THE HAT

FREDERICK NIVEN January 15 1921

THE HAT

FREDERICK NIVEN January 15 1921

THE HAT

A vivid word-picture from the Kootenays by this famous English journalist and war correspondent.

FREDERICK NIVEN

WEST of the 100th meridional line it begins to be in evidence. Here and there, when the train comes in. among the collected hats (on heads) at the depots, the traveller may note it. It is not the brand-new, wide-brimmed hat of the remittance man. It does not imitate the hats of the Mounted Police: there is nothing martinettish about it. It is, generally, somewhat dusty. It has a high crown, and the dents in it are made with a large carelessness. The brim has a line surely difficult for any artist to catch in a drawing. Even when put on straight that line alone gives a flaunt to it. To put it on a-tilt. is to lose somewhat the subtlety (by suggest ing to the casual gaze that it is the cocking of the hat that is responsible for the effect : of its own, its intrinsic, its individual flaunt.

By the 110th meridional line the Hat is more plentiful. Away down into Southern Alberta, by Cypress Hills and Milk River, by Coutts and Pincher Creek, it is The Hat. As mitres and mutches have their associations, so has it. It stands for a sense of camaraderie in a world where a man must he able to meet emergency; must not run away if he sees an accident, hut jump in and help; does not laugh wildly and slap his leg over what a smile will suffice for. It stands for courtesy, a courtesy that has nothing to do with deportment. It stands for freedom, a freedom that has nothing at all to do with familiarity. There are immigrants who tap that sense of freedom and, misapprehending it. become what the native-born, or the resident of years, calls “fresh.“ When, coming back again from nays in the East, or in the Old Country, you see it— the Hat, - you know that you have lived to see the West again, t hat. it .still is, t hat the East has not engulfed il.

The Indians love that Hat; but, and it is an interesting point, it is not the one they decorate. It is perfect as

it is, and they realise that fact. It is a smaller hat, one more like the ordinary “slouch”, that they take the hatter’s band from to replace with a band made of bead-work, or with a cord of beads and a tassel of gopher tails.

And apropos—both of Indians and of hats -how excellent is the name of Medicine Hat! It has nothing to do, of course, with the hat of this exegesis; but it, too, carries on a tradition. We may bear Kipling a slight grudge for speaking of Canada as “Our Lady of the Snows,” and thus misleading some—she is of so much else, sunlight for example—but we should thank him for the protest he made when some folks wished to change the name of that prairie town. We must not forget our history in Canada; and our history here begins in the history of the Indian.

It is good that some of his place-names should endure. As Hilaire Belloc dotes upon Stanc Street, and as Edward Thomas wandered musing on the Icknield W’ay so, with an emotion no less excellent, might a man curiously, and in a dream of old days, seek out, over the prairies and the foothills, and in the mountains, the remains of old trails, some of them (such as Morley Trail, or Macleod Road— older than Morley, older than Macleod) older than the names they bear where modern traffic has used them.

Some are centuries old, were beaten down by moccasined feet on romantic journeys before Thompson lost his way and found a river other than the one he sought; before Hearne was intrigued by Chippeweyan talk of a “far-off metal river;” before Coronado searched for the Cities of Cibola; before Columbus, looking for China, found America.

' I 'HE Hat always seems to me to have much to do with J these old stories. When the High Saddle goes and the Hat. goes two links will be lost. Its original wearers often sat by the hour, backs to a corral-bars (while the horses stood by with dropping heads, switching flies, one hind leg at ease), listening to some Indian, in a blend of Blackfoot and English, and by aid of sign-language telling the old history of Jumping Pound River, or the myths of Going-to-the-Sun mountain. Still the Hat bobs up over coulee tops or bobs down beyond them, in a flurty of dust from loping pony-hoofs all along these foothills of the Rockies. It drifts away into the mountains where there is a wide pass, and grass turning to hay for horses. It evades tile coal-getters of the Crow’s Nest Pass, leaps over these Poles and Russians of ill-favour in the eyes of its wearers, and may be seen again in the Upper Columbia country, tit-tuping along the road among the bull-pines.

The other hats encroach--everywhere. They of The Hat might repeat the words of one who wore feathers: "Too much people come.” Some of the new-comers don’t seem to have the “savvey,” or they have another "savvey.” In the course of what is called Progress maybe the Hat must yet follow the feathers into Limbo. ’ But there is still the essential leaven of that symbolic Hat in the West. It is still God’s Country, where the plains roll up into the foothills and the Rockies hang across the sky.