Archives for category: Fashion


Oxford House Hats

The men and boys of Oxford House, northern Manitoba.
1926 Photo by Rev. J.A.C. Kell

Easter was the time when the Swampy Cree of Oxford House, Manitoba came back from winter camp. You had to find just the right hat to make you feel ready for the season of beginning all over again.

They had gone far into the bush, lived in shacks, shot duck and moose, and fished for themselves and their dogs. They were more healthy and contented when they were out in the bush than on the reserve because they had meat to eat. The missionary had given their fathers their school exercise books and made them promise to have their children look at them at least once a day.

Now spring was here and, with it, came travelers from the south. Eager to make some money, the men and boys tried to make a good impression. Strong and swift-footed, with valuable knowledge of nature and skills as craftsmen, they were indispensable as guides to carry the outsiders’ gear, paddle and portage canoes and navigate the trails through the bush. They would also exchange meat for white man’s food such as jam.

Where Did They Get Their Hats From?
Each man or boy in the photo has his own style and no two hats are the same. I suspect they came out of the bales of clothing which were sent up to the reservation from church congregations in the south who wanted to help the aboriginal people. The influence of the new age of aviation was detectable in some of the hat styles.

Look at this Historical Photo:
Chief Jeremiah Chubb is standing second from the left in the back row. He is the one who “although not musical, played the organ as best he could for the church services” (A Book of Kells).

His right hand man, Bobbie Chubb, is standing — on Jeremiah’s right. He liked to brag and had a good sense of humor, which my mother (the missionary’s wife) adored.

One night when he was at mission house, he told her that his children were not let out of the house at night because he locked the door at 10 p.m. Then he looked at his watch and said: “To-night I have locked myself out.”

Which hat in this historical photo appeals to you most?

What’s your new Easter hat like? What’s its attitude and what does it rhyme with?

Thank you for spending some of your precious time reading this post. Please browse around from tip to toe on the Home archive and, if you will, comment.

Happy Reading & Writing from Cozybookbasics!

Margaret Kell Virany, author of:

A Book of Kells: Growing Up in an Ego Void.  A compelling account of the unique northern adventures of a romantic, idealistic sailor and his war bride living with the Cree in the roaring twenties. Followed up by their youngest daughter’s confessions of a preacher’s kid.

Kathleen’s Cariole Ride.  A loving tribute to my mother’s bravery in coming alone to Canada as a war bride and living her honeymoon years on a northern Aboriginal reservation.  12 photos.

Eating at Church. One hundred and seventy-five recipes from the labor of love of 58 contributors who belong to two congregations in the Ottawa River Valley that perpetuate a long tradition of delicious, practical, time-proven meals prepared for and eaten with others.

Background information is available on my website; books may be purchased on Amazon.


Family history and genealogy can be your hobby and passion no matter what your walk of life. You encounter soulmates from all centuries and locate your spot on the human map. Technology has just given your searching a huge boost. Selling my books in the atrium at the three-day 23rd annual conference of the British Isles Family History Society of Greater Ottawa, I got glimpses into this world. You too may wake up one day wanting to find out more about where you came from and who you are:

1. DNA testing is an increasingly common tool. More than one type exists, beginning with a mouth swab done while you sit in a chair. It costs upwards of $100. You may also find out an ancestor’s DNA. Author Jane Simpson was next to me selling her book entitled Sailor, Settler, Sinner. She used DNA testing to trace the multiracial offspring of her womanizing great grandfather.

2. Old family bibles, diaries and documents need not be thrown out. They can be restored to perfection. Kyla Ubbink, sitting at the table on my other side, says paper (especially the old kind) is very permanent. As an expert, she can bring what is still there back to life and even fix tears. Musty-smelling books need not be thrown out. You can clean them up yourself by buying a fairly soft-bristled brush, with hair about 3/4″ long, and sit in the sunlight going through it page by page. You must be careful to get into the spine where dust, tiny particles of food remnants, etc. have collected. When it is clean and fresh the book can go proudly back on display.

3. Old newspapers, court documents and church records not formerly available have now been digitized and are accessible online.

4. Writing things down and taking pictures will be appreciated forever by your descendants. They will no longer be able to complain, “I wish somebody had told me about that before.”

