Scarves and Hats and Mittens from Dog Fur

St Paul’s Anglican Church, Golden, BC

From time to time I share with you some of our more unusual museum items. Things like tramp art, a 17th century Japanese soldier’s mask, a letter from King William III, dated and signed on June 6, 1696.

We have a python skin, a sawfish, and a small piece of metal from the Empress of Ireland (Canada’s most famous shipwreck). I could go on and on. Not one of these items has anything to do with a community museum in British Columbia, their only tie being that they were collected by someone who lived in Golden. Like most museums the Golden Museum is facing the question of what to do with these items that really don’t belong in the Golden Story.

Another thing that we also have is a gorilla skin coat with matching handbag.  Incidentally, the Highland or Mountain Gorilla has been on the endangered species list since 1994. This coat is in excellent condition. Its also quite eerie, which brings me to my story today.

In 1940, a new doctor, Dr. Barclay, moved to Golden. Barclay and his wife Claire, came to BC just after the first war, settling in Kaslo, where they remained until moving to Golden.

While one seldom hears about the spouse of a doctor Mrs. Barclay was an exception.  Claire Barclay was an avid dog lover with a soft spot for Westland Highland Whites, a breed of terrier. I went looking for this breed of dog and found that the Westland Highland White Terrier probably originated in Poltalloch, Scotland, where they had been bred and maintained. It is probable that the lineage of the dogs goes back to the time of King James I, who asked for some “earth-dogges” out of Argyleshire.

Outdoors they are truly sporty, good hunters, speedy and cunning, with great intelligence. In the house they are all that can be desired of a pet – faithful, understanding, and devoted, yet gay and light-hearted. While still living in Kaslo, Mrs. Barclay opened an unsuccessful kennel and ended up with three generations of Whites.

Always thrifty, Mrs. Barclay would save the “wool” from grooming her pets. And as this breed needed regular grooming, it didn’t take her long to have quite a bit of it.

Eventually, Mrs. Barclay heard of an elderly Norwegian woman, Mrs. Jernberg of Grey Creek, who was going to try spinning some dog wool.

Mrs. Barclay immediately set off to visit this woman, taking her wool with her. With great success, the wool was prepared for her and she began weaving mitts, scarves and hats but her single biggest accomplishment was a coat. This coat became the talk of the Canada Pacific Exhibition in 1941 were Mrs. Barclay was seen wearing it while leading the three donors: Champion Bencruachan Crystal, Balmaghie Angus Campbell and Balmaghie  Lochinvar.

The lovely white coat was lined with Black Douglas hunting tartan – Balmaghie being where the Black Douglas lived. A picture of Mrs. Barclay and her three dogs, together with the headline “B.C. Woman Sets New Patriotic Style” appeared in a Vancouver paper, December 27, 1941, along with a lengthy article.

She was a woman of vision. Only two short years after arriving in Golden, Mrs. Barclay passed away. What are the chances do you think , that the coat or any of the mittens, scarves or hats still exist?