Canadian Fashion Connection – Stetson

eb356b79fdd59c9ca9afcba64a3b9d46As an integral element of the lone cowboy – the Stetson hat is a symbol of America – but a large part of its history played out in Canada.

In 1902 the Union Hat Works of St. John’s, Quebec agreed to relocate their factory to Brockville, Ontario in a deal that exchanged a free parcel of land and ten tax-free years for a fully equipped factory that guaranteed to employ 100 local workers for four years.

il_fullxfull.834192018_3krnThe Union Hat Works operated until 1913 when it was purchased by the Wolthausen Hat Corporation of South Norwalk, Connecticut. The J.B. Stetson Company acquired a controlling interest in the Wolthausen Hat Corp. in 1930 and took over the Brockville factory in 1935 so they could avoid high Canadian tariffs by manufacturing their hats for the Canadian market in Canada. It was the first time Stetson had opened an operation outside of the U.S., but plants in Mexico and Australia soon followed.

Stetson also made women's hats, starting in 1932

Stetson also made women’s hats, starting in 1932

The Brockville Stetson plant made a variety of hats, particularly fine dress hats under their Sovereign and Royal Stetson lines, as well as youthfully-styled hats for their Playboy line. Stetson also produced all the hats for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police at the Brockville plant.

Between 1955 and 1970, the men’s hat business shrunk by 50% and Stetson closed their Brockville plant on May 21st, 1970. The plant president at the time, Alex Higginson, explained “It is no mystery why we are closing the plant, just take a walk down the street and you’ll see the answer- most people just aren’t wearing hats any more”. Although production in Canada ceased, Stetson retained a Canadian office until 1985.

About Jonathan

Jonathan Walford is a fashion historian and co-founder of the Fashion History Museum in Cambridge, Ontario. The FHM maintains a collection of nearly 12,000 artifacts dating from the mid 17th century to the present. Jonathan has authored various books and museum catalogues, including The Seductive Shoe, Shoes A-Z, Forties Fashion, 1950s American Fashion, and Sixties Fashion.
This entry was posted in Canadian dress, Men's fashion, millinery and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to Canadian Fashion Connection – Stetson

  1. carole says:

    Do you know where I can get any memorabilia with regards to the Wolthausen Hat factory

    • Jonathan says:

      Sorry no – the poster I have illustrating this article I found online from a past sale on eBay or Etsy.

  2. Ivano Andriani says:

    I have about 100 or so Feforas. Many of them the Brock. Is there a market for such things? These appear to be never worn

  3. Alex Julien says:

    Following 1970, Stetson hats continue to be made in Canada at the Biltmore factory in Guelph, Ontario, as Biltmore Hat Co. purchased the John B. Stetson Company (Canada) Ltd. assets.

    • Jonathan says:

      That would explain the 1970 – 1985 period. I couldn’t quite figure out why they would retain an office in Canada but not manufacture here – so Biltmore took over their Canadian manufacturing. Thanks for the info!

  4. Mike Yakey says:

    I recently purchased a Stetson Imperial Homburg, made in Canada. The size tag bears both 7 1/8 and the metric 57cm designations. Did Stetson ever use the metric labelling in their Brockville plant or would this more likely to have been a Biltmore thing? The sweat band bears the store name Henri Henri of Montreal where it would have been stocked. But since they have been in business since 1932 that doesn’t really help. My hat is essentially brand new (NOS). If Biltmore, is there a way to date it more accurately?

    • Jonathan says:

      I can’t help you, but metric measurements weren’t introduced until the 1970s in Canada, and not commonly used until the 1990s, so that may help narrow down a date for it.

  5. Mike Yakey says:

    That could put it anywhere between 1970 and 1986 when hats bearing the Stetson name ceased to be made in Canada. Wide range of dates. I may contact Henri Henri to see when they were having Stetons made for them.

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