Mackinaw cloth is a heavy dense water-repellent woolen cloth, similar to Melton cloth. It was used to make a short coat of the same name, sometimes with a doubled shoulder. These jackets have their origins on the Canadian frontier and were later made famous by American loggers in the upper Midwest during the mid-19th century logging boom. In Canada, the "Mac" is regarded as a marker of national identity and working-class values, and has been exploited for effect in Canadian comedy shows such as Second City Television and This Hour has 22 Minutes.
Origin of the Mackinaw jacket
The Mackinac or Mackinaw region in present-day Michigan was an important trade artery during the 18th and 19th centuries; it was named after the Straits of Mackinac, which connect Lake Michigan and Lake Huron. A military force at the straits could also command traffic from and to Lake Superior, which drains into the St. Marys River, which in turn empties into Lake Huron east of the straits. Although Fort Mackinac at Mackinac Island had been ceded by Britain to the newly independent United States in the Treaty of Paris in 1783, the British Army refused to evacuate the posts on the Great Lakes until 1796, when the forts at Detroit, Mackinac, and Niagara were handed over to the Americans. British and American forces contested the area throughout the War of 1812, and the boundary was not settled until 1828, when Fort Drummond, a British post on nearby Drummond Island, was evacuated.
The Mackinaw jacket traces its roots to coats that were made by white and Métis women in November 1811, when John Askin, an early trader on the upper Great Lakes, hired them to design and sew 40 woolen greatcoats for the British Army post at Fort St. Joseph (Ontario), near Mackinac. His wife, Madelaine Askin, took an important role in the design of the coat. Askin was fulfilling a contract he received from Capt. Charles Roberts, the post commander; Roberts was desperate to clothe his men, who had last been issued greatcoats in 1807. The jackets were made from three-point trade blankets that Askin, who at the time was keeper of the King's store at the fort, supplied on the captain's authority. Although the order called for blue greatcoats, the number of blankets proved insufficient, so the number was filled out by coats made from blankets in red as well as the black-on-red plaid pattern that is associated with the jackets of today. It would be found that the long skirts of the greatcoat were unsuitable for deep snow, and once these were removed, the Mackinaw jacket was born.
- The Sword of Old St. Joe, Chapter 7 (pp. 17–21)