blue Lines: the Hamilton blood of Thomas Douglas, The Fifth Earl of Selkirk and founder of the Red River Settlement (Winnipeg). The intersection of the blue lines represents the forks of the Red and Assiniboine Rivers, site of the first permanent settlement.

Dark Green Lines: the diversity of men and women who have lived and enriched the life of the prairies.

Golden Lines: the grain crops and farm produce, which comprise a large segment of the Province's economy.

White Squares (for the Manitoba Dress Tartan): In the dress tartan, which was later developed using the same sett, white squares were substituted for the green to symbolize the vast stretches of snow that are seen each winter in Manitoba.

Image of a Scarf, Manitoba Dress Tartan, woven by Hugh K. Rankine

Scarf, Manitoba Dress Tartan, woven by Hugh K. Rankine

Activity: (Grades 1-5)

Create your own tartan

Students will explore tartan weaving design and the use of color by creating and explaining the symbolism of their own personal or familial tartan.


  • Drawing tools (pencils, markers, crayons, pencil crayons, etc.)
  • Rulers
  • Paper
  • Recall with students what they have learned about tartans and tartan design thus far, considering color, line, symbolism, and heritage.
  • Ask students what colors they would choose to put into their own tartan and why they would choose them. Ask them to think about their motivations behind their choices.
  • Remind students that tartans are a traditional form of squares and lines.
  • Provide students with the tools to create their own tartans.
  • Have the students write the story of their tartan.

Additional Web Resources:

Canadian Government sites on the Manitoba Tartan (1)

Canadian Government sites on the Manitoba Tartan (2)

Regional Tartans of Canada

National Tartan Day (1)

National Tartan Day (2)

Back to Top