5. Spelling is not all that big a deal. The way a name is pronounced is far more important in indicating family lineage. I talked to Heather Boucher Ashe of the Ontario Genealogical Society whose husband’s name is pronounced “Bow-cher”. They are not related in any way to any Boucher pronounced “Boo-shay”. Terry Finley, who publishes a beautiful glossy genealogical magazine with his wife, is related to Finlays, Findlays, Finlys, etc. etc.

6. Location and physical characteristics are very important. I spoke to a Mr. Parker whose people were farmers from Yorkshire, England. He was very interested to discover that’s where my Kell family also came from in 1850. He said we might discover in old church records that our relatives had intermarried. I must confess he looked a lot like some of my male cousins. One wonders about what spelling changes and marriages took place over the centuries.

7. Perils often accompany passions and I felt sorry for the curly-white-haired woman who told me her bathtub was full of her great grandmother’s letters. She looked exhausted from tracking four family names, one of them Smith, all at once.

8. Libraries as well as incidental encounters produce good contacts. One woman told me she had found a curator at the Glenbow museum in Winnipeg who dug out a newspaper article in which her great-grandfather was quoted. She also has found a woman in B.C. who keeps records on world war one war brides — something the Government of Canada did not do.

Researching family history is the least lonely and most personally gratifying of all hobbies. No wonder people are attracted to it in droves. You can always find a relative who lived at the same time as, and even rubbed shoulders with, someone famous, like Napoleon. A good place to start is by joining one of the many heritage societies that exist, such as BIFHSGO. It has monthly meetings, as well as special interest groups (e.g. ‘DNA testing’, ‘Scottish’ and ‘Family History Writing’) that also meet separately. Look for more information online at virany


The author wears ermine from 1928 at the book signing for Kathleen's Cariole Ride.

Author Margaret Kell Virany tries on a scary ermine hat and scarf for her  reading from Kathleen’s Cariole Ride on Oct. 31. The set was left to her in her mother’s keepsake box and inspired her to write the story.

Dress up in your tuque and moccasins – no matter how remote you are – to enjoy a romantic book signing at Books on Beechwood, 35 Beechwood Avenue in Ottawa, from 1-3 p.m. on Sat., Oct. 31. 

  • You will learn how the heroine of Kathleen’s Cariole Ride, a classic Canadian tale, dressed up in 1929 when she went on a five-day toboggan trek. The temperature was -30º and they even had to sleep outside. She was going to the nearest hospital, in Norway House MB, to have a baby. That was in the days before we had nylon parkas and sleeping bags with zippers, and plastic snow boots.
  • Kathleen was from England but had married a Canadian sailor, Jack, who became a missionary.They were living on an Aboriginal reservation up north in Oxford House, MB. For her, deciding what to wear was like finding a costume for a special occasion, such as Hallowe’en, only more scary. They could run into wild animals or a blizzard along the way.
  • Author Margaret Kell Virany will read snatches of the adventures in the book and explain what was going on behind the pictures. She will dress up in an ermine tuque and scarf which belonged to the real Kathleen, and show her mother’s embroidered Cree princess slippers.
  • When Kathleen arrived at Oxford House, she wanted to send her mother Elizabeth a present to thank her for giving them such a nice wedding in England. The only store on the reservation was a Hudson’s Bay trading post. It sold basic supplies like food and blankets, and furs and skins brought in by the trappers and hunters.
  • This day the most beautiful thing Kathleen could buy was thirteen ermine pelts. They would be very special for her mother because in England ermine was used as a lining for the robes of the King and Queen. The Chiefs of the Cree people on various reservations had head-dresses decorated with them that they wore when dressed up for special ceremonies.
  • When her mother opened the parcel, she was so surprised she returned them to Kathleen. Elizabeth did not think an ordinary English person like herself would ever wear such things. 
  • Kathleen asked a seamstress to sew them into a tuque with matching scarf after the cariole ride was over. She wore the set during the cold winters at Cochrane, ON when she and Jack lived there, eleven years after leaving the reservation. Virany found it in her mother’s keepsake box twenty years later.
  • To see the line-up of great books at Books on Beechwood this Fall. Click on
  • To buy a copy of Kathleen’s Cariole Ride online, click here for or here for

Happy Reading and Writing from CozyBookBasics